Five years ago, I was pregnant. At the time, I was working as a school counselor and loving my career. I could never have imagined I would leave that behind to become a doula. I knew a little about doulas, but I didn’t think it was a service I could benefit from as a black woman. The images I could recall of doulas, or people who used doulas, were white women. I am not sure why I concluded this service was not meant for women of color. Maybe it was because of those images I had stored in my memory. However, I quickly dismissed the idea of having a doula for the birth of my son.
Doulas are trained experts who provide physical, emotional and educational support during labor and the postpartum period. They focus on the needs of the mother and her partner, and they can be an essential member of a birth team. Childbirth can be an overwhelming experience, especially to new mothers. The support of an expert to guide you through the process can help mothers feel more relaxed. In fact, research shows that women who receive continuous support during labor have more positive feelings about childbirth. With the help of a doula, you are more likely to have better outcomes and an enjoyable birth experience.
There is a huge disparity in healthcare in the black community. Black women are less likely to receive appropriate prenatal care from their providers. Rates of maternal and fetal mortality are significantly higher among black women and babies. This reality has been researched and documented by The New York Times, NPR and NBC News, and there is supporting data available from ProPublica as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So, why do black women shy away from the support of doulas?
Now, let’s be real. My black friends think doulas aren't for them. Some of them think having a doula means having an un-medicated birth, being a hippie and consuming placentas. They can’t imagine that I show up to clients’ homes in lipstick and pumps because this is my profession and not a hobby. When I explain how I support women after giving birth, they think nanny and housekeeper. And typically, black families do not hire "help."
Recently, a client shared her perception of doulas for women of color with me. She is a black woman and a friend of mine. She told me that she, too, did not think doulas were for black women and that it was a service for "rich" people. When she previously wanted to have a natural birth, she did not consider hiring a doula because she did not know how to access these services. Instead, she researched natural birth and depended on her partner and mother for support.
In the African American community, family support is huge. It is very common for new mothers to depend on their own mothers and other female family members. Black women are strong. We are the center of our families. Asking for help can be difficult.
Doulas support your growing family. We understand the importance of involving your loved ones and meeting your personal needs. We know it is not easy to let a stranger into this intimate moment of your life. Now that you know that a doula can be an extension of your support system, how about debunking the myths and helping to spread the word?
Instead of thinking of a doula as a stranger, how about think of her as a modern-day member of the village you have assembled to help bring your child into the world?
I can honestly say I would have hired a doula if I had known then what I know now.
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