Tayo Mbande, 25, founder of Chicago Birthworks Collective, a collective of birth workers, healers and wellness practitioners serving Black families across Chicago, working with her son at her home office. “Being a Black doula working with Black people is very different than being a white doula working with anyone who’s not Black,” she said. “That person is dealing with generations and generations and generations of women that look like them being told, like you’re not in control of your body, and you’re not competent enough to be in control of your body.”
Amber Gates, 28, at home with her son. Gates always knew she wanted to give birth outside of a hospital setting. On her relationship with the midwives at the birth center where she gave birth, Gates said, “They just kind of made me not feel fear. Like yeah, I could do this…So I got somebody who physically was there, I got one person that’s just encouraging me emotionally…and these three women was able to give me a piece of mind when I was birthing my son.”
Certified Nurse Midwife Reneau Diallo, 70, (left) examines a patient at Beloved Community Family Wellness Center in Englewood. “I said when I was seven years old, I told my grandmother I’m gonna deliver babies. I’m gonna be a midwife. And I’ve never looked back. In midwifery specifically I’ve been practicing maybe 26 years,” said Diallo, adding that Black people were not allowed in educational programs for birthwork for many years. Diallo recently got her doctorate in nursing.
Sharlisa Grant, 40, at home with her son Cameron reflecting on her relationship with the midwives and doulas at her fourth home birth, “There’s this trust that they give you to trust yourself and really empower you to do what your body is designed to do. And I’ve never felt more powerful then actually giving birth and getting through that.”
Alexis Crump, 22, at home with her 2-week old baby girl talking about her relationship with her doula. Crump worked with a doula throughout her pregnancy and joked that her services extended far beyond the typical package, helping her search for a couch for her new apartment.
“That was the awesome part about having Qiddist as a doula is that she also knew how to help navigate [the hospital procedures] in ways that I couldn’t think of,” said Crump, who Ashe supported during her labor that lasted as long as a day.
Qiddist Ashe (right) with her client, Alexis Crump, at a postpartum visit to Crump’s home. “To me, this work is about bringing the power of birthing back into the community, collaborating with providers as needed and when they’re wanted, but really placing the birthing person at the center of any experience,” said Ashe on her philosophy as a doula.
Birth work, especially in communities of color, can be both emotionally taxing and expensive.
As medical providers, midwives must also be Registered Nurses in Illinois in order to practice legally, leaving many midwives of color in debt and unable to work in community midwifery turning to work at hospitals or private agencies instead. Doulas, who typically provide emotional support to a mother and family during the pregnancy year, are not currently covered by Medicaid, one option that would make their services easier for low income families to access.
All this is in a state where racial disparities in maternal health are worse than national averages.
A recent study of New York women from the Maternal and Child Health Journal found that doula services led to lower rates of low birthweight and mothers reported that they felt doula support gave them a greater voice, while another found that states that have the highest integration of midwives in health care systems have better outcomes for maternal and infant health.
“I think people are done being mistreated by our systems and I think that has put a fire into the community,” said Qiddist Ashe, 25, a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and herbalist. “People see the need [for birth workers]. And now I think it’s about that culture shift and making more opportunities possible.”
This story was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at www.citybureau.org.
Read all stories in our special Maternal Health Issue here.