life after birth

Black Mothers Matter

October 15, 2020
Cat Francis

I’m Cat. I’m a Queer, Caribbean-American Mother, Herbalist, Yoga Teacher, Musician and Doula. In the span of my work as a doula, it has been made crystal clear how important Black/Brown folx need access to Black doulas and midwives. It’s crucial to note here, that while every person who carries a child deserves quality attention and support, my current focus is on the Black community—as it is the demographic drastically underserved during a divine phase such as pregnancy and childbirth. 

While it’s more ‘mainstream' news now (shout out to NPR and The New York Times), it has been a long time truth that Black Mothers have the highest mortality rates in the Western World. Some years ago I gleaned that, where I live in New York City, maternal mortality rates are 13x higher amongst black women. Learning this just shortly before I gave birth to my daughter, was very sobering. I was lucky enough to have had access to a doula. Shout out to the wonderful Chanel Porchia of Ancient Song Doula Services in Brooklyn and to my doula and dear friend Christine Mahoney of Obeah Woman Botanicals

Throughout a great majority of my pregnancy I had experienced being slighted so terribly by nurses and doctors that I made it a point to change my provider at 32 weeks. One particular experience, reflecting my invisibility in these spaces, was having a nurse ask me to take a pregnancy test even though I had been there three times previously. Not to mention, I was already five months pregnant. After desperate research for a Black midwife, and an OBGYN of color, I made the switch happen. It was after this community reboot occurred that things drastically improved. A change in the community that provided care for me was key to giving me a birth story that many women do not have the chance to tell. 

My doula Christine was useful in providing education about what my resources were, and clueing me in to holistic alternatives for physical and mental wellness. Her newfound care emboldened me to sign up for affordable prenatal yoga, which was monumental in helping me treat painful pregnancy sciatica. I was able to tackle less tangible things, like having a realistic approach to my diet. I was given food journals, and was able to meaningfully reflect about my experiences as a pregnant person with her. Despite not having traditional support (#singlemom alert), I was able to lean on my doula emotionally, spiritually and physically. 

For my actual six hour labor, I was blessed to find a midwife, who was a direct reflection of me, as she was also a Haitian Black woman. My birth was rapid, which was unusual for a first-time delivery. I was afraid and worn out, and just as I was going to try to give in to an intervention, my midwife Sabine Juedy was able to keep me grounded, and got me together. Overall, I realized just how lucky I was to have been saved from an experience that could have been fatal. I was able to survive because I had a community who were truly invested in my highest good, and worked hard through postpartum care.

Oftentimes, folx confuse the kind of maternal support roles there are. A doula is very different from a midwife. A midwife can often be juxtaposed to a doctor, as they are medically trained to deliver, and if absolutely necessary perform any emergency surgical duties. Doulas deal with emotional, mental, physical and oftentimes moral/spiritual support. I am a full-spectrum doula, dealing with all kinds of maternal care, including abortion, bereavement, labor and postpartum work. My current focus is postpartum work which can include regularly checking in with the parent(s). The time just after delivery is critical as many Black and Brown folx experience “baby blues” and postpartum depression. 

In the Black community, postpartum depression is not something readily discussed, and is often overlooked because of distractions in environmental and economic disparities. Sometimes postpartum work can look like mild therapy, or cooking a meal or even helping a parent take a nap! This work drastically varies depending on the doula, and the needs of the client. It is imperative that Black and Brown pregnant people have care that provides them a safe space to truly be listened to and supported. Everyone deserves an environment that reflects their values and needs. It should be noted that postpartum care does not look one way and can span from 6 weeks after birth to two years after birth. It’s important to also consider the value of doulas and midwives who are a part of LGBTQIA+ communities. The more intersections that are reflected in healthcare, the more likely it is that no one gets left behind.

I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure that all people are treated with tenderness. 

Support your local organizations. Do research on what grassroots organizations contribute meaningfully to the communities of color near you. If you are not a person of color, consider how your voice can amplify these issues. Consider how your access can lead to others finding resources they never knew could be afforded to them. If you are not a person of color, consider how your intersection can create visibility for the Black folx around you. 

Evaluate what you can contribute. Donate money, supplies or time. In Brooklyn, places like Ancient Song Doula SERVICES are aimed to serve Black Women and Women of Color in wonderful capacities, including community doula trainings. There are organizations like the Black Doulas Association that provide access to doulas that specifically reflect the communities they intend to serve. 

Petition for Health Care Providers to provide stipends for doula care, as most of this work is underfunded. Most importantly, find ways to connect with your local government about pushing through legislation that allows for doulas to be paid with insurance, instead of out of pocket. The more we use our will and privilege to provide access to others, the more we can see a world that is reflective of love and unity we all desire. After all, it truly takes a village.

Be Well
Cat Francis (She/Her/They)