AUSTIN (KXAN) – Alyssa Segura remembers the anxiety and stress.

Alyssa Segura is due with her second child in December. She said navigating pregnancy during the pandemic has been tough. (Courtesy: Alyssa Segura)

She was pregnant with her son Andrei. 

“I was a first-time mom, single mom,” said Segura. “I was really scared.”

She had turned to a doula to ease her fears and now can’t imagine his birth without that support and help. 

“I really don’t think his, his birth would have gone as smoothly as it did had she not been there,” said Segura. “To have a doula… they’re really just invaluable.”

Andrei is one-and-a-half and Segura is once again working with the same doula, Dominique Adeniyi. She’s getting ready to have a baby girl in December.

“It’s really scary to be pregnant right now, in the middle of this pandemic, things are changing weekly, sometimes daily, as far as the actual disease and variants you have, but also with policies and recommendations for birthing centers, hospitals, even midwives,” said Segura.

Program offering support 

Adeniyi is part of a group of doulas in Central Texas helping new moms navigate pregnancy during the pandemic. 

The group is also working to improve health outcomes for moms and babies in underserved communities.

A new pilot program, launched by Dell Children’s Health Plan – an Ascension company – and Amerigroup Texas along with the Giving Austin Labor Support, or GALS is working to connect more new moms with doulas. 

Dominique Adeniyi is able to provide educational, physical and emotional support during pregnancy. (Courtesy: Dominique Adeniyi)

“It allows us to serve the underserved by providing educational, physical and emotional support throughout their whole pregnancy experience. So it’s increasing the birth outcomes by providing that education, you know, on how to have better pregnancies, especially with COVID and all of the restrictions,” explained Adeniyi.

Dell Children’s Health Plan and Amerigroup Texas offer health care coverage and have invested funds in the program. 

“Being able to have that extra person who is always, you know, in communication with you, how are you doing, or you even feel comfortable enough to text or call and say, ‘Hey, Dominique, I’m experiencing something a little funky, do you think I should go in,'” explained Adeniyi. “So you know, it’s allowing us to fill in the gap where there is lack of resources, or even education in regards to things that you should pay attention to.”

GALS explained that it can cost up to $3,000 to use a doula during pregnancy. Through the partnership the cost will be covered for women on Medicaid. 

“We are proud to partner with GALS in this pilot program to provide care in underserved communities, which is at the core of our mission,” said Marinan Williams, President and CEO of Dell Children’s Health Plan. “This doula program offers an extra layer of support and helps lead to better outcomes for moms and babies.”

Need for doulas growing

The program is enrolling 25 families who will have access to birth support which includes prenatal visits, phone and email check-ins, and postpartum visits. Five families are enrolled so far in the pilot program.

“We’re like a help all for stressed-out parents-to-be — we help them get accurate information more quickly so they don’t spiral through what can be a difficult time. Our birth workers also help spot emergencies earlier and ensure that mothers and babies can get needed care faster,” said Morgan Miles, executive director of GALS. “This support is even more important, given the very reasonable concerns people have around the pandemic. We’re excited and grateful for this opportunity to help more people who are often overlooked in this process.”

Giving Austin Labor Support, or GALS, Dell Children’s Health Plan and Amerigroup Texas are part of the new pilot program connecting moms with doulas. (Courtesy: Morgan Miles)

A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and after childbirth.

Miles said since May her organization alone supported 30 births. She said during a typical year they average 60. 

“As part of an ongoing partnership with GALS, Amerigroup also is providing basic needs assistance to parents and families and is cohosting baby showers. The program embodies the company’s mission of increasing access and finding creative ways to improve health of its members and all Texans,” said Greg Thompson, President of the Amerigroup Texas Medicaid Health Plan.

Materal deaths across Texas 

Miles said the focus must be on maternal health outcomes especially in communities which lack access to resources.

“Our maternal mortality and morbidity rates are high and they’re disproportionate where black and brown families are more negatively affected,” said Miles. “Having a doula next to you during your birth and during that journey is impactful for improving health outcomes, reducing caesarian sections… decreasing the likelihood of postpartum mood disorders, anxiety disorders.” 

Researchers at the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee are still reviewing maternal death numbers from 2013. 

In those cases, so far, 137 were found to be pregnancy-associated deaths. The data has also found that 89% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. 

The lag in data has been a concern for many including lawmakers in Texas. It’s those outcomes that the program hopes will change. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 women die each year across the country as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications.