It is becoming increasingly apparent that black birthing people have a very different experience with childbirth in the United States than their white counterparts, an experience that often includes miscommunication, mistreatment, and lack of access to care regardless of income or education. Countless articles tell stories of black parents whose concerns were dismissed or overlooked. Despite these challenges, there are many ways that black people are pushing for change for ourselves and for our communities.

Doulas – a tool for change

Everyone is looking for a way to help bridge this gap in maternal health outcomes. Support provided by a professional birth doula is one intervention that has been shown to improve outcomes without negative side effects. While providers of all backgrounds and ethnicities are capable of and indeed do provide excellent care to communities of color, doulas are uniquely situated to address birth related health inequities. With the right training, doulas can build strong relationships in a short amount of time enhancing their ability to educate, advocate, and support black families. 

Advocacy begins “at home”

In the Washington, D.C. region, I am encouraged by local leadership’s efforts to make a difference for birthing families. DC Birth Doulas joins these efforts to actively combat disparities in healthcare, beginning with our own company culture. Based on feedback from black birthing families we’ve made efforts to make our marketing material more diverse, initiated anti-bias training for our doulas and created scholarship opportunities to train more health educators and birth workers of color. I am also encouraged by the leadership efforts throughout our black community. We are making our voices heard because we know we deserve better. 

At DC Birth Doulas, we have spent time internally addressing microaggression and racism in the birth room. Each of us practices with tools to create a safe space where our clients can openly voice their concerns and questions. We have also spent time learning about the history of racism in reproductive healthcare and have created policies to ensure good communication and advocacy in the birth room. I personally would want any of my coworkers at my birth knowing that they would be able to create a safe space for me. But while having a doula makes a difference for all birthing persons, for some birthing people of color, there is something comforting about having a person that looks like them in the room. 

Why a black doula?

There is strength and resilience in the black community, but it is taxing to feel like you have to explain or justify your experience. Sometimes, we are actively discouraged from being heard or are dismissed outright. Sometimes you need a reprieve from the fight. As a black woman, I can communicate with someone who has my shared lived experiences in a unique way. 

Communities of color are often able to recognize the discomfort caused by a micro-aggression without having to explain or justify the experience. We can talk openly about experiences of discrimination and racism without judgement. For some black birthing families, having a doula of color who is able to validate your concerns, back you up with evidence-based information, and support you when you speak out can be empowering and provide a space where it is safe to be vulnerable. 

This is why I became a doula. I want to empower birthing people. I want to help them feel powerful and confident while birthing. I want them to look back on their birthing experience and feel confident that they made the best decisions they could have during their birth.

What can you do?

During Black Maternal Health Week, DC Birth Doulas wants to bring awareness to issues related to maternal health disparities in the black community and focus on the community-led organizations pushing for policies that support birthing families of color. We are proud to financially support organizations, such as Mama Toto’s Village – a non-profit that is led by people of color to combat health inequity, and invite YOU to do the same. All this week you can check out our stories on Instagram and Facebook where we will have action items to support our local activist organizations. Please join us! Together we can make a difference and improve outcomes for birthing people of color.

Written by Senior DCBD Doula, Kelsey Johnson Ogenia, MPH, CD (DONA)