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Even In A Pandemic, Local Doula Program Offers Support, Virtually

Walter Astrada
At the start of the pandemic, Healthy Start launched a virtual doula program to help mothers through their pregnancies.

On today's program: A new doula program, launched at the beginning of the pandemic, is helping moms throughout their pregnancy with in-person and virtual support; and the managing director of City Theatre reflects on the company’s year since halting in-theater performances, while looking ahead at shows to come.

Birth doulas are busier than usual supporting moms, even from an iPad
(0:00 — 10:07) 

Last week we heard how, although the nation may be facing a decrease in births, the city is seeing more of a baby boom.

Some of the people supporting expecting moms in Pittsburgh are doulas. 

“It’s someone who provides informational support, emotional support, and physical support to coach a pregnant person through fertility, pregnancy and childbirth and early postpartum,” explains Gerria Coffee. She’s a doula, owner and founder of Genesis Birth Services. Lately, she’s been working with Healthy Start Pittsburgh to provide free virtual doula services to moms.

Demia Horsley is the director of strategic initiatives at Healthy Start. She says the doula program was launched in response to the pandemic. 

“[Expecting mothers] were specifically expressing fears about having to birth in the hospitals without the support system that they deemed necessary for their birth,” says Horsley. COVID-19 restrictions have limited the number of people visiting or accompanying someone to a hospital. 

“We lend iPads to our participants and mobile hotspots so that they can connect with their doulas throughout their birth,” says Horsley. 

Coffee says before the pandemic, her work included advocating for moms to prevent poor birth outcomes that disproportionately impact Black mothers. That’s still her role, but she says with Healthy Start’s work, more of her clients are people who might not have previously included doulas in their support network.

“We got over 77 referrals in our first six months and were able to support 32 births,” says Horsley with Healthy Start. “We’ve gotten a really great response.”


City Theatre’s spring season includes virtual presentations and new ‘Homegrown Stories’
(10:09 — 18:0o) 

City Theatre just announced its virtual spring season

It’s been almost a year since the arts organization halted live, in-theater performances, diverting to digital and drive-in experiences. 

“We were in the middle of the run of ‘Cry It Out’ by Molly Smith Metzler,” says James McNeel about when the pandemic hit last year. He’s the managing director at the City Theatre Company. “It had opened on March 6, and on March 12 it ended its run with about 11 performances to go.”

McNeel says while this past year has brought on much grief, it has also demonstrated the adaptability and resilience of artists. 

“We say it all the time, and I think it’s true, that we feed the soul,” says McNeel.  

In its upcoming season, City Theatre is working with other theatre companies to presenting two films online: “The Catastrophist,” and “Room.”

“Later in the spring we’re going to create content,” says McNeel. This will include the second iteration of “Homegrown Stories” in conjunction with Pittsburgh Playhouse at Point Park University.  

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on what’s been lost,” says McNeel. “We can either dwell on that, or we can use this moment to go, how do we change? How do we completely rebuild an industry from scratch? Because that’s the silver lining.”

City Theatre’s first show of the spring season, “The Catastrophist,” is available to stream until April 4. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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