May 6, 2020 — In March, Jennifer Nelson spearheaded a comprehensive Reproductive Health Fair for the Siuslaw Region. It was planned to include Healthy Families Lane County, Parenting Now!, PeaceHealth Peace Harbor, Pregnancy and Parenting Center in Florence, WellMama and five other health and parenting resources. When state and federal guidelines mandated the closure of public events and spaces under the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the health fair was postponed.
“There are still families who need resources,” said Nelson, a birth doula, traditional health worker, advocate, volunteer and mother who is involved in several groups who planned to attend the fair.
Earlier in the lockdown, Nelson released a list of resources important for women and parents under COVID-19.
“I know these must be challenging times for pregnant and new parents,” she wrote. “I wanted to share some changes that some programs have made so that they can continue to support families during these changing times.”
The list (see end of article) includes health resources, food and nutrition and parent and pregnancy support.
“I just want to let folks know there are options for support,” Nelson said. “People may feel that they need even more support right now, and I want them to know where to reach out to get that support.”
She also directs people to Evidence Based Birth, evidencebasedbirth.com, an online childbirth resource that includes global evidence-based care practices.
According to Nelson, the website has been doing weekly updates on current research and around pregnancy and the coronavirus, as well as providing links to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
“Some families just need connection with information about pregnancy and the virus, or needing information about what that looks like for them,” Nelson said. “I’ve been sending them to that resource. It’s just packed full of information.”
Nelson represents families in Western Lane County and has continued to reach out to families covered by Healthy Families, Parenting Now! and more.
“There was a lot of transition for work,” she said. “Instead of doing home visits, we switched to Zoom and telecommunication of some sort. This provides virtual or phone support for families, making sure that they are getting the support they need, especially in this time of change. I’ve also been connecting with other resources to find out how they are changing their protocols and procedures so I can share that with families.”
Major questions she has received from families have been about hospital visits and check-ins.
“I know some families have been switching to home births, since they feel a little more safe not being in the hospital,” Nelson said. “We’re helping them connect with midwives and other support.”
WellMama has switched to online, and now offers a Zoom conference call for expecting and new parents.
“That’s an opportunity for people to get local up-to-date information, as well as support from other families.” Nelson said. “They can get ideas from other families on how people are navigating this. … We’re just trying to be a little creative in getting the word out to folks. There are other options via telecommunications or phone support for Healthy Families, doula support, WellMama and things like that.”
While the transition to telecommunications has been rough, especially for rural families or those without high-speed internet access, there have been benefits.
“It’s been awesome, actually,” Nelson said. “People really feel connected. … Just having that person to talk to, share resources or talk about problems, or come up with solutions around some struggles they are facing has been really supportive to the families. I’m really grateful that we have technology to do that.”
Not everyone can do the video calls, but many agencies have increased their phone call capabilities.
In fact, Nelson noted that different people are contacting support agencies now that telecommunication can be part of their resources.
“For folks who are uncomfortable with one-on-one visits, it has allowed them a barrier of protection, in a sense, while still accessing support,” she said. “Some people who probably would never have accessed this resource before are now, because they have that barrier that makes them feel a little more comfortable. Other people, maybe because of location or timing, are also accessing this. With my home visits, I have more dads available right now to participate in the visits as support people. I think that it’s been helpful.”
Even birth doulas are going online to offer counseling, help plan births and provide virtual support.
“There are doulas in other parts of the country that offer that on a regular basis, especially for families that live hours away from a doula, or because it’s more financially appropriate for them,” Nelson said. “But families are still getting support, and I feel really good about that resource.”
Once the economic lockdown ends, the Florence Reproductive Health Fair will be rescheduled. In the meantime, Nelson is working to get the word out about resources available locally and online. In some ways, increased telecommunications has provided a new avenue for reaching parents and families.
For Nelson, virtual check-ins have “definitely opened my eyes to the benefit in supporting families. I’m really seeing that I want to reconsider some of my thoughts around technology and continue to use it to support families. I really miss the one-on-one, but I can see that some families might appreciate continuing virtually when this is over. That can be for various reasons — it’s more convenient or they have continued concerns about the virus. I would imagine that there will be a lot of overlap for a while.”
Nelson can be contacted at 541-999-4880 and jenningnow.org. Her list of resources is available below.
“These groups are offering support in different ways, so people should be sure to contact them if they want support,” she said.
Florence Reproductive Health Resources During COVID-19