Photo credit: https://www.healthline.com/
The process of having a child and bringing new life into the world is supposed to be one of the most joyous experiences a new parent can have. But for some, it becomes a more serious matter, one that could be an issue of life or death.
While there is always a level of risk involved when a parent decides to give birth to a child, there is a huge disparity between the care that Black womxn get compared to expecting non-Black parents. In fact, in 2018, researchers found that of around 658 womxn who died of maternal causes, black womxn were dying 2½ more times. That is 37.1% more deaths for Black parents than 14.7% deaths per white parents, per 100,000 live births. And according to the CDC, 60% of those deaths could have been preventable.
For example, earlier this year, expecting mother, Amber Rose Issac, put out a tweet expressing frustration with the medical care she was receiving: “Can’t wait to write a tell all about my experience during my last two trimesters dealing with incompetent doctors.” Soon after those tweets, Amber passed away during childbirth in a Bronx hospital following complications from an emergency c-section. Amber, like many expecting Black mothers, was suffering from a high blood pressure condition called HELLP that went untreated. In New York alone, black womxn are 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications according to the NYC Department of Health. And health issues around high blood pressure affects the Black community 40% higher than any other race. Had her concerns been properly listened to, and had she gotten the medical treatment she deserved, Amber would probably still be alive today.
When it comes to the Black community, there is a large disregard for our health and well being by medical professionals, so much so that at times it can be too late before a problem is realized and no amount of treatment can be done to resolve it. Expecting Black mothers are often left ignored and voiceless in delivery rooms where they are surrounded by medical professionals that do not look like them.
This is where a Doula can come in. By definition, a doula is a womxn, typically without formal obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to a pregnant womxn during labor—but they are much more than that. A doula can also advocate for yourself and the well-being of your child when delivering, as well as, arm you with the knowledge you need to know to protect yourself and your health while giving birth. With so many queer couples and individuals looking to/or already starting a family, LBH felt like it was important that our readers learned about a safer way to navigate pregnancy and childbirth as black queer folkx.
And to help us have that important conversation with you all, we sat down with doula and black queer birth advocate, Dope Doula Tren, to discuss everything from birthing while black to the importance of having a doula be apart of your delivery plan.
What inspired you to become a doula?
Tren: My inspiration for being a doula came from my own birthing experience. [From] when I had my daughter, and also just learning [and] just seeing different articles popping up about the disparities of black womxn, malpractices, [and doctors] just not caring.
Do you feel like your experience as a doula is different considering that you are also queer? And how often do you get to work with expecting queer mothers or trans, non-binary parents?
Tren: I feel like my experiences are different. I have a privilege of passing, like if you look at me, you can’t be like, “Oh, she's queer representing,” [I have the] privilege of being, you know, a fem. So, with that yeah, it can be a bit different. When I had my daughter, her other mom was present, and that experience was not so great with the staff because they couldn't, you know, grasp [the situation]. [They were like] “Oh no, you didn't” or “where's the dad,” you know what I'm saying? So, yeah, it's really different. And to me, I wish that I had someone there to protect me from that. It's heavy enough giving birth, but then not knowing how to trust who hands your life is in, you know what I'm saying? Because they could be homophobic. You can't tell that by looking at a nurse or looking at your care provider.
As far as trans [parents], I had a trans couple and I helped them through their fertility journey—they are with a child now. So, that was different, that was very great, that was a great experience for myself.
What are the benefits for black mothers who choose to hire a doula?
Tren: It's great because I feel like a lot of people underestimate what it is to give birth. I don't think everyone knows their rights, and as a black person, it's different. I have doula-ed a white couple before, and I was just blown away how different it is from when doulaing a black person [in terms of] microaggressions [from care providers]. Not asking for permission—believe in asking for permission; the assumptions—all of that. I would definitely hire a black doula. I believe doulas should only be black. And I really think every black womxn, every black birthing person, should have a doula to save your life, to educate you, to help you if you go in there nervous, you know, with your birthing plan, then you'll be fine. But you know, if you go in and panic, and they know that you don't know what's going on and that you're just trying to make it out––they'll bully you into some decisions that you may not want to make. And your birthing experience can be very traumatic.
What are the core differences between a doula, a birth coach and a general doctor?
Tren: A doula can go through your entire journey with you, starting with fertility. You can have a fertility doula, you can have a labor and birthing doula, and you can have a postpartum doula. Your birthing coach is pretty much what that is—a birthing coach. They cheer you on during your labor and get you prepared. Most birthing coaches I know show up around 36 weeks to help you through that. But with me, I take my clients on as early as 20 weeks—so halfway through. You can have an OB, a doc, a doula, and a birthing coach. You can have all of them, being that doulas are not medical professionals or midwives. We don't do any medical. I can just give you the facts. I can let you know the risk, I can let you know what the medicines are because I work in healthcare too—I can give you those facts, but I can't make any medical decisions.
