When Melody Ross fell pregnant with her now seven-month-old daughter Imzadi, she was looking forward to connecting with other mothers through group childbirth classes and play dates.
But when the pandemic hit Canberra and everything went online, she had to shift her expectations.
"Being pregnant during a pandemic is really lonely and really scary," Ms Ross said. "You don't get to do any of the cool stuff you were looking forward to, like in-person yoga, play groups, or connecting with other expecting mothers."
Like many women, Melody was forced to prepare to become a new mother via her laptop. Childbirth education classes covering everything from breastfeeding to labour were moved online in March, instead of being conducted face-to-face with up to 10 couples.
"We were all quite shy at first when it came to chatting, but being put into breakout rooms was where I found the sense of community was better," Ms Ross said.
"Obviously you miss out on the group aspect, but it certainly eases some of the isolation and the breathing techniques I learned were really useful to me during the birth."
At Canberra Hospital, clinical midwife managers Julianne Nissen and Christine Fowler have worked hard to make the classes as interactive as possible.
With the hands-on aspect gone, Ms Fowler said the challenge was to keep women engaged and make sure they felt empowered during their birthing experience.
"We conduct the classes on Webex, with two midwives talking about the values and strengths of activities we would have done in the face-to-face class, since we can't do those activities with 100 people online," Ms Fowler said.
"We demonstrate wrapping and bathing using dolls, and get into the bath at the birthing centre to show different positions which is something we couldn't do pre-COVID because we couldn't fit everyone in the room."
So far the feedback for the online format has been positive, with classes averaging around 60 participants per session.
Ms Nissen said that women particularly enjoyed the chat function, where a midwife working behind the scenes answered questions in the group's chat window.
"Women love it. In the chat they're saying 'that's great' or 'my anxiety is less'," Ms Nissen said.
"We also go through the chat after every class to make sure we've answered all of the questions."
In 2019, Ms Nissen and Ms Fowler won the 2019 ACT Nurses & Midwives Excellence and Research awards for their evidence-based approach to childbirth education.
This research is integrated into the ever-evolving online classes, which have a big focus on mindfulness as a way to stay in control during birth.
"We did research over three years with the University of Canberra where we evaluated the old type of childbirth education and developed a new one aimed at increasing a woman's ability to cope with labour and birth despite the outcome," Ms Nissen said.
"We want women to feel good about their birth experience and have them be active, empowered participants in the decision-making process."
And the feedback is clear - women want the online format to stay.
When surveyed about how they would like the classes to be conducted in the future, the overwhelming response was that even after COVID-19 is over, women want a combined model of some face-to-face and some online.
"Having a combined way of doing things won't go away in the future because it's more convenient for some women. You can just log into the classes after work, and it's easier for women with children at home already," Ms Fowler said.
"So it's definitely here to stay."