HealthDoulas Ease Birthing Experiences for Black Moms During Pandemic

An increase in Doula training and certification during the pandemic is helping equip a new workforce of professionals prepared to combat inequities in birthing outcomes. Racial inequities were prevalent before the pandemic but now concerns of expecting Black mothers are intensified as they try to navigate covid restrictions in hospitals while also hoping for a safe birthing experience.

A doula is a professional labor assistant who provides physical and emotional support to you and your partner during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. For instance, a doula might assist with breathing techniques, relaxation techniques and laboring positions. Some doulas provide massages or other forms of pain relief. Doulas also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. During delivery, doulas are in constant and close proximity to the mother. Their services can continue months into postpartum.

For three decades Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra has supported expecting mothers as a professional in the birthing industry. She’s currently the Chief Family Development Officer and Perinatal Educator-Trainer at the Commonsense Childbirth Institute. She says the racial justice movement has also played a role. “People are wanting to provide support to people who look like them. That it’s culturally specific,” says Sekhr-Ra.

As was the case for Danielle Swift, a mother of three, who says since she wasn’t a new mom she was confident about creating her birth plan but was concerned about giving birth in a pandemic. She brought in Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra as her doula during her first trimester something she wishes she would have done with her two previous pregnancies.

“I worked with my Doula and when you talk about self agency as a pregnant woman, especially as a black pregnant woman, when you know that infant mortality rates are higher and all these other things where it’s really important to do what you feel is best for you.” says Swift.

 

According to Surgo Ventures Black Mothers are 2.5 times as likely to die during childbirth. Concerns for expecting Black mothers are valid “but having the reassurance from my duola is really what made me feel most comfortable.”

Swift was seven centimeters dilated when she arrived at the hospital. She was given a rapid covid test immediately but the results didn’t come back quick enough.

“I had to wear a mask throughout my entire delivery process, which was kind of difficult, you know, they’re like, just breathe and you have this mask over your face in delivery.”

Despite statistics, Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra doesn’t want mothers to have misconceptions about giving birth during the pandemic “It’s safe and possible. Whether it’s a home birth, birth center, or at a hospital.” Sekhr-Ra wants women to know that they don’t need do this alone “get trusted support from a birthing professional and be open to that support.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics the pandemic has impacted the beginning and end of the life cycle for the U.S. population. Contrary to claims about “pandemic babies” births declined while mortality went up. Monthly data shows a downturn in births in winter 2020-2021 but there were signs of a possible uptick by March.

Hospitals are also limiting the amount of people who can be present during birth in order to limit potential covid exposure to mothers and their babies.

I was restricted just to having one person in the room with me, which was her father. And luckily, I was able to have my duola as well, which she provided a lot of support support. I felt like I needed. And so I was grateful for that. But just like with visiting and things only able to have one person come a day, and so it really it just limited the amount of support that you’re able to have when you first have a new baby.”

Although the presence of Danielle’s doula helped mitigate her concerns she says these restrictions have a broader impact beyond just her. “When the baby came, there were a lot of people in her family my mom, her grandparents on both sides that they really wanted to be there. And so that’s what really made it hard. And so I think the emotion is what was shared as a family and as a community.”

While some of the hospital restrictions may be lifted after the pandemic Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra says “we have a new normal…to deal with.” In terms of racial inequities in birthing Sekhr-Ra says the industry has become more mindful in addressing it through legislation, funding for birth work and an overhaul of the birth culture.

 

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