The following snippet comes from a January 12th article about doulas from the Seattle Times. While I find some aspects of the piece problematic, particularly the assumption that doulas are women and that only women give birth, it does a great job at shedding a bit of light on the racial and ethnic disparities faced by people of color and the babies of those people.
"A week into my son’s life, he wouldn’t stop crying. I can still see his scarlet face and hear the alarm in his voice. Exhausted and new to motherhood, I was flummoxed and near panic myself.
Then my doula rang the bell. A no-nonsense woman, she swooped Malcolm up, whispered in his ear and massaged his little body. Identifying that he was hysterically hungry, she fed him a few fingers of formula — calming him down long enough to nurse.
She also asked me how I was doing and listened when I admitted: “Not great.” She was a lifeline in the chaos, and I still think of her with deep gratitude.
A person* is a woman who is trained to assist women during childbirth as well as in the pre- and postnatal period. It’s a tradition with roots around the world but a practice that has been resurrected in the U.S. as research increasingly shows doulas reduce C-section births and encourage successful breast-feeding."
Read the rest of the article here.
I pride myself on being a black, queer Jewish doula, but does that mean I'm the right doula for someone who, say, identifies as a white, heterosexual Christian? Yes, maybe.
According to an article about Black Midwives in the LA area, "Nationwide, black women are at the greatest risk of pregnancy-related death, have the highest rates of C-sectionsand, compared with whites, black infants are four times as likely to die of complications at birth and twice as likely to die before their first birthday."
This disparity in maternal care along racial lines is something that can't be ignored. When a woman of color in the hospital birthing system is possibly surrounded by doctors and nurses who don't look like her, having a black doula to help her advocate for herself can be the difference between a natural birth and an emergency c-section. I want to be clear that this isn't to say that a white doula couldn't provide a woman of color care that is just as comprehensive and caring, it's just different. A black doula shares a similar life experience as her black client, even if they come from two separate worlds.
So what about religion? Is it important that my doula matches my personal religion? Again, I can't say, though I've personally doulaed for couples who shared my religious background and those who did not. For some, the religious/spiritual aspect of birth is important. It can mark a new life cycle event that requires special prayers or affirmations be recited. Having a doula who is familiar with those rituals can be helpful. For others, birth is just a part of life that doesn't hold any specific religious significants, but has a spiritual element that a doula can help facilitate. Mother blessings, placenta burying, and similar are all rituals that a doula can help plan.
Lastly, what about sexual orientation. Would it be weird to have a lesbian doula at my birth if I'm not a lesbian myself? Again, I can't answer this question for anyone. However, I will say that all of my clients to date have been straight couples or single women and it hasn't been an issue. Like race and religion, having a doula who understands differing pronouns, gender presentation, language, and processes can be helpful for couples and singles in a hospital setting, where awareness and sensitivity may be limited.
So what does this all mean? Should I only accept clients who are like me? No, not at all. I love that my client base has been an incredibly diverse mix of single women, couples, friends and strangers. I love that I've been able to whisper tehillim (Psalms) while a woman labors and mimic "Thank you, Jesus" when an exhausted mother holds her baby for the first time. I always encourage clients that I meet for consultation to interview at least two (or more) doulas to find the one that "fits". And if the one that fits happens to be similar to you, great. If the doula does not, well, that's great too.
02/5/14 by Crystal Azul
I grew up hearing stories about births and deaths from my mom, who was raised in a poor, evangelical home in Mexico. My mom would tell me the story of her nephew Esteban’s birth. It happened during the middle of a hurricane, the water had risen a foot into the tiny house, and my mom’s cousin was in active labor. Baby Esteban, nearly having a water birth, came out of his squatting mother like a slippery fish, caught by my mom’s capable hands.
When my friends started having babies, I became actively interested in birth justice work, especially after hearing their stories of unnecessary interventions, lack of communication from hospital staff about procedures, and the feelings of being too overwhelmed to make an informed decision during labor. As a feminist, womanist, and queer POC, I understood all too well the importance of advocacy during times of medical vulnerability. In 2011, I finally trained as a doula in Arcata (Humboldt County) and had my first client – a 17 year old woman who found me on a volunteer doula list through the Family Practice Nurses who worked with mothers on WIC. After this first experience of working for my client and representing her wishes, I knew that would never want to work for a hospital or similar institution and began searching for ways to be a doula in community.
Last August, I attended SQUATfest, a conference for people working in birth/reproductive justice and held at the Women’s Building in SF. As can be expected, the conference was predominantly white and cis, though some effort had been made to offer scholarships for low-income/POC birth workers. For many (qt)poc folks, accessibility with regards to affordability is one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a doula or hiring a doula. (There is a movement to include doula services through Medi-Cal, and there are volunteer doula programs in select hospitals that provide doulas for those who qualify as low-income.) During SQUATfest, I spent time in the Doulas & Midwives of color circle. There were many conversations about working in mostly white and privileged spaces, bringing services and support to communities of color, and burn-out being a major issue for (qt) POC birth workers. Some of the newer birthworkers discussed finding it challenging to “connect with birthworkers of color for mentorship because they are too done, tired and are moving on, have too much risk/responsibility already on their plate, or are homophobic/transphobic.” I had the privilege of hearing the wisdom of such birth justice workers as Midwives Makeda Kamara, Claudia Booker, and our local Certified Professional Midwife Laura Perez from Sacred Birth Place in Oakland.
Hi there! I'm Erika Davis and I'm a doula working in the Seattle and South Puget Sound area.