Supporting a pipeline of diverse doula care to improve maternal health outcomes

Supporting culturally diverse doulas

It’s an unfortunate truth — some women feel unsupported in their pregnancy journey, which can be highly stressful in an otherwise exciting time of life. Especially for women of color, there may be implicit bias or other issues that can make them feel unheard at the doctor’s office.

“I felt like my concerns that I was expressing were being invalidated,” said new mom Kishla Conner of her experience. “I knew then I needed to make a transition to figure out how I can best feel safe during my pregnancy and the environments I put myself in.”

Kishla’s concerns point to a larger disparity that exists within maternal health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 700 women in the United States die each year from pregnancy-related complications. For Black women, death in pregnancy and childbirth is three to four times more likely than that of white women.

To find the emotional and physical support she needed, Kishla turned to Urban Baby Beginnings to enlist the help of a doula.

“They offer a number of different resources. Not just a doula, but the education piece and the support piece,” Kishla said, adding that it was helpful to feel like she had someone who understood her in her corner. “Having someone that identifies and that looks like me.”

Unfortunately, not all communities have access to these services. So to help meet the growing need of community-based doulas, UnitedHealthcare donated $250,000 to Urban Baby Beginnings to train and mentor 250 new doulas of color.

“One of the things that was extremely important that changed the game in terms of how we could really access people was the funding that we received through the UnitedHealthcare Empowering Health grant.” said Stephanie Spencer, executive director and founder of Urban Baby Beginnings. “What that has allowed for us to do is to open the doors to ensure that it’s accessible to women of color across the state. What we’re able to offer through our training is a full scholarship for individuals who want to practice.”

Training doulas who are culturally diverse and meet the needs of the community they serve is a big part of Urban Baby Beginnings’ mission.

“If we were going to create a space for people to have service, we also needed to ensure that there were individuals that looked like the people that we were serving. We also know that for women of color, we are addressing things such as racism and bias. It is extremely important to have representation in all of those spaces.” Stephanie said. “When you pair people who provide quality level support, who are from the communities that they serve, and they are trusted members of that community who individuals who like them and maybe have similar backgrounds that you can have better outcomes, it’s a no-brainer in terms of what we need to do.”

Kishla found her experience with a doula and Urban Baby Beginnings invaluable — so much so that she trained to become one herself in order to help others find the same safe space.

“I felt fulfilled, like I really had a purpose,” Kishla said. “It became so natural to me to be able to just navigate and learn. A lot of things I experienced on the receiving end knowing that I could provide that to other women.”

Urban Baby Beginnings has currently trained more than 175 doulas, like Kishla, with the goal of 75 more by the end of 2023.

“The main thing is to remind our moms that they don’t have to be alone in this space and to trust their instincts,” Stephanie said. “When they do that, that allows them to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their children.”

For more information, visit Urban Baby Beginnings.


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