Becoming a mom is the most sacred and wonderful gift women are blessed with. Yet this miraculous experience can be quite different depending on who you are and where you live. This is especially true today, as the pandemic can make access to the most basic health care difficult. Twenty-one years ago, visiting my cousin who had just given birth changed my life. I was mesmerized by the magic of the birth and the special role of her doula. Now, I work for HealthConnect One who trains organizations and collectives to train community-based doulas. I love my work, especially because it has made me keenly aware of the many reproductive challenges facing the Latino community.
COVID-19 is magnifying existing inequities that lead to disproportionately negative outcomes. Communities of color are more vulnerable due to continuous lack of investment in our health care and because we are less likely to receive the medical care we need. I am sharing my story to help shine a light on the work of community-based doulas and what is at stake, especially the challenges and opportunities for the Latino community during this terrible pandemic. We know the value of prenatal care and how to ensure healthy babies are born, but as COVID-19 continues to ravage communities of color, community-based doulas are needed more now than ever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control: Among 10 similarly wealthy countries, America ranks 10th in infant mortality. Sadly, Black women are more than twice as likely to die as a result of childbirth as white women. Latina infant mortality rates are comparatively less, yet maternal mortality rates in Puerto Rico are more than double the national Latino numbers.
Data showing health disparities is a call to action. In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater. Regardless of age, income, or ethnicity, women deserve and need to be listened to, affirmed and encouraged throughout