Black Maternal Health Week: A Doula’s Perspective
Content warning: This post mentions maternal mortality
Five years ago, the mothers of Black Mamas Matter Alliance founded Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) in order to spread awareness, to inspire activism, and to build community around Black mamas, deepening the national conversation about Black maternal health in America. And it was very much needed…and still is. Right now, the United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths compared to other similarly wealthy countries—and Black mamas are continuously hit the hardest. In fact, Black mamas are three times more likely to die during childbirth compared to white moms—and Black infants are at elevated risk for death, too.
The only way to improve these numbers is to impart awareness and implement some serious changes. To help inch our way closer to that goal, Happiest Baby asked a few Black doulas to share their thoughts on how to get there. Here’s what Eunique (euni) Deeann, a doula, postpartum researcher, and founder of Slowbirth Collective in San Diego, California had to say.
Happiest Baby: Before starting your doula journey, how aware were you of Black maternal health disparities?
Euni Deeann: I grew up in a lower-middle income Black family in a small town in Texas. I didn’t need to know statistics from national research to understand the impacts poverty, lack of access, racism, and cohesion play in the health and well being of Black bodies. I lived it. I witnessed it. It wasn’t what drew me into this work, but as I continued to unpack my own traumas and experiences, I was able to grow depth in understanding of the harsh truths that exist in ways that are disproportionately distributed across communities. [The long-term toll of racism puts Black mamas at higher risk for a range of medical conditions that threaten their lives and their infants’ lives, including preeclampsia, eclampsia, and embolisms, notes The Center for American Progress.]
HB: Do disparities in Black maternal health drive you to do the work you do?
ED: As my teacher, mentor, and friend Sabia Wade says, “When the most marginalized people’s needs are met, we all win.” I believe this to my core. I believe there’s space for all to exist and when we create ways to amplify education, support, and tools for healing—especially within communities who have limited or at times no access to equitable and person-centered care—then we’re able to pave paths for all people to have better reproductive transitions.
HB: Maternal mortality rates in America are far higher than those in similarly wealthy countries—and people of color are at the most risk. What can move the needle the most on this issue?
ED: Education and communal care. Building and organizing systems across neighborhoods, cities, and states that bring people together and expand true accessible healthcare to each individual based on where they’re at, not on standards or statistics. [It’s also important to] dissolve egos and learn to listen, lean in, collaborate, and operate in ways that are non-hierarchical… [We need to] truly extend non-judgmental support, no matter the details, circumstances, or challenges a person may be facing. We all deserve this.
HB: Serena Williams recently described how she experienced serious complications after the birth of her daughter Olympia, but that her worries were initially dismissed by the hospital staff. When Serena was finally examined, it was discovered that she needed immediate surgery. What does Serena’s experience say to you about Black maternal health disparities?
ED: Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Statistically, patients asking for support and not being taken seriously is heightened within certain communities, including the Black community. [For example, Black Americans are systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans, according to research from The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.] [Serena’s] experience translates to me that, even with education and resources, it’s vital that we learn to advocate for ourselves and bring in others who can hold that advocacy with us, who will believe the experiences we’re having within our own bodies and help us find the answers we need moment to moment. All too often, our livelihood, and lives can depend on it.
HB: Can you share a little bit about the importance of your work as a postpartum doula and how it can be, perhaps, especially beneficial in terms of Black maternal health?
ED: I believe postpartum work is the most important part of the reproductive experience. There is great emphasis placed on pregnancy and labor and birth—which often stems from a reactive and fear-centered approach. [But] when we’re able to move from preconception through labor and birth with greater education and support, it sets us up for an entry to postpartum with fewer challenges…When a person has the education, support, and tools for healing that they need in those first days, months, and even years after pregnancy, they’re able to truly move into and through this reproductive transition with greater health.
HB: Why do we need Black Maternal Health Week?
ED: I think it’s vital to center and bring to light the areas we can improve and create change for betterment across society… Centering the awareness of Black Perinatal Health commonalities and challenges not only educates our community members, but it brings forward possibilities for change, healing, and shifting the statistics of what is known to be the norm.
HB: How can we all do our part in improving Black maternal health?
ED: When we learn to self-advocate and build allyship-centered relationships across communities, we shift what is normalized as acceptable, which forces change. [We need to] find ways to support community-centered care. [We need to] expand access to resources, tools, education, and hands-on support. [We need to] fight for not only Black perinatal health improvements, but standing in solidarity with full-spectrum reproductive justice centered care for all bodies.
Eunique Deeann, better known as euni, is the founder of Slowbirth Collective, which offers full-spectrum communal care focusing on reproductive education, support, and tools for healing from preconception through postpartum. euni is a doula, a trauma-informed embodiment facilitator, a Reiki practitioner, an Ayurvedic chef, and a reproductive advocate. Through it all, she focuses on supporting marginalized communities including Black, Brown, Indigenous, queer, and trans folks. “In order to benefit the reproductive space the most, we must center the needs of the most marginalized folks and build upon that,” she says.
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