My first introduction to Doulas was the Business of Being Born documentary on Netflix. Several months later I was attending a 3 day Training in Austin, TX by a DONA instructor. I was the only Black person and person of color in the training. I had been present for a few births prior to this training and couldn't help but feel as if I was missing a large chunk of what it meant to assist a person during childbirth. I knew it had to be more than battery candles, essentials oils and the business of aspect of being a Doula. The training left me unprepared to work with people who I felt really needed a trained advocate in the room with them. Where my presence meant not only lower chances of a c-section but also decreased chances of obstetric violence, birth rape, maternal morbidity, death etc. To me, a Full Spectrum Doula is more than a day training on abortion. It's also being fully educated on racial disparities in birth and the women of color who were "Doulas" before the Greek definition. Who did this work for the survival of their community and not repeat the same capitalistic nature of health providers and hospitals. It's knowing how to navigate having a client with open ACS cases or intimate partner violence. It's providing a safe space for teen pregnancy. It's having the language to educate Trans and Gender Nonconforming people. It's having the resources for rural/abandon communities. It's knowing how to assist any and every person, advocacy.
Watch what happens when this brave doula's client doesn't make it to the birthing center in episode 1 of Romper's new docuseries, Doula Diaries!
Violence as a public health issue is a real thing. Young men being gunned down is a public health issue just as much as failure to inform a mother on the best way to prepare for birth, both result in the mortality of, particularly, black children, young men and mothers. Violence stems from fear so what is society exactly afraid of when it come to the womb of black and latinx mothers?
The cause of so many horror stories from United States labor and delivery room outcomes stem from a series of obstetric offences that fall under the larger obstetric violence umbrella. Obstetric violence can be described as any unpleasant and non consent, or coerced act against a mother during prenatal visits, in labor and delivery, and postpartum. The mulitfaceted spectrum of violence shows up in many instances such as:
-A mother's request not being honored or ignored during and after labor
-Redirecting a mother's request, so that it meets the need of anyone other than her.
-When a mother is constantly being offered an epidural during birth without receiving information about the high probability of long term effects on a mothers back.
- Unneccessary utilization of any surgical equipment outside of an emergency (i.e. mothers being sold the idea that scheduling a cesarean for the best aesthetic but do not tell you that the epidural is required to have a cesarean).
-The improper education on how to utilize a breast pump after birth.
-Being discouraged or flat out opposed on the idea of having a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) (2nd birth and on).
-No education on any birth related terminology.
And the list goes on...
Obstetric violence occurs too often leaving mother's feeling traumatized and disempowered during a time they should be feeling the greatest joy of their labor of love. In my experience of violence, carried out in the form of being rushed when one hour skin to skin was requested, proved to play a huge role in my son being unable to latch on within his first hours of life. I almost gave up in the hospital due to pressures by staff and my mother saying that my son looked dehyrdrated and undernourished and that I had to stick a formula bottle in his mouth before he died, essentially. This added pressure, following my pushing him out, along with him not latching on, only exacerbated my self doubt as a care giver to the point of tears. Yet, right in that moment, my son rejected the bottle! He would not open his mouth as I cried in surrender and shame, for I had been pushed to the edge. Pushed by hopsital staff, physicians, and family. But HE REJECTED THE BOTTLE. Shortly after he began nursing like a champion. I was glad (an now impressed) that he hadn't rejected me and clearly felt the instinct to latch on. He simply needed time. But not every mother gets loucky to understand, witness, or experience this. Many mothers feel powerless because they, along with society, are taught to view providers as authoritative figures and mothers in labor and delivery are often victimized and even coerced into this unhealthy dynamic during childbirth. Providers are not doing a good job creating safe space for mothers because they are focusing on numbers and getting to the next mother. Without the necessity to utilize surgical tools hospital do not get as much funding.
The shame associated with our black bodies stems from historical systemic violence. The physical and sexual abuse we've encountered throughout colonialism and patriarchal dictatorships of, for example, having been ripped away in many cases from our young only to play the role of wet nurse to our master's children or being experimental subjects to our "authoritative figures" strongly plays into the dynamic of our labor and delivery room scenes. Subconsciously, our current mistreatment in the delivery rooms is endured because we feed into this false narrative of deficiency and not being enough as women in this patriarchial system. Imagine the level of self doubt felt women of color. During segregation we were not even allowed in the delivery and this worked to our advantage because many people of color resorted to midwivery. Once integration occurred racism followed into the delivery room and hospitals that serviced a majority of people of color were not well resourced. Simply pointing out the disadvantages.
