Women's History Month: Doula community aims to make child birth safer for women of color

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Nationally, the CDC says Black women are more than three times as likely to suffer a pregnancy-related death as white women, and the disparities have forced more women to turn to doulas, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Doulas provide non clinical support to women before, during, and after birth, and one community of doulas in New York City is looking to making the birthing experience safer.

Pregnant with her first child at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scharisse Sierra refused to be another statistic after a doctor's visit.

"They were trying to rob me of my agency," she said. "They felt I needed an induction or C-section because they said I was over 40 and overweight. But I have no other heath issues. Do I think the same thing would have happened to someone who wasn't low income? Probably not."

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A "Birth from the Earth" grant paid for Sierra's switch to a midwife. The grant is named in honor of Amber Rose Isaac, a Black woman who died after an emergency C-section at a New York City hospital last year.

Sierra also turned to Ashe Birthing Services, a small group of birth and postpartum doulas of color in the Bronx who provide support to mothers.

"Advocacy is a big part of our work and giving all the information to our families, so that they can make informed decisions," said Emilie Rodriguez, a certified doula with Ashe Birthing Services.

In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely to die as white women from pregnancy related complications -- well above the national average -- according to the latest statistics by the city health department.

Additionally, Hispanic women are more than twice as likely to die as white women.

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Guramrit LeBron, a certified doula with Ashe Birthing Services, says racism has a lot to do with the disparities.

"Racism is also the reason for a lack of access, lack of access to proper medical care, to insurance, to housing," LeBron said. "It's all related."

There are also other related factors.

"(Black women) have that stereotype of being able to endure a lot, and that doesn't bode well in a situation where you're most vulnerable," said Nicolle Quintero, a new mom and former client of Ashe Birthing Services. "What it leads to is just not being believed."

She teamed up with Ashe Birthing Services to develop the Bridge Directory, a website to connect people to birthing professionals of color.

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There are also plans to open up a new birthing center this fall.

"We only have two in New York City," Rodriguez said.

These ladies hope to improve the birthing experience and prevent another tragedy.

"If it weren't for them, I probably would have had a traumatic birth experience at the hospital," Sierra said.

CLICK HERE for more information about Ashe Birthing Services, and HERE for more on the Bridge Project.

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