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As Colorado's Black maternal death rate increases, mothers turn to doulas

Black mothers and doulas.jpg
Posted at 5:34 PM, Apr 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-13 20:48:48-04

AURORA, Colo - According to the latest Colorado Maternal Health Equity report, Colorado’s maternal death rate is rising, and Black mothers are almost three-times more likely to be impacted.

“I've been doing midwifery work for almost 20 years. And I think the past five years is the first time that I've heard a black pregnant person say they were scared to die,” University of Colorado Director of Midwifery Services Jessica Anderson said.

Anderson said there are several contributing factors.

“We know that in our systems, racism exists, implicit bias and care looks different in certain areas of our communities, meaning people don't have access,” Anderson said.

Some of her patients are taking matters into their own hands, turning to doulas, trained professionals who help expectant mothers with physical and emotional needs.

“My personal reason for getting a doula was to help navigate a very racist healthcare system,” Christina Yebuah, who gave birth two months ago said.

“A lot of people were like, ‘why do you need a doula, your mom is there, your auntie is there, whoever?’ And it's like, they're also not experts in the way that doulas are. So I think having a person in the room with who is specifically there to be your advocate, and is not so focused on like, just experiencing the full emotionality of what it’s like giving birth, it's, it's just really nice.”

Elephant Circle Co-Deputy Director Vita Malama said having a doula present can change outcomes.

Elephant Circle is non-profit organization that focuses on birth justice and equity.

“We actually do full wraparound services, from doulas, to supporting birth workers to supporting families. We are on the forefront of advocating as well as making sure that when policies are being changed, when things are being sunset, we are there to support those birth workers and to continue these choices, not only for birth or pregnancy, but to where people can have the birth that they want, where they want to happen." Malama said.

"Whether it's, you know, in a hospital setting, or whether it is in a home setting, or whether it's in a birth center setting, it's really important for those options to continue,”

Mama Bird, a maternity wellness spa in Aurora also provides doula services for new moms.

Many of the doulas who work at Mama Bird, are women of color.

“I think that one thing that sometimes families don't consider that creates a lot of conflict around the birthing in general, is that for a family member to serve as your doula, not understanding how to serve as a doula, it takes away their opportunity to play the role of sister, aunt, grandmother. Because those roles are vital,” Mama Bird Doula Nadiyah Grace said.

“My first pregnancy was during COVID, when everybody was paranoid about everything in regards to going to the hospital, and then certain disparities were exposed. So there was a paranoia around my ability to choose and the amount of advocacy that I would receive at the hospital, you know, in the midst of all of these new changes,” Lehanna Jones, Mama Bird patient said. “I had to home births…I had my Doula and with my first experience, it was life changing care.”

But there are still some barriers to having the support of a doula.

“I think it's also partly affordability. We don't live in a society that offers universal free quality health care. So when you think about going down the list of everyone you have to pay to just give birth, the OB the hospital, if the hospital, then after you give birth, if you need extra support, like I had to go through pelvic floor therapy for months afterwards and still have chronic pelvic floor pain…And so I think sometimes when you think about like all the people who need a cut out of your birth, sometimes being able to afford a doula, you just can’t,” Celeste Rios, Mama Bird Doula said.

“There's also like an education piece too, that's lacking like in our community, because a lot of people don't know what a doula does. And then, because of how it's portrayed to some, they look at it like a luxury as opposed to a necessity. And it's not, that's not what it is. So like just switching that mindset is also something that, you know, is a work in progress,” Mama Bird Doula Imaan Watts said.

Mama Bird offers financial help to some patients.

“On our nonprofit side, we have partnered with Colorado access to provide at least 40 Black families with full spectrum doula support. So we are pretty much supporting the family all the way up from the beginning of their pregnancy all the way until their postpartum. So they get a prenatal appointments with us, they are offered yoga, they get newborn care,” Jahala Walker, doula said.

Walker said most importantly, they help mothers advocate for themselves.

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