Empowering moms-to-be through every stage of pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
The Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective was created and established in response to learning of high maternal mortality rates among black women, with the overall goal of providing mothers with both education and a certified, trained companion to help women during pregnancy, the birthing process, and postpartum life.
Erica Dickson, a doula and founder of the collective, first learned about maternal mortality rates when she worked as a home communicator, a professional who serves as a liaison between homes, schools and communities. During the school year, homeschool communicators meet for monthly meetings, which usually include various different backgrounds. One particular meeting discussed a news clip on maternal mortality rates in the United States, and in particular the higher maternal mortality rates among black women.
“I was amazed that I had never heard these conversations before, being a black woman myself,” says Erica. “I’m actively involved in a lot of things in the community, so I immediately started researching, trying to figure out what I could do about it.”
This eventually led her to discover the work of doulas and begin her own training to become certified. In November 2020, Hakima Payne of Uzazi Village in Kansas City reached out to help organize a group of women to train as doulas.
“We selected 10 women, including myself, to undergo training with the interest of forming some kind of organized effort,” says Erica. “And here we are with the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective.”
After completing training in perinatal doula support, childbirth education, reproductive health and breastfeeding, the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective officially became an organization in September 2021 and began accepting customers from January 2022.
What are Doula services?
“The more educated and informed you are, the more active and independent you are in the process of having a baby,” says Erica.
The primary role of a doula is to empower their client to stand up for themselves and what they want for their birthing process. The first step to feeling empowered is to be informed about each stage of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as what to expect after childbirth.
“When we talk about maternal mortality rates, most of the time it happens after childbirth,” says Erica. “During this postpartum period, there are different mood disorders that women can experience during this postpartum phase, and many women will, you know, sometimes tend to normalize or not know what’s going on, so there are a lot of different things a doula could be helpful with, and it’s really individualized based on the needs of the client.
There are many ways a doula can help, says Erica. “It may not be that we’re dealing with death, but there’s a lot of trauma associated with childbirth – physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she adds. “So what does it look like to help women through this? Having someone who is aware and knowledgeable is a start.
The Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective also offers a childbirth education program, which focuses on breaking down each stage of labor and what to expect. The program is included in the full doula services, but it can also be done on its own without signing up for additional services.
Comprehensive doula services include seven sessions in total: three prenatal visits, labor and delivery, and three postpartum visits. The total cost is $1,200, which can be broken down into $100 per antenatal and postpartum visit and $600 for labor and delivery.
“We certainly don’t want people to let cost be a barrier if they think they could benefit from the services,” says Erica. “We are able to break down the cost into payments and funds are available to serve women who have no income, as these are the women most affected by maternal mortality rates”
The Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective received a grant from the Healthy Blue portion of Anthem, intended for mothers eligible for Healthy Blue as a Medicaid program.
“They started us with a fairly large grant so we could serve women who don’t have the income to pay for the services,” Erica says. “However, our long-term hope is that eventually doulas will be included in insurance fee schedules. They have done this in other states, but currently it’s not included in Missouri.
The organization’s website also offers the option to donate as a monthly subscription or as a one-time donation, and all donations are for pregnant women.
Breakdown of maternal mortality ratios
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate, regardless of race, of any industrialized country in the world.
“Women are usually rushed through the process,” says Erica. “Their opinions, concerns and knowledge of their own bodies are neither listened to nor honoured. There is also this scare tactic. When you’re not confident in your knowledge and someone says, “If you don’t, it could harm your baby,” sure, most women will. Not having enough knowledge and education to be sufficiently autonomous in decision-making is one of the major contributors to death rates.
More than half of recorded maternal deaths occur after the day of birth, and the maternal mortality rate for black women is 2.5 times higher than for white women and three times higher than for Hispanic women.
“With this, we can look at fair practices and socialization — the different systems people grew up with and how they learned different things,” says Erica. “When you think about how society views any group of people, we tend to lump people together regardless of where they come from. Our first impressions are based on looks because we don’t know anything else when we let’s meet them for the first time. That’s why a lot of black women band together, or really why people, in general, band together.
“There’s a societal bias,” she continues, “which I know is a tough conversation for a lot of people, but there’s an adulteification bias among black women — the tendency to think that, you know, they have thicker skin and pain is looked at in a different way. It’s a tough conversation for a lot of communities to have, but it’s a very real thing. I don’t know what other more real way you can see that black women dying during and after having babies.
The Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective strives to be part of the solution through its services.
“Part of having a doula is knowing what to ask for,” Erica says. “Doctors are overflowing with clients and appointments are short: the whole process can be overwhelming, and women may feel embarrassed if they stop and ask questions. Often women leave with unanswered questions and are pushed like an assembly line, which is not what the birthing process is supposed to be like.
Outside of doula services, the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective works to educate the medical system about what some of the disparities look like and what conversations they should be having with clients. Everything is done with the aim of creating a better future.
“Forming a collective of black women in particular was important,” says Erica. “It creates a sense of security and safety. There is historically a distrust of the medical system vis-à-vis the black community. When there is distrust of people who don’t look like you, you go looking for people who look like you. Black women make up less than 3% of the physician medical system in the United States, and even though we’re not doctors, we’re someone who can step aside and start closing that gap.
The overall goal of the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective is to serve as many women as possible, which may include adding more doulas to the collective, having more than enough funds for pregnant women, and establishing a relationship with the mainstream. medical system.
In addition to the Mid-Missouri Black Doula Collective, there are similar organizations in Kansas City and St. Louis. The purpose of the Mid-Missouri location was to cover the middle area between the two.
“We’re looking at adding more people to the collective that will help cover areas where there are more rural towns,” says Erica, “places like Jefferson City, Boonville, Sedalia, and then Moberly and Mexico City areas. We want to make sure that we cover more ground in terms of being able to offer services in different locations. »
The collective is also planning fundraising to help keep additional funds available for women who cannot afford doulas.
“The other piece of what I think I’m responsible for doing is building relationships with our broader medical systems,” Erica says. “We’re not in an adversarial position, we’re in a world of both / and – we can do both of these things to get the results we need for our community, not just our clients in labor.”