Giving Austin Labor Support: Prenatal, Birth, and Post-Partum Support to Families in Need
Morgan Miles, an Executive Director at Giving Austin Labor Support (GALS), greets the It’s Time Texas team with a smile and a sleeping newborn on her lap. “You don’t wake a sleeping baby,” she says as she settles in for her interview.
Ms. Miles started as a volunteer for GALS in 2013, while attending the University of Texas School of Social Work. At GALS she learned all about what a doula was. “It was the first place that felt like home. I’ve been working for the organization ever since.”
Doula is a word of Greek origin, standing for “woman servant” or “women who serve”. Doulas practice in any setting that a family chooses, and are nonmedical support. Ms. Miles mentions there’s controversy surrounding the word ‘doula’, which is why a lot of organizations, like GALS, uses other terms such as “birth workers” or “labor companion”.
GALS has various programs and services, including a prenatal program, an on-call program, post-partum support program, and a jail support program. They collaborate with fellow Austin organizations and resources in order to cater to the needs of the families who are awaiting a newborn, giving birth, or are post-partum.
“Austin is really lucky to have three other community doula organizations. Places like Dallas and Houston don’t have organizations like us at all. So, we’re in this place where we really have a plethora of support and each of us are necessary to do this work.”
While collaborating with these organizations, Ms. Miles does think their Jail Support Program is what makes GALS unique. In fact, in 2021 the organization was able to provide one on one support for a family who was incarcerated. They were given prenatal visits, were supported during the birth, and were able to provide post-partum visits as well as some virtual support to their partner. “It was an amazing opportunity to provide that full-spectrum of care to that family, “she said.
The need for birthing support isn’t new, but GALS noticed that more and more families were asking for birth visits, and doulas were providing them that service without being reimbursed for this work. As COVID-19 struck, the number of families who needed birthing support increased, but the number of doulas and birth workers decreased, as they needed to find income and ways to support their own families.
“Originally, our prenatal program consisted of two prenatal visits, support during birth, and then one post-partum visit for each family. Thanks to the funding from It’s Time Texas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, we now can do a ‘first needs assessment’, as well as four prenatal visits, birth support, and two post-partum visits.
The goals of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Families fund with Collaborative Innovations for Community Health, was to support 40 families, but GALS has well surpassed that goal, supporting 175 families total as of September 2021.
“This year, it’s looking like 60-percent of families are coming to us through the prenatal support program, and 40-percent through on-call. It used to be only on-call. So, I’m glad we’re able to fulfill that need of full-spectrum support,” said Ms. Miles.
While looking back on the year, Ms. Miles shared another victory during the project period of 2021. “We had another family who was a recent refugee, who’d immigrated here. She wasn’t feeling supported with her provider or very safe and comfortable. But she thought it was too late to change, and didn’t think she could find a better option so late in the pregnancy.”
But GALS was up to the challenge. Using their contacts, they were able to locate another provider, give her a birth in the setting she wanted, in the way her other children had been born, and even had a nurse in the hospital who spoke her native tongue.
“I love this work,” laughed Ms. Miles. “It was amazing to provide better care for her and her family. Having a safe, positive birth experience sets the family up for better success. The parents feel more confident in parenthood, in raising their child, so overall, it impacts that baby as much as it impacts them.”
Ms. Miles will continue to advocate for all families who want a birth worker or doula to be able to have one. Her goals are to share their stories, use data to better the birthing process and experience, and continue to do the work she loves—bringing life to this world in a positive manner.