But coupled with poor resources and being subjected to violence during the founding of this nation women of color are easily targeted and this needs to be eradicated. In my humble opinion the fact that 1 out 4 black mothers dies in child birth or gives birth to a pre-term or low weight child goes beyond genetic disposition (epigenetics). Violence shows up in oppression that breeds toxic stress no matter the socioeconomic status. Keeping individuals miseducated drastically decreases the chance to make informed decsions and restricting society from exploring and knowing our bodies perpetuates this oppression.
In what ways were you misinormed about the birthing process? Outside of labor and dellivery when have you felt powerless when going for a doctors visit?
Learn about the difference between ICI, IUI and IVF! In this section, we'll discuss three different ways that queer families might conceive.
When it came down to it, I just couldn’t stand the fact that it would take more than five minutes of googling to find a beautiful image of a brown-skinned pregnant person on a good-looking birth education flyer/poster/print-out/anything. And it didn’t just take five minutes — long after five minutes had passed, I gave up on the search. I frowned. Fumed a little. Sat back. And then I started to sketch. Before I tell you about The Educated Birth, let me tell you a little more about me.
I started my Doula journey in early 2016. For three years I had been working for a nonprofit I loved (and still do). I’d spent all that time and more as one of the few people of color working at this beautiful, community-driven, visionary nonprofit that mostly served the young Black people of this mostly Black (and quickly gentrifying) neighborhood in Richmond, VA. I had spent all these years studying the impact that racism and economic injustice — on both personal and structural levels — had had on my city, the young people we worked with, and the work we did day to day.
I was struggling to figure out where my creativity fit in the world of meaningful work that I wanted to contribute to. I was struggling to balance my desire to do hands-on educational work (that let me actually get to know the kids we worked with) with all the administrative work I needed to do. I was struggling to figure out exactly where/how I fit as a young light-skin Black woman at this mostly white organization. My challenges, my privileges, what I could say, what I couldn’t, how I could push, how pushing pushed me back. I wanted to use my creativity. I wanted to have a meaningful, caring, educational role in peoples’ lives (like others had had in mine). I wanted a break from spaces dominated by White/American culture — however well-intentioned and sincere this place was —I was still struggling, still just tired. Tired of being the “only one” or “one of the few left.”
When I entered the birth world, I saw a lot of the same things that disappointed me when I began my nonprofit communications and marketing role. The first thing that struck me was that Black people seemed mostly invisible, except in the conversation of how terrible it was to be a Black woman birthing. The truth is the truth. To say that yes, this is the challenge, this is the obstacle, this is the problem we have to deal with — that’s one thing. And an important, necessary thing. But the truth is always larger than one story. When all you’re ever hearing about a group of people is the problem(s) they have — “problem” is their story.
When I started creating info graphics, I was just thinking, I want the people I work with to have images that reflect them, and are beautiful, and are helpful. But I hope now for much more. My vision is to produce work that tells the other stories. The story, “I am here.” The story, “I am beautiful.” The story, “I am capable.” The story, “I have power.” The story, “I know.” This is the point of The Educated Birth. The Educated Birth is a collection of childbirth education materials I’ve made to equip parents for well-informed and empowering birth by equipping birth educators and doulas with them. I really don’t want parents having to purchase these materials because I think they have to spend enough when preparing for a child. I just want them to have access to the education. And I really don’t want education to be so difficult to find.
The way I look at it, education gives people the power they may not know they have yet. If you don’t know what you can say “no” to, especially in a setting like a hospital, especially in a vulnerable moment like labor — how’re you going to say “no”? If you don’t know what to expect, how’re you going to know what’s going to help? For a pregnant person, looking for info about birth shouldn’t feel like a scavenger hunt! It should just be there! Not hidden away in huge paragraphs of long, hard-to-read books. Easy to access. Easy to read. Enjoyable even! And now, because of so many beautiful people who have supported and educated me (shout out to all my Etsy and Instagram peeps) I’m not just focused on Black women anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel like the birth world doesn’t see them, doesn’t respect them, doesn’t think they’re “[anything] enough” to be a part of their intended audience.
So I just work to be really thoughtful — to stay intentional about inclusive language, multi-cultural presence, showing the full spectrum of gender and sexuality, and making this available in different languages. The different languages part I have barely begun to tackle yet. But it’s coming, just wait.
So, yes, that’s the story. My story and The Educated Birth’s story. It is honestly my favorite thing to work on and I’m so so grateful.