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Celebrating Black Maternal Health Week: Doulas for My Daughters—and Me!

By Annette Richards, Human Resources,
Alliance for Early Success

Doulas, for people who don’t know, are trained professionals who work with pregnant people before, during, and after their deliveries. They provide physical, emotional, and informational support tailored to their clients’ specific needs and situations. In addition to calming fears and making the process more rewarding, the presence of a doula can impact outcomes—especially for Black and other marginalized women.  

As we mark #BlackDoulaDay (April 11) and the beginning of Black Maternal Health Week (April 11 – 17) I am honored to have an opportunity to lift up doulas and the amazing impact they have, especially for Black women.    

My first experience with a doula was back when my older daughter became pregnant and engaged a doula to be part of her whole birthing experience—up to and through her delivery. I was amazed at the difference it made. The doula’s impact was not lost on my younger daughter, Arianna, who also watched the whole process with amazement. Arianna knew immediately that doula support was what she wanted when she became pregnant. Fast forward to Arianna’s pregnancy, and one of her first orders of business was to find a doula. She interviewed several through local doula networks and ultimately chose Genesha Michelle with Doulas of Prince George’s County (an organization that was actually founded by my older daughter’s doula.) Genesha and Arianna immediately began to bond and they talked about the pregnancy and Arianna’s wishes (and fears) for the birth.  

In addition to being a doula, Genesha is also a certified yoga instructor, so you can imagine the amount of calmness, physical comfort, and mindfulness she brought. But probably one of the most important things doulas bring to pregnancies and deliveries is information. She helped Arianna find healthy options during her pregnancy, create a birthing plan, and learn techniques and strategies for making everything go well. And that it did! I had the honor of being there for the birth. Genesha kept Arianna strong, calm, and in control–and she helped me through, as well (coaching me on stopping crying and opening my clenched eyes.) She communicated with the hospital staff, as well, taking a lot of that burden and distraction off the family. 

The information and support doulas provide can also save lives. Thenational maternal mortality rateis on the rise: 32 per 100,000 live births for 2021, up from 17.4 in 2018.  Black women are three to four times more likelyto die from a pregnancy-related issue than White women. This scares me not only for my daughters and grandchildren–but for our community. The impacts of racism, chronic stress, barriers to healthcare, and other factors like unaffordable housing and food insecurity mean that Black women face a multitude of challenges when navigating perinatal care.  And predominantly White medical environments can have trouble listening to and addressing their needs. In addition to reducing fear and stress, doulas can help bridge these obstacles. 

I was not surprised to learn that the NIH reports that having a doula often leads to better delivery outcomes, including reduced cesarean sections, premature deliveries, and length of labor. Doula support, specifically in low-income women, improves breastfeeding success.  

That same NIH study also raised questions about the accessibility of doulas. Slowly, more states are implementing Medicaid coverage for doula care and more insurance plans are covering it, but even in those cases, the coverage can be the bare minimum—which does not provide the maximum impact AND makes it hard for doulas like Genesha to earn enough to be able to afford to do the work.  

Genesha is proud of the work doulas do, but cautions me that doulas can’t save the world. It will take significant investments in maternal health across the board and ongoing progress in undoing the discriminatory environments and practices that cause the disparity in the first place.  

The author, her daughter, and new grandson are visited by their doula, Genesha Michelle.

So today I am celebrating doulas. I am harnessing the sheer joy they have brought my family and me, and I want to encourage you to support them. Spread the word about doulas. Hire doulas. Advocate for access to doulas. Work to ensure doulas have the autonomy to define their services and own their businesses. Advocate to dismantle the structural racism that sustains inequities in birth outcomes.   

Because doulas bring more equitable outcomes to our systems, better health to our communities, and—what is spilling over in me today—joy to us and those we love.  

Annette Richards is a strategic human resources executive with over 20 years of experience. She supports the Alliance by overseeing staff recruitment, benefits, and serving as a resource for Alliance staff. 

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