The United States has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places to give birth, but studies show that Black families and Black women are disproportionately impacted by negligent practices. In recent years, we have heard more Black women speak out about their mistreatment by doctors before and after their respective birthing processes. It has been reported that Black mothers who are giving birth are 3-4 times more likely to die during childbirth than counterparts of other races. Sadly, 60% of these deaths are typically deemed preventable.
This year marks the 4th year of National Black Maternal Health Week as started by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA). Annually commemorated April 11-17, this week was created in an effort to facilitate deeper conversations surrounding Black maternal health and amplify the voices of Black mothers who have been silenced or not heard in their totality.
The term “Black Mamas” represents the full diversity of our lived experiences that includes birthing persons (cis women, trans folks, and gender nonconforming individuals) and all people of African descent across the diaspora.” – The Black Mamas Matter Alliance
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the birthing experience. With a lack of intimate familial support due to social distancing guidelines and limited interaction with healthcare professionals, the Black birthing crisis has skyrocketed leading to increased health disparities and mortality. Additionally, Black women have an increased need for advocacy, as many report feeling unprotected and unheard, and share stories of being diminished due to the misconceptions around high pain tolerance and/or stereotypes about the conception of the unborn child. This oppressive thinking has been called out by notable Black mothers such as Serena Williams and Beyonce during their own experiences.
Cue the Black doulas.
Doulas, in practice, are trained to provide physical, spiritual and emotional support during the birthing process and other health related experiences. They utilize a variety of holistic techniques. By paying attention to changes in behavior or reading bodily changes of the person giving birth, doulas are able to flag conditions that may go unchecked in a “normal” birthing situation.
Wasidah, or the “ Fit, Fashionable and Fabulous Doula” has been fine-tuning her practice to be of support to Black moms, especially during the pandemic. “As doulas, we educate moms so that in case a doctor says ‘we will have to do a c-section since you had one last time,’ she will have the education to say ‘no, that’s not the case. I would rather have a vaginal birth, I’d like to try that route.’ versus not knowing.” she stated. “When with a doctor, you feel like I have to do whatever they say. However, having someone here that looks like me and has my back, makes them feel ten times more comfortable. Having a doula present makes them feel like ‘I have a voice.’ It gives them peace.”
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You might be thinking “aren’t doulas costly?” There are a plethora of affordable doulas who seek to serve the community with accessible healing practices. When planning ahead in one’s birthing process and researching these resources to aid in the journey, Wasidah suggests that Black moms primarily do these two things:
Check out non-profits. Non-profit organizations such as the Caribbean Woman’s Health Association offers free doulas for birth and postpartum support.
Create a birthing plan. There are a lot of free websites that will allow you to go in, ask the questions you need, and print them out. Share it with your doctor and tell him or her how you want to birth.
Doulas are just one way to support Black mothers. Check out Black Mamas Matter Alliance for more resources.