ORLANDO, Fla. — As coronavirus-related deaths continue to rise around the country and world, the pandemic is prompting many people to think about death in ways they never have before.
We’ve told you about a surge in people purchasing life insurance policies or estate planning. Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray learned so-called “death doulas” are seeing more business than ever before.
A doula is traditionally thought of as someone who helps bring new life into the world, but end-of-life midwives are growing in numbers. They’re not just helping the sick, but perfectly healthy people are also now seeking their services.
Being pregnant during a pandemic brings its own set of concerns, but Orlando mom-to-be Rutha knows that, as a Black woman, the odds of complications during birth are sadly already against her.
“The statistics of African American women dying during childbirth is extremely high, and I wanted to make sure I had things in place,” Rutha said.
In addition to researching the help of a traditional doula during her pending February delivery, she also sought the advice of a death doula, who is a sort of full-service end-of-life caregiver who can help get your affairs in order, just in case.
“If and when that does occur for me,” Rutha said. “Sometimes, it’s being proactive in things, of saying, what does that time look like for me?”
According to the International End of Life Doula Association, there are more than 400 certified death doulas in the United States and more around the world. Many have reported a surge in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has increased tenfold because of the panic aspect,” said death doula Ashley Johnson, founder of Loyal Hands, a southeast-based network of death doulas. Her services include everything from estate planning to sitting vigil with a patient about to pass.
“We’ve been dying since the age of dawn. This is not a new profession,” Johnson said. “But now, it’s coming to light in the age of COVID-19. It’s making death the forefront.”
Though the practice is gaining popularity and certification courses are now offered through a variety of sites online, there is no universally recognized authority, regulatory or accrediting body overseeing death doulas or holding them accountable.
So is it legitimate?
“At the moment, it is an unregulated field, so I definitely suggest that if you’re interested to do a consultation, feel their energy out, to make sure it’s a right fit,” Johnson said.
For Rutha and others, it comes down to talking about a topic that no one ever wants to consider.
“It’s being prepared. If you’re a person who wants to be prepared for if anything happens to you or loved ones. It is important to be able to have a person who is a guidance for you, who has the experience, that has that compassion,” Rutha said.