Q&A with Kathleen Sobiech: Building support for women’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Author: Brandi Wampler

On Friday, December 4, 2020, the University of Notre Dame’s Community Health and Clinical Partnerships is hosting the “COVID-19: What Comes Next” virtual forum. Open to the public, this event will feature speakers addressing four topics including women's health, infrastructure, learning, and social underpinnings. In this Q&A, Kathleen Sobiech, adjunct assistant teaching professor in the Masters of Science in Global Health (MSGH) Program, discusses her research and upcoming presentation. If you would like to register for the virtual forum, please click here.

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Kathleen Sobiech

What issues or questions led you to participate in the “COVID-19: What Comes Next?” forum? 

Chrissy Jewett (MSGH 2019) and I are interested in conversations regarding the COVID-19 mitigation and recovery process to bring attention to the unique motivation, skills, and services of doulas, which aim to address known weaknesses in the US healthcare system, including racial disparities [1]. We were drawn to present at the forum based on a recent qualitative study which asked: (1) what professional motivation, skills, and services do the doulas describe as important for supporting pregnant and laboring women during the antenatal and postpartum periods? and (2) what adaptations in skills and services were important to the doulas in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Can you tell us more about the research you will present during the forum?

The unique motivation, skills, and services of doulas offer a mechanism to address known weaknesses in the US healthcare system, including racial disparities. However, COVID-19 has affected doulas’ ability to support women in preventing and mitigating trauma and negotiating shared decision-making due to their “non-essential” status in the clinical setting. The pandemic highlighted the need for further understanding on the part of the healthcare workforce of the doulas’ role, which may result from more formal standardization of the doula profession and provide wider access to their services.

What do you think have been the biggest challenges for pregnant, birthing, and postpartum women to overcome during the pandemic? What about for women in Indiana and St. Joseph County, which have comparatively high mortality rates?

Our findings are consistent with a recent position paper by Ellmann (2020), which highlights the disparities in maternal health care options and services for minority women [2]. The inequities in the US healthcare system and the intersection with society’s failure to address pervasive systemic racism have been brought into sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected Black and Brown populations at a disparate rate and significantly increased the maternal mortality risk for Black women from just 6 months ago [3]. We can assume that these stressors have been confounded by the rules to limit visitors during labor and delivery and increased anxiety due to fear of infection. 

How do you think the virtual forum can support scholarship or collaboration on this topic?

Understanding of the doulas’ role by clinicians and professionalization of the practice may allow for wider access to the unique skills and services provided by doulas. For the next phase of our research, we will interview hospital administration, physicians, and/or labor nurses to explore their views about and experiences with doulas in the clinical setting. We would like the opportunity to hear feedback from forum participants, especially community stakeholders, about our line of inquiry and recruitment strategy. 

What will be the next steps in this work after the forum for the community and/or research?

A graduate student from the Eck Institute for Global Health will conduct a follow-up study to explore healthcare worker views of and experiences with doulas. 


  1. 1. Jewett et al. (2020). Providing Emotional Support and Physical Comfort During a Time of Social Distancing: A Thematic Analysis of Doulas' Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic. 
  2. 2. Ellman N. Community-based doulas and midwives key to addressing the U.S. maternal health crisis. Center for American Progress. 2020.
  3. 3. Raman S. COVID-19 amplifies racial disparities in maternal health. CQ Roll Call. May 14, 2020. Available from: https://www.rollcall.com/2020/05/14/covid-19-amplifies-racial-disparities-in-maternal-health/.

Sobiech will present during the “COVID-19: What Comes Next” virtual forum on Friday, December 4, 2020 between 9:10-9:55 a.m. View the full forum schedule of speakers and other details at hwi.nd.edu/news-events/events/2020/12/04/covid-19-what-comes-next-forum.


Brandi Wampler / Research Communications Specialist

Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame

brandiwampler@nd.edu / +1.574.631.8183

research.nd.edu / @UNDResearch

About Notre Dame Research:

The University of Notre Dame is a private research and teaching university inspired by its Catholic mission. Located in South Bend, Indiana, its researchers are advancing human understanding through research, scholarship, education, and creative endeavor in order to be a repository for knowledge and a powerful means for doing good in the world. For more information, please see research.nd.edu or @UNDResearch.