Is the experience as a black doula different compared to those of another ethnicity?
Tren: Yes, I do believe that it's very different. They—I don't want to call their name—but there is a big company that certifies doulas, and I have been through their program and they don't speak on what it's like to deal with the black infant and maternal mortality rate. So, it's like, why am I here? I'm black. My clients more than likely are going to look like me. So, why am I here? This is not gonna help me. It's very different. The experience of a white womxn in a labor room and the experience of a black womxn in a labor room are completely different, and I know it would literally blow your mind how different it is.
Are doulas expensive? How can expecting mothers in marginalized communities benefit from this kind of service if they don’t have the money?
Tren: Having a doula can be expensive, however, there's so many different programs out there that specialize in that. I actually started out in Nashville—because I'm from Nashville and just moved to the DMV area—I started as a community-based doula in my home tribe, Homeland Heart: Birth and Wellness Collective. We did doula services. We gave [donations to] a birthing team for lower income black families, so that they could have a birth and labor doula, a postpartum doula and also a lactation peer counselor for breastfeeding. There are seven zip codes in Davidson County, which is in Nashville, where their mortality rate is higher than the national average. So, we provided free services for them through our nonprofit. Everything that's poured into the nonprofit organization is funded by the community [and] other doula tribes. [There’s] a lot of different communities and things that come together to make it happen. I'm [also] trying to expand that here, so right now I'm just gathering data around the DC and Baltimore areas [so that I can] provide those services for families here [as well].
We see so many alarming statistics about black mothers dying in childbirth, largely due to their doctors ignoring warning signs and cries for help. What kind of protections could an expecting mother put into place to protect herself?
Tren: I always say to speak up, there's no dumb question. [Your] life is literally on the line. Have a birthing plan. There's a lot of different classes, usually at hospitals or even at birthing centers, that are free. If you don't understand, ask questions. [And then] I always tell people, when they have a birthing plan, [to] also be flexible because the baby is going to do what the baby is going to do. You can't really control that, so, be very flexible. Know what possible medications that [they] could give you, know medical terminology, and check your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy. That is a big thing in the black community, [high] blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy. That's the reason why I had my daughter a month early. [I] had really no idea how serious it was. Things like that, knowing the medical terminology, knowing the signs of labor, what your body does during pregnancy [are all very important].
How would you describe motherhood as a black queer person? Do you feel like the experience is different compared to maybe someone who identifies as cis-centered and only dates men?
Tren: I love it. My daughter is very outspoken. She loves the fact that she has two moms. That's the first thing she will tell you. When she had a school thing the other day, “What are different families? What do they look at?” She was like, “well, I got two moms.” She's proud of that. I love it, it's awesome and it teaches her that everybody is different. Respect everybody's different--your family is different. You're loved, you're taken care of. She’s gonna be a little revolutionary.
Any advice, any advice you would give queer couples or individuals looking to get pregnant, both as a mother and as a doula?
Tren: Yes; as a mom speaking from my very own experience, ask about training that [the doctors and nurses have had]. And I know it may sound really serious—but you know, like if you haven't been through that, the experience of the looks and the assumptions and whatever that the medical staff gives you. I would specifically ask if they are [LGBTQIA+ allies]. I call it alphabet friendly, "Are you guys alphabet friendly? “What training has your staff done to make sure that I'm protected to make sure that my family is comfortable? What steps do you go through?” As far as like being a doula, hire a doula that's going to advocate for you. That when you go to the [hospital], you don't have to worry about your programs. You don’t [have to] let them know like, “hey this is this, this is this, and this is what you're gonna do. You're gonna ask permission, we're not gonna make assumptions”. Because I'm a big mama bear when it comes to my clients, I don't play that shit. You're not going to do that with mine. So, definitely hire someone that is going to advocate for you. Every doula's not for everybody. It's just like our relationship[s], you got to [know] this one may not work, you may need to go to someone else. Have someone that's an advocate for you, definitely and feel comfortable with them.
Written by: Samantha Benjamin-Nolan
Huge thank you to Dope Doula Tren to providing her wisdom, and please follow + support her community through the links below:
Instagram: @_ dopedoulatren
Facebook Dope Doula Tren
Homeland Heart Birth & Wellness Birth Collective
facebook: Homeland Heart Birth & Wellness Birth Collective