COVID-19 and the Birth of the Virtual Doula

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As doulas and anthropologists, we have anxiously followed North American hospital policies that limit the number of support people who may accompany a birthing person to the hospital. We’ve wondered what these shifting policies mean for doulas – birth workers who provide continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant and laboring people – and those they accompany during labor. The COVID-19 pandemic comes on the heels of increasing attention to a maternal health crisis that disproportionately impacts people of color and the poor. Doulas, long seen as serving upper middle class white women, are increasingly becoming a valuable source of advocacy in the face of birth disparities. In data collected from 450 qualitative surveys, we address how US and Canadian doulas adapted to the constraints posed by virtual support, how this then shifted their perceptions of care, and how virtual doula work exposes existing inequalities.