Dear Culture

Black Doulas Matter: Tia Dowling and Stephanie Henriques

Episode 89

Read the full transcript here.

This week on the Dear Culture podcast, our hosts, theGrio Managing Editor Gerren Keith Gaynor and guest host, theGrio Senior Vice President of Digital Programming, Natasha S. Alford, talk about the growing trend of Black women opting out of western birthing practices and the rise of Black doulas and achieving racial equity for Black birthing people and children.

By now you’ve either heard or read about the staggering maternal mortality rate among Black women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a range of factors from structural racism to underlying health conditions contribute to Black women being three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.  

Now, there is a growing conversation in the birthing community around the use of doulas, someone hired to provide guidance and support to an expectant birthing person. Black doulas in particular seem to be on the rise.

Pregnant Woman at Doctor's Office
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Tia Dowling, a certified postpartum doula and certified lactation consultant, said she found her way to becoming a doula after going through her own maternal journey, discovering doulas to be invaluable — especially in communities of color. 

“When I think about doulas, we think about a community of people coming to support one another in birth. Even when we were not allowed into hospitals, we had granny midwives that would be there to support our births and to make sure that we were safe giving birth,” said Dowling.

“We would have family members around us and doulas around us to support us during this process and to be with those postpartum [mothers] and to make sure that we were fed that we were taken care of. When we think about doula support, it is in our ancestry to provide support for families that are birthing.” 

Alford, who is a new mom herself and wrote about her pandemic pregnancy experience, said that having a doula meant having another voice and presence during the pregnancy and birthing process to ensure the best care for her baby. 

“You’re going through it and you feel like maybe there’s something you might be missing, and you’re in pain at times,” Alford explained. “This other person, I felt, had my back, you know. As a Black woman, that is essential when you know you’re going into a system that you know can be can be challenging for us.”

Pregnant woman
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The hosts were also joined by Licensed Social Work and Certified Birth Doula, Stephanie Henriques who says that while celebrity doulas like Erykah Badu may available to the stars, the reality is that doulas and birthing advocates are relatively accessible.

“There are local community doula organizations and community doula programs that provide low cost and sometimes free or pro bono doula services to the community,” Henriques said.  “You can just type in your local space, your local Google, and say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a local doula,’ and there will be a number of listings that will pop up.” 

Henriques said that it’s also important to consider that while someone may be a certified doula it doesn’t mean that they’re the right person to assist in your birthing experience so it’s important to do your research.

Tune into the Dear Culture podcast to hear the entire conversation, including our experts’ advice and all the questions expectant folks should ask before getting a doula. 

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