Calling All Doulas: Black Women and Childbirth

I reached out to a childhood friend of mine to discuss the significance of becoming a doula during a time when women of color are struggling to survive childbirth.

Veronica Glover

Staff Writer 

According to recent studies, African American women and WOC pose an alarming risk of death after childbirth, regardless of their socioeconomic status. With a combination of birth, death and hospitalization records, demographic records of the Census Bureau and Social Security Administration suggest that the discussion of childbirth and the risks it poses at modern times is long overdue. Fortunately, I was able to sit down with Karen Cruz-Ruiz, a senior at Elon University, to discuss this as well as her pursuit to become a doula. Here is some personal insight from her and why it is important to properly care for women before and after childbirth. 

V: What is a Birth Doula?

K: A birth doula is a non-medically trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a birthing person before, during and shortly after childbirth to help the person achieve the most desirable outcomes. All birthing people deserve to feel and be empowered throughout the very natural process of birth. They deserve dignified and tailored care that will allow for the desired birth experience. With this in mind, a birth doula creates an environment that supports birth while providing uninterrupted support during childbirth, helping the birthing person and advocating for the most adequate care during both pregnancy and childbirth, among many other things. As a birth doula, it is my personal mission and duty to serve as a part of the birthing person’s support system throughout their journey towards the beautiful thing that is birth.

V: Why did you become a Birth Doula? 

K: My collegiate experiences have given me the opportunity to find this passion. As a public health studies major, I have been able to dig deep into health disparities, patient inequities and the reality of the U.S. reproductive system since the beginning of my collegiate career. With a huge interest in the healthcare field, I continued my path towards health equity work through volunteer and internship opportunities, where I had the privilege of serving my Spanish-speaking community and further witnessed a gap in care for myself. I then found myself engaging in undergraduate research while on the hunt to find answers to the lived maternal and reproductive experiences of Latinx/Hispanic women. Through interviews, I became more aware of the lack of support provided to Latinx birthing people throughout the birthing process. I further desired to have a role in providing that much-needed support within a birth setting as a Spanish-speaking birth doula. Through the support of a fellow birth doula, Queen Assata Stephans, I was able to see that my skills, passions and values aligned with those of doula work—I saw myself within that space, taking part in the call to action and actively helping in bringing about positive birth outcomes while also empowering and uplifting birthing people during such a life-changing moment. It is my hope that people recognize and value the importance of birth work, and that they may even find a place for themselves within it.

V: How does having a doula make a difference? 

K: Research shows that doulas reduce the likelihood of c-sections, use of medications and unwarranted/undesired interventions while increasing the likelihood of good breastfeeding outcomes. Doulas do this by providing the birthing person with evidence-based information that is useful for the autonomous decision-making of the birthing person. As maternal and child health disparities continue to grow, it is very important to call attention to the inequities within childbirth. Today, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have worse birth outcomes compared to White birthing people due to a racist and unjust U.S. hospital birthing system. As a doula, it is of great importance to continue acknowledging that racism, alongside other systems of oppression, is the root cause of the injustices and obstetric violence many birthing people experience today, particularly marginalized women. Thus, it is of great importance that the number of doulas increase, particularly doulas of color–birth work is extremely important. In accordance with reproductive justice, a framework that prioritizes bodily autonomy and the right to parent within safe and supportive communities, birth workers must further analyze power dynamics and address and combat oppressive acts within birthing spaces. Becoming a parent and doing so in a safe and supportive environment is a human right, and as a doula, it is my role to assist in ensuring that this right is met accordingly.

V: Who is this role meant for? 

K: Many people may feel they are not equipped to become a doula because they have yet to personally experience the labor and delivery process; however, that is absolutely not the case. Much of what is necessary is the desire and passion to support birthing people during pregnancy, childbirth and/or postpartum. You can learn more about whether this work is right for you by connecting with current birth workers in the field or by simply digging deeper into your current skills and passions! 

V: What are the types of doulas? 

K: Birth, Postpartum, Miscarriage and Abortion Doulas. 

V: How do you get started?

K: Look into certification programs in your area that align with your values and desires–there are a variety! A couple of options include Dona International and W.I.S.E. Community Doulas.

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