Over and over, we hear that the concerns of Black/African American women experiencing negative symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum are specifically ignored until the mother’s condition worsens. At which point it may be too late to prevent a deadlier outcome.
About 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. every year, and 60 percent of those are preventable. And infants born to Black/African American mothers are dying at twice the rate as infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers. The causes are multifaceted, but the underlying cause of the Black maternal mortality crisis is racism.
What you hear from Black/African American mothers is ‘I don’t feel heard, ‘I’m not listened to;’ ‘I don’t feel comfortable explaining how I’m feeling because I’m not taken as seriously as someone else. Most commonly, in Black/African American birthing stories is that their pain is not being acknowledged.
This is where doulas come in. Doulas focus on the mother’s needs, offering mental, physical, and emotional support. Crucially, they advocate for the patient’s wishes. According to the National Black Doulas Association, “Black/African American women hire doulas because they want to make sure that they live.” In addition, doulas provide an extra layer of support where patients can ask more questions about the birthing experience and explore all measures to ensure a healthy outcome.
Even tennis star Serena Williams faced hospital staff who would not listen to her health concerns after giving birth via a C-section. She was sure she was experiencing a pulmonary embolism; she knew the symptoms because she had a history of blood clots. However, in a Vogue cover story, Williams said a nurse told her she was probably confused by her pain medication. A doctor refused her a CT scan and instead did an ultrasound on her legs. She eventually had the CT scan. She was right.
Doulas are filling a lifesaving role in the birthing process for Black/African women. However, because there’s a lack of trust within the Black community towards the medical community, we need more Black/African American doulas who understand and share the same lived experiences as their clients.
Art by Lauren J. Turner