(These stigmas were also listed in an interview for the West Orange Patch dated 2/28/2020)
1) Under educated; Barriers to prenatal care and birthing options are often seen as a lack of willingness on the part of the black parent to either seek proper care or learn more about their options. The truth is black families aren't given the same options as white families. The conversations regarding alternatives are barely spoken since the assumption is we either can't afford them or don't understand them.
As a doula my first step is providing the necessary childbirth education, clear discussion on interventions, birth options and alternatives. My goal is to empower birthing parents with the information needed for true informed consent.
2) Black women are difficult; We are seen as angry, loud and difficult. When the reality is we are not heard! Listening to our daily stressors, micro aggressions and challenges of navigating health care built on systemic racism is the first step to changing this narrative. We only want the best for our families and our voices simply aren't heard.
Having had two children myself and helping hundreds of women navigate the birthing spaces in NJ and NY, I listen to black women. Understanding their values and concerns should be of interest to medical providers, so when that doesn't happen their doula is there to amplify their voices.
3) Black bodies are imperfect; reading any risk factor for a condition from hypertension to diabetes a common risk factor is simply being "an African-American". More black women are labeled "high risk" than any other group during pregnancy. This leads to greater chances of inductions and cesareans sometimes unnecessarily. When we are seen as a mass of imperfections straight from birth it is no wonder we have greater risks during labor itself.
Once hired, I reassure my clients that pregnancy is not an illness! That their bodies aren't broken, the system is broken. I work with them to ensure they stay 'low risk" and are seen as an individual and that blanket statements about black women are merely stereotypes.
4) Black women don't have partners; pregnancy is normally a very special time in a person's life. For black women in relationships, they spend an enormous amount of time convincing people they aren't alone. This 'poor pregnant black girl image' is one that most married or partnered women have to shake. Answering questions like "do you know who the father is?' is something very few white women are asked during prenatal visits.
My husband and I teach a childbirth education course with the partners in mind. It provides them the tools they need to support their wife or partner
during this beautiful time in their lives. Coaching and advocacy from the partner also helps amplify the birthing person's voice!
5) Black women don't breastfeed; This unfortunately is tied to slavery after being seen as "wet nurses" for white families the stigma of breastfeeding has been passed on through generations. Formula is also heavily pushed and advertised in our communities. This leaves black babies vulnerable without the benefits of breastfeeding, especially if the option was viable one. As a result many healthcare providers just assume it's not wanted or rarely offer support when things get difficult.
Immediately after birth I work with families to ensure skin to skin and breastfeeding initiation. We talk about the benefits to mom and baby while working on a plan for success. Additionally two more home visits ensure correct latch and proper feeding techniques. We also tackle any other postpartum issues as they arise, particularly anxiety or depression.
As a full time coatings expert for BYK USA, a chemical additive company, most people ask how I got into the birthing business. It's rather simple, I'm needed! As a mother of two who had natural physiologic births in a hospital space and at home, my birth experiences were not traumatic. So I know first hand there are options not given to other black women. Honestly, some of these options aren't given to most women regardless of race. The freedom to eat and drink during labor. The freedom to walk and rights of refusal of drugs, IV's or constant monitoring in low risk situations. When we remove the stigmas of birth and the routine procedures predicting that EVERY person needs a heavily medicalized approach we can start saving lives. But perhaps equally important we can empower ALL women in their own birthing spaces.
Childbirth Educator and Doula
Owner of Baby, Please Birth Services
While bringing doula work to light is important, it must be done with integrity. I had the extreme pleasure of being the only doula on the Netflix episode of 'Childbirth Explained'. It was part of a 4 series episode of 'Sex Explained', beautifully narrated by Janelle Monae. My initial excitement of actually seeing myself on video clouded what the 30 minute episode was actually discussing. You see, we had no idea what the context or even what series our involvement would appear. I venture to guess that most of the other participants had no idea either.
When I say we, I am referring to the mother I was assisting and the doctor who was attending her birth. We were in the last minutes of the episode and we were the only black women. The Birth Center of NJ had been open for less than a year, when Netflix approached them for a series on "natural birth". Pre and post interviews were asked of the doctor and the birthing mother. I was not granted such a luxury. To be fair, the Netflix crew that arrived at the birth had no idea what a doula was until the day of filming. So when I was asked to sign the release form I provided a description of doulas, used by the narrator much to my surprise!.
So, what was wrong with this video? A lot! Namely the focus on pain during childbirth and the misinformation about the average length of labor...9 hours? I think they meant 9 months gestation. More to the point, our main goal at the birth center was ruined. We wanted to provide evidence in action regarding natural childbirth, freedom of movement and the low intervention environment that a birth center can ensure. Instead we were in a mash up cervical stretching, primate birthing and numerous birth stories of trauma and pain. Not exactly what we had planned.
What was captured? A few snippets of me administering oxygen to an exhausted laboring person. What wasn't captured? The hours in the tub, walking the hallways of the birth center, showering, on the birth ball and the CUB. All the love, encouragement and peaceful moments were narrowed down to her final pushing minutes. Birth is more than just the pushing stage!
I'm glad this new mother felt strong, empowered and supported during her labor.
I'm upset it will go down in history as a typical birth in America.