Latona Giwa, Co-founder of Birthmark Doula Collective tells us why more women of color should consider a doula.
As a black birth doula and birth advocate, my dream is to see more women of color choosing “Mother-Friendly Care.” Mother-Friendly Care is a collection of practices for pregnancy and birth that center the health and wellbeing of the mother and baby as a unit, instead of provider convenience, technology, and profit. Hiring a doula is an excellent example; doulas provide emotional, physical, and informational support to the pregnant family from pregnancy through postpartum. Women with doulas have a 50 percent reduction in C-section rates, reduced use of other unnecessary medical interventions, and higher rates of successful breastfeeding. A doula cares unconditionally, meets the family where they are, and offers tailored education and support based on the family’s needs. Nearly all midwives and a few OBs use mother-friendly practices as well. (To learn more about Mother-Friendly Care, or for a list of questions to determine if your provider is mother-friendly, visit http://www.motherfriendly.org/).
I think that being a woman of color and choosing how I want to birth are intertwined. Women-supported birth is our history. In Louisiana and Mississippi, community midwives helped families deliver their babies in their own homes much longer than in the rest of the country. Racist hospitals and providers prevented black women from birthing in the hospital and in response, community resilience kept the midwifery tradition alive. In West African traditions, pregnant women go to their mother’s village to birth their babies. There, they are supported and guided through birth and postpartum by a community of mothers. As doulas, we keep this system alive by mothering our mothers, and showering them in a community of celebratory support.
Today in Louisiana, we have a lot of work to do to return to the tradition that we now term “Mother-Friendly Care.” Currently, we have the highest C-section rate in the country, at around 40%, and the second lowest breastfeeding rate nationwide. These trends are upsetting enough considering the negative impact on families from increased healing times, increased hospital bills, worsened nutrition, and higher costs of feeding. But these trends are outraging when we remember that the majority of our families had normal vaginal deliveries in their homes, with extended breastfeeding and postpartum support, up until just 60 years ago.
To top it off, unnecessary medical interventions are used disproportionately on women of color because we have less voice within the medical system. Women of color, on average, get less time with their provider at each visit, and are more likely to feel like their questions are left unanswered or their provider does not really know them. A doula can help to reduce these feelings of alienation and help the family to make the most out of their doctor’s visits. (Really, this applies to all marginalized women, including women who have disabilities, are queer/transgender, are low income, don’t speak English, or are larger bodied.)
“What is a doula? And is that the same as a midwife”?
A doula is a birth companion, a sister supporter of the pregnant woman and her family. The doula provides support and advocacy for her client and helps them to achieve their birth goals. A midwife is the medical professional who provides prenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care. Families can choose to work with a midwife instead of an OB. Ideally, families would have a continuum of care, with doula support, midwifery care, and OB back-up for emergencies and complications.
“Why do I need a doula?”
Because birth has changed. In the last century, birthing became a technological endeavor, instead of an instinctual one. Women experienced increasing medical interventions, with disproportionately few improvements in health outcomes. Obstetricians took over the role of the community midwife. And women increasingly birthed in the hospital instead of their homes. These changes removed women from the supportive circles of wise women that guided them through the birthing process, and placed them in an individualized and alienating healthcare system that denies their instinctual knowledge.
At Birthmark Doula Collective, we believe that every pregnant woman deserves a doula. We use the funds we generate from our full-paying clients to offer sliding scale and scholarship doula services to lower-income women. We also offer childbirth education classes, parenting support groups, lactation support, infant CPR classes, postpartum doula services, birth tub rentals, prenatal massage, and more. [To learn more about our commitment to pregnant and parenting families in New Orleans, visit our website www.birthmarkdoulas.com].
In a world of increasingly high-tech medical care, doulas and midwives offer a high-touch alternative. We take the time to get to know you, we embrace you in our support, and we see you through this journey. Just as birth is meant to be.
Latona Giwa is a birth doula, childbirth educator, birth activist, and student on the midwifery path in New Orleans. She is the co-founder of Birthmark Doula Collective.
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