Doulas are more important than ever in the post-Roe era

meIt’s no secret that the United States, for all its wealth and power, has some of the worst maternal mortality rates among developed nations. According to a February report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), there were 23.8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the US. That’s about twice the average rate in high-income countries, according to The United Nations.

The story is even more tragic when you break things down by race and ethnicity. The NCHS report found that the maternal mortality rate for black women in 2020 was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 births, nearly three times the rate for white women, and that rates were rising for black women and Hispanic. And now with the overturning of Roe vs. Wadeexperts predict that these rates will only get worse.

There are many proposed solutions to help mitigate this crisis of largely preventable deaths. One of the most promising? Doulas – trained labor workers who provide physical and emotional support to clients during pregnancy, labor, and the early postpartum period. Research has shown that mothers with doulas were significantly less likely to have birth complications or low birth weight babies, and more likely to breastfeed. Other studies link doulas to a reduced risk of postpartum depression or anxiety.

To help expand access to doulas for Black women, the community most at risk of pregnancy complications and deaths, skincare giant BabyDove launched the Black Birth Equity Fund in 2021. The program provides grants to pregnant black women to cover the cost of a doula. . To date, the fund has awarded grants to nearly 200 moms-to-be.

Now, just over a year after the fund’s inception, BabyDove is announcing that it will double its investment to provide a total of $500,000 in grants. In a press release, the company says this will allow it to support an additional 200 moms with doula scholarships.

Additionally, the brand is partnering with Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of Ancient Song Doula Services in New York City, to create a series of educational content for moms. The series, called “Dear Doula,” will cover common questions about pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care, with answers directly from doulas.

Well+Good spoke with Porchia-Albert in honor of the collaboration to talk about the role of doulas in the care of a person giving birth, how their work has changed after Roe and more.

Well+Good: How would you describe your work as a doula? What is your particular focus or mission?

Chanel Porchia-Albert: My particular approach is to center hope. I think within the maternal health conversation, I really want to center a framework that elevates informed consent, bodily autonomy, the basic human rights of people who give birth safely and respectfully. [and for them] have access and resources to appropriate facilities and services in a way that truly centers them and their families.

“Many times that message [of hope] is lost, because there is so much focus on the death of black women… that we forget the fact that these are also human beings having a human experience” — Chanel Porchia-Albert, doula and founder of Ancient Song Doula Services

Many times that message [of hope] it is lost, because there is so much focus on the death of black women… that we forget the fact that these are also human beings who are having a human experience. So my work, through the different modalities of use of legislative policies, community organization, [and] doing this work and working with BabyDove, it’s really creating a framework where I want people to know that there is still hope, and that there are people, communities and organizations that are actively working to center that.

As a black person giving birth and as a black mother, raising black children, we often find ourselves in places where you care about the well-being of your child because of the impact we’ve seen of racism and discrimination. Having initiatives that really seek to center hope and make sure people have something to look at and active resources to really use is something that I’m all for.

W+G: We are already seeing how the fall of Roe vs. Wade it is affecting prenatal care for people in states that ban or strictly regulate abortion, and for many people, those effects were already there. How has this political climate affected the way you approach your work or the work itself?

CPA: Honestly, Roe It was the bare minimum. Especially working within black maternal health and reproductive health. [spaces] and understanding that many of the places where abortion was already restricted also have little access to maternal health care resources. You will find people who are in a space where [the government] you want them to have more children, but you are also not providing them with the resources that are necessary to have a proper pregnancy.

For us, it’s really about creating a safe space. If people have to cross state lines, have access to transportation, if [they] have other children, have access to childcare services. He is also working with [abortion] providers to ensure that they feel safe too…

“For us, it’s really about creating a safe space. If people have to cross state lines, have access to transportation, if [they] having other children, having access to childcare”— Chanel Porchia-Albert, doula and founder of Ancient Song Doula Services

W+G: Doulas have been linked to better outcomes for moms-to-be and babies, such as a lower risk of birth complications and low birth weight. What do you think needs to be done to help increase access to doulas for those who most need their support?

CPA:At the community level, the patient needs to be able to feel that they have the necessary funds to be able to access the doula and that they have enough doulas to be able to cover the services.

On the doula services side, as someone running an organization, what we need is sustainability. We need the funds to be able to provide the services, the educational resources, the classes and the workshops, and really build the infrastructure to have enough doulas to be able to meet the demand. We need more doulas, but we also want to be able to have them so that doulas can make a living and organizations can sustain themselves and meet the needs of the community. It’s a two-pronged approach where people have access to services and can get them, but also organizations have the necessary support to be able to offer that level of sustainability within a community to provide those services.

What I really like about BabyDove and the Black Birth Equity Fund is that they provide the resources and grants for people to get a doula. They have a directory that people can access and find doula services in their local area. And then they can apply for a grant to be able to cover doula services. Cost is often a barrier [to having a doula]. Now that barrier is being removed.

W+G: On that note, can you talk a bit about the “Dear Doula” series you’re doing with BabyDove and why you chose to partner with the company?

As doulas, I would like to hope that my voice is heard. But I also know that BabyDove has a bigger reach. Have a [consumer] base that’s big and provides — this bigger platform for people to hear information, get information, ask questions, talk to a doula, and really try to find a way to be able to participate on a broader spectrum.

W+G: What is the one thing you wish people understood about doulas?

CPA: [I want people] understand that you deserve to be centered, you deserve to be treated with love, respect and dignity. You deserve to have your paternity reaffirmed. You deserve to have the support of the community. You deserve to be pampered. You deserve to be nurtured.

Often people will look at doulas and say, “I can’t afford that.” Or, “That’s not for me.” No. A doula is for anyone. At Ancient Song, that’s one of the things we strive for. We never turn anyone away, and there is a doula for someone. Because you deserve it. Everybody deserves it. Cost should not be a barrier. Resources should not be a barrier to being cared for and loved.

W+G: Absolutely. Doulas are a great example of what community care can look like. I recently saw, for example, a video of a doula in which she went to a client’s home and nursed a newborn baby overnight so the mom could rest. I thought it was the most beautiful and simple. And I don’t think people think of doulas that way.

CPA:[People] Think that our thing is aromatherapy and massage balls, and that’s part of it. But the other part is just basic stuff, like, “Let me take care of the baby this morning.” Or, “Let me wash the baby’s clothes and fold them.” Or, “Let me give you a resource for a pelvic floor therapist.”

We not only offer mental support, we are also there to affirm you as parents so that you can take care of your child. Much of the emphasis [postpartum] it’s in the baby. …We forget about the whole human being who is having an emotional, physical, and often spiritual experience. If they are not focused or do not feel that they are in a position to do certain things [for themselves]How can they do that for their son? Making sure that person is taken care of, making sure that he has the things that he needs will only make you a better parent.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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