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Posted under: Opinion Culture

Fostering Access To Doula Care Could Save Black Babies And Mamas' Lives

"Extra guidance during pregnancy and postpartum could decrease the black infant mortality rate in the U.S."

After reading a post on reproductive justice, I discovered a term for part of my life’s work and advocacy. As an educator, I learned even more about how much love and nurturing black children need and deserve. My work has also taught me that a child has to be nurtured as soon as  you know it exists, especially black children who are literally targets for violence in our society. Doing anything other than giving a child the attention and care it needs to flourish, while in the womb leads to trauma. One that will eventually show itself as debilitating, cyclical, and sometimes incorrigible.

However, my focus isn’t only on black people’s very real and continuous trauma because combative and preventative measures exist for healing. If we are seriously creating black futures, we must think about what that looks like and steps we need to take right now to get there. How do we, right now, have black families living near destitution, but still be provided with the tools to create a safe, healthy environment for their children? There are varied responses to this question. And, in the interest of reproductive justice, mine is let’s start with doulas.

Every woman deserves to safely and healthily welcome her child into the world. The Center for Disease Control reports black mothers are at a higher risk for pregnancy complications, which results in mother and child deaths. Toxic environments, limited finances, and an overall disregard for them by American society (i.e. Flint, Michigan) only exacerbates their likelihood of experiencing medical issues. To that end, black women, particularly  in low-income areas, can certainly benefit from the assistance doulas provide.

Extra guidance during pregnancy and postpartum could decrease the black infant mortality rate in the U.S., which has the highest amongst any wealthy nation. In D.C. alone, black infants in poverty are 10 times more likely to die compared to white children in the city. Offering and introducing impoverished black families to doula care could be the beginning of resolving these sickening facts.

For many, being pregnant is a joyous time. Yet, parents enduring societal hardships may feel as though they need more knowledge, resources, confidence and, in the case of parents with more than one child, support. In any of these situations a doula can alleviate these feelings. Doulas help parents adjust to and prepare for the life change a new child brings, but unfortunately, not everyone has access to doulas or even understands their practicality.

Many don’t know about the insurmountable amount of knowledge, support, and overall love they provide to mothers, for babies’ benefit. Or that they guide partners on how to be more attentive and nurturing as they navigate the beginning of parenthood alongside mom.  Their work is so meaningful that research recently proved doula services can reduce the likelihood of emergency c-sections and preterm births, eliminating extra medical expenses.

When it comes to all that people of African descent experience, it’s counterproductive to brood over problems without constructing and offering solutions. Thus, I have acknowledged and provided ways black families, regardless of their income, can access doula services.


Community Programs

A quick Google search will help locate community programs that offer doula services in any city like The Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership in NYC. It is currently training doulas who will work with mothers in underserved communities. The organization will provide birth and postpartum doulas to women in all five boroughs for free. Also, The Community of Hope in D.C. provides doula services in addition to breastfeeding support and prenatal care. They partner with Midwives of MedStar Washington Hospital Center to offer these services. Look into the services that your local community program offers. If doula care isn’t provided, advocate for these kinds of assistance.


Student Doulas

Some programs that offer doula services include information on local student doulas. While these doulas are new, their work should not be undermined. Most times they offer their services for free or at a low-cost, as they work towards certification,  building their clientele and enhancing their skills.


Black Doula Organizations

Organizations such as Sista MidWife Productions, Black Women Birthing Justice (BWBJ) and Radical Doula offers resources for black women seeking to empower themselves through motherhood and the choices they make as they navigate it. They all offer access to black women doulas. Sista Midwife and Radical Doula both include a site directory of black women doulas throughout the U.S. While they don’t specifically say they can assist with providing low cost care, connecting with these organizations could be beneficial for finding someone who does.


Doula Insurance Coverage

Most do not, but some insurance companies will reimburse for doulas. This could be a long  process, but  you can speak with your insurance company to see if they offer this. As you consult different doulas pick their brains too. You may have a doula who’s  had a client who received reimbursement.


I’m not suggesting one way of labor delivery is better than any other; everyone may not prefer to have a doula. Different methods work based on a woman’s health, experiences, and preferences. Still, studies have shown the financial and health benefits of doulas. And contrary to popular belief, even if a woman decides to have a hospital  birth and use pain medication, a doula can be helpful.  

It’s a woman’s prerogative to determine the plan for her pregnancy,  labor, birth, and postpartum decisions. So, the choice should not be made for her by her socioeconomic status, race, or ward. If you know black women, black families that can benefit from this information, I urge you to share it. Our futures are depending on us to do so.


Did you use a doula? Let us know your experience in the comments below!


Dajae Gilliard is an educator, writer and protector of all things nurturing black children.

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