Local doula offers virtual guidance during pandemic

COACHING FROM AFAR: Doula and business owner Chama Woydak transitioned from in-person to online birthing classes on March 8, three weeks before Buncombe County’s stay home, stay safe mandate went into effect. Though she prefers a hands-on approach, the virtual classes have helped maintain a sense of community for her expecting clients. Photo by Destinee Blau

Prior to COVID-19, Chama Woydak knew exactly who she was: a business owner, certified birth doula, birth doula trainer and Lamaze-certified childbirth educator. But with the onset of the pandemic and Buncombe County’s stay home, stay safe mandate — which deemed birth doulas as nonessential workers — Woydak’s sense of self has wavered at times.

“When this happened, I felt that my efficacy — the way I was able to reach people, touch people, inspire people — was not as strong,” she says. “Not being able to be on the floor these past six weeks has been really hard. And so you feel a little disconnected.”

Three weeks before the county’s March 26 mandate went into effect, Woydak’s company, Homegrown Families, shifted from in-person sessions to online courses. In the process, she discovered that some of her abilities didn’t translate easily to the online platform. “As a birth worker, I read what’s happening through emotional intelligence,” she says. “So I can read a room and use the information I’m getting in order to problem-solve. … That is a lot harder through the screen.”

Nevertheless, Woydak says she has since found her rhythm. The online model, she explains, “means you have to be more verbal. So I’m asking more questions and allowing a lot more space for people to be verbal back.”

Her one-on-one work as a doula also continues through prenatal support. As with her birthing classes, Woydak offers online sessions with individuals and couples. She’s conducted several outdoor meetings with clients seeking in-person instruction, as well.

Woydak says what she continues to observe during the pandemic is a mixed sense of purpose and purposelessness. “What I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced myself is that people are cycling through periods of motivation and stillness. It’s like, ‘OK, I have all this time, I’m going to do all these things.’ But then you’re like, ‘Actually, I’m going to do absolutely nothing. I can’t even function.’

“People are just not quite sure how they fit in,” she continues. “Where is my role? Who am I? What’s my narrative? That’s what I’ve noticed the most in all of this. And doulas are struggling with it, too.”

This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at news@mountainx.com.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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