A Penticton woman describes herself as "traumatized" after her work as a doula was taken advantage of, alleging she was conned as part of a nationwide fraud.
Ashley Palmer has been working as a doula in Penticton for the last three years, emotionally and physically supporting families with childbirth. She said she connected with a woman named Kaitlyn Braun in January to provide services.
Braun, 24, was arrested by Brantford, Ont. police on Monday. Braun is currently facing more than 30 charges ranging from criminal harassment and fraud to sexual assault, according to the Brantford Police Service.
Police said between June 19, 2022, and February 17, 2023, the accused is alleged to have sought the assistance of registered doulas across Ontario for false pregnancies/stillbirths.
Doulas are non-medically trained professionals who provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during, and shortly after childbirth, different from midwives.
Brantford police spokesperson Robin Matthews-Osmond told Castanet that they have been flooded by calls from other potential victims.
Palmer was one of the doulas who called the police to report her experience with the bizarre emotional scam.
Palmer recounted that the accused scammer reached out by originally posting on a Facebook page looking for a doula in Penticton to deal with a stillbirth, and Palmer sent her a message offering support.
“We had [around] an hour-long phone call of her explaining her story about how her pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault," Palmer said.
Palmer said Braun told her that she was 20 and didn’t have any family in the Okanagan area after recently moving from Ontario.
Then Braun said she was COVID-19 positive, requesting virtual support, and despite that being outside of Palmer's normal scope, she agreed, wanting to offer help to a woman in need.
“She didn't have anybody here, there were no other doulas that were available. I'm also not a bereavement doula, meaning [...] I haven't ever supported a stillbirth or a loss,” said Palmer, whose specialty is birth, postpartum and education.
Palmer recounted that Braun said she was out of work, and Palmer offered to take her case on at no cost, which she does once a year to help families in need as what she calls a ‘karma birth.'
They agreed to the virtual support and Palmer said she got a text from Braun the next day at 5 a.m. saying she was starting to have contractions for the stillbirth.
Palmer said that their interactions seemed very normal to her at the start, including the sounds Braun was making being consistent with Palmer's long experience with labours.
“There were no red flags, there was nothing that popped up on my radar as not normal,” she added. “The messages were quite intense and very vulnerable. And obviously, for someone who was, at that time, I thought she was experiencing a loss.”
Palmer said Braun dodged her requests for information for necessary paperwork, and she let that go in the moment because she thought there was a trauma and loss being experienced and didn't want to add pressure.
Over the next eight hours, the two conversed, as Palmer talked the woman through the birth. Palmer recalled hearing intimate personal stories from Braun, including about her name for the stillborn baby.
But inconsistencies started to pop up. Palmer said Braun repeatedly refused offers of in-person help including dropping off soup or a ride to the hospital. Braun claimed to have been sexually assaulted at the hospital, causing her to be wary of returning, but Palmer's contacts at Penticton Regional Hospital had nobody ever registered under that name.
Then Braun called and said she was at the hospital, and once again, Palmer confirmed through contacts that that was untrue.
“She said that she was walking into labour and delivery. And she was having full-on fake conversations with emergency staff and nursing staff," Palmer claimed.
Braun then claimed to have headed back home, and Palmer called in a wellness check.
“RCMP got to the address that she gave me and confirmed that she didn't live there. And then that's when I messaged her and I [said] ‘Okay, I know you've given me a fake address. I know you weren't at the hospital, what's going on? If you can tell me that, maybe I can get you the proper help that you need.’”
That is when Braun told Palmer she was actually in Victoria.
“This was the part that really didn't sit well with me, is then she goes, ‘I saw your Instagram and I saw your website and I just loved the way you are as a doula and I really wanted to feel like what it was like to be supportive, but I was scared that you wouldn't support me virtually being so far away," Palmer added.
“That gave me a very uneasy feeling.”
Palmer, frustrated and annoyed, still wanted to help this woman if she was in genuine distress. Then, she said, Braun somehow called from a Victoria number and faked a conversation as a labour and delivery nurse, though Palmer could tell it was still her.
Victoria General Hospital confirmed no one was there under Braun's description or name.
“I felt betrayed and I felt taken advantage of," Palmer said.
After a sleepless night, Palmer said she messaged Braun in the morning, wanting closure.
Palmer said Braun finally admitted that she was in Ontario and was not currently pregnant or experiencing a stillbirth.
“[She said] 'I have experienced it in the past and I just wanted to feel what it was like to feel supported,'" Palmer added. “I tried to give her extra resources for social workers, grief counsellors and bereavement doulas in her area.”
As Palmer went on with her work the next week and met with new families for service consultations, she said she started to realize how much her interactions with Braun had impacted her.
“I was like sitting in front of new parents, real parents, who were inquiring about doula services and I could hear in the back of my mind ‘Oh, are these people actually pregnant?’”
"It took counselling, it took even energy work and seeing other professionals in my community because I knew I didn't want to let that impact my work. Because I love my job and I love what I do. So I wanted to make sure that I'm still serving my community and my family in the ways that I always have.”
A few weeks later, another doula sent Palmer a public announcement from the Ontario Doula Association warning others to be aware of Braun approaching them. Palmer connected with a group of roughly 20 Ontario Doulas who all claimed to have been manipulated by her.
There was some relief for Palmer in knowing she hadn't been individually targeted.
“It was really sad. I started to realize the overall picture was so much bigger than what I was a part of. And I don't understand how she hadn't received help," Palmer said.
Palmer said the doulas shared stories of their interactions, some of whom had supported Braun in person for days.
“I'll always trust someone's story. There wasn't a second in my head that doubted her story up until later on in our conversations,” Palmer said.
“I was like, no one would lie about this. It's such an emotional situation to go through [...] You hear about these situations happening, but then to live through it? And to be so deceived was the traumatizing experience in many different ways.”
Virtual support is now off the table entirely for Palmer, at least for the foreseeable future.
Palmer continues her in-person care out of Willow Midwives Clinic in Penticton.
The investigation in Ontario is active and ongoing at this time.