The Black Women’s Health Imperative x Knix
Knix is partnering with the Black Women’s Health Imperative to create NOURISH— a Postpartum Doula training program designed around the needs of Black birthing families. We'll also be providing $75,000 in scholarships for the year long training, along with free postpartum care to 80 families. And with your help, ongoing proceeds from Knix’s Maternity and Postpartum Collection will also be going toward this brand new program.
Through the NOURISH Community Doula Training program, 20 Postpartum Doulas will be trained with certifications provided by the National Black Doula Association. The new program created by Knix and BWHI is called NOURISH for an important reason— it stands for New Opportunity to Uncover our Resources, Intuition, Spirit and Healing. And we’re so proud to be a part of this incredibly necessary program.
Through our Life After Birth Project, we’ve continually committed to fostering community and building support for people navigating their postpartum journeys. But now more than ever, Black women experience limited in-person prenatal care, less support during labor, and more postpartum social isolation during their “Fourth Trimester”. Black birthing parents are less likely to be screened for postpartum depression, which makes this an especially vulnerable time. However, studies have shown that support from a doula can improve the chances of healthy birth outcomes and reduce maternal mortality.
We’re so thankful we got to chat with BWHI’s Director of Maternal Health, Kanika A. Harris, PhD, MPH all about NOURISH, the importance of supporting Black birth workers, what kind of care Postpartum Doulas provide and why BWHI is asking the question— how do we get Black moms supported and listened to?
Meet Kanika and the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
Hi Kanika, tell us a bit about BWHI and your role as Director of Maternal Health at BWHI.
BWHI has been around since 1983, started by Byllye Avery. It really started out of the need for reproductive justice and the need for Black women to have the necessary resources to support themselves and have access to healthy choices throughout their lives.
One of the first things Byllye Avery did was start a gynaecological care centre in Gainesville, Florida in response to a failed petition to get a Planned Parenthood clinic in their community. So they were like, okay, we will make this happen for ourselves. And that’s been the mission of BWHI after all these years: to really support the physical, emotional, financial, and mental needs of Black women nationally across the US. And to make sure we are speaking to the lived experiences of Black women.
I live and breathe maternal health. It’s what I do in my spare time, it’s what I do in my life— I’m the mom of 3 year old twins and an 8 year old son. I’m a near-miss survivor and a survivor of postpartum depression. And I am also a certified birth doula! I bring all those lived experiences to the table, along with the research and advocacy side of things.
Why is postpartum care especially important for the Black community?
When we’re talking about maternal mortality, we’re talking about deaths that happen up to one year after delivery. Sometimes a lot of people think maternal mortality means you’re dying during childbirth. That’s part of it, it accounts for about a third of deaths. But about one third of deaths also happen one week to one year postpartum.
That postpartum period is overlooked. We call it the “Fourth Trimester” and it’s important in terms of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can change the trajectory of a woman's life if it’s not treated. It can be a chronic situation for the mom and the family, and it can transform into other issues.
Especially during COVID— moms are isolated. They don’t have family coming to help because of safety, especially grandparents, and that level of isolation when you have a new baby is just not good.
What kind of support does a postpartum doula provide?
They offer informational support, emotional support. There’s tangible support too— like helping around the house. Helping with a bit of tidying, helping to hold the baby while mom sleeps, helping the birth parent with feeding. Especially helping mom and baby bond and helping the family adjust to a new baby. Physically healing from delivery, talking through healing meals and nutrition. Helping the parents work through any issues postpartum. Maybe mom isn’t feeling well and she’s dismissing it. Postpartum doulas will help to advocate and help her speak up, or help her recognize if she needs a doctor’s visit sooner rather than later. Those are critical points where you can save a mom’s life.
Living in the United States we have this idea that strength comes from figuring it out alone and by yourself. We put that on moms too. But no one in the world births in isolation. Birthing children and having children builds community. So we want to support building a community. Having help or getting a postpartum doula is not a sign of weakness, or that you’re doing anything wrong. This is what you’re supposed to have.
What are some of the biggest issues Black women face when it comes to maternal health right now? How has COVID-19 played a role?
The issues Black women face when it comes to maternal health have spanned over decades. We have research to prove that education and income are not necessarily protective factors against maternal mortality or poor birth outcomes. Black women and birthing people are bearing the brunt of the maternal health crisis in the United States. The United States has the worst maternal health outcomes out of all developed nations.
Most of this is stemmed from the stress Black women experience in terms of racism in this country. And the reason it spans across socio-economic status is because you can be a Black lawyer— but the stress of becoming a lawyer and the stress of being the only person of color in the room is a lot. Those experiences of isolation, those stressors can lead to high risk pregnancies.
On the flip side, there’s the stress of not having your basic needs met. Living in poverty, not having access to quality food or quality healthcare, environmental issues, poor air quality— these all contribute to high risk pregnancies. So we’re seeing it on both ends.
And then, just living in a country that doesn’t affirm who you are as a human being. Not seeing yourself represented. Seeing things like the George Floyd trial, the narrative of race and the devaluation of Black women— we’re experiencing situations where we’re not listened to, where we’re not believed, our pains and concerns are not taken seriously. And so when you’re talking about a life or death situation, we’re not making the cut.
COVID-19 has really unveiled and lifted this cloak when it comes to maternal care, because you’re seeing now that mothers are getting even less maternal care. It’s been a situation where we’re losing moms during COVID because they have even less support. It amplified the need for doulas, amplified the need for better support and care, and has made us ask— how do we get moms heard and listened to?
Why is it especially important to support Black birth workers?
Health care providers are trained by a culture of gynaecological care that was built off of Black women’s bodies. Literally torturing Black women’s bodies. When you think of that level of disrespect from the founding fathers of gynaecological care in America, it’s so deep rooted in terms of how we’re trained to this day.
There are levels of bias that we just can’t be aware of because of how we’re conditioned from the time we’re born. It’s so important to have more Black researchers, more Black doctors, more Black doulas that can advocate and ask the right questions— ask the questions we’re not thinking of as patients, listen to us and recognize cues. Having the representation in hospitals is a life or death issue right now.
What are your hopes for the future of maternal health?
I always tear up when someone asks me this question. My hope is that my daughter is heard and listened to, that she lives in a space that affirms who she is and who she wants to be. That she lives in a space that is unburdened so she can birth a family and feel supported and she’s healthy. That her identity and her culture within that space of birth is heard and not questioned. She doesn’t have to walk into this process from a space of fear, a space of having to fight. A space where she will be getting sacred, respectful care.