HENRICO COUNTY, Va - Up to 120 expecting mothers who are Black and living in Henrico County will get access to doula services free of charge through October.
The Richmond-Henrico Health District established the fund with community doula organizations to try and reduce the health impacts on Black mothers caused by racial bias in the healthcare system, officials said.
A doula is a labor support person who helps an expecting mother before, during, and after the birth of her baby. Stephanie Spence, Director of Urban Baby Beginnings, said both mother and child experience better health and emotional outcomes when working with a doula.
“A doula provides physical and emotional support to the birthing person. There are all different types of doulas, and that’s why we love this work,” Spencer said. “The simple presence of a doula, can reduce cesarean rates, increase breast feeding, reduce depression, and obviously reduce the negative impacts of bias and racism in health systems.”
Studies have found that Black and Brown pregnant people experience maternal morbidity and mortality at rates 3-4 times higher than white mothers. Spencer said navigating the health care system has traditionally made it more difficult for Black mothers to partner with a doula during their pregnancy.
“Many times [the mother] didn’t know they existed, and then they were too unaffordable. That’s something we have to address because health and wellness is something that’s just a right for everyone. So, if we know that doulas, and to implement doulas into the community, can be lifesaving, wouldn’t you offer that?” Spencer said. “To be that person who’s the recipient of services allows you to feel empowered. It allows you to feel like, you know what, I have a voice, especially with Black women whose voices tend to be suppressed in these systems. For them to know, I can choose a different doctor, I can choose an epidural verse a natural labor, or I can have a doula for a C-section. A lot of these things aren’t known because we’re not sharing that,” she said.
Urban Baby Beginnings and Birth in Color RVA will provide their services free of charge for up to 120 pregnant Black women, who live in Henrico, free of charge from now until October. The funding was established through a grant from the Henrico County Office of Emergency Management, officials said.
Now a doula herself, Spencer said her own experience navigating birth as a Black woman shows why the new fund is a critical first step.
“I was just walking by myself. People weren’t listening or hearing me. I felt judged. Then, I got this doula, and she was like, ‘Stephanie, what do you want?’ I was like what?!” Spencer said. ““This really is a unique role in that it provides a well-rounded experience that the mom needs, to have that village of support.”
You can learn more about the program here: https://henrico.us/health/maternity-care/
You can apply for the fund here: https://redcap.vdh.virginia.gov/redcap/surveys/?s=E9W7NHYAFM
Urban Baby Beginnings: https://urbanbabybeginnings.org/
Birth in Color RVA: https://birthincolorrva.org/
Info on the Black Maternal Health Issue: https://blackmamasmatter.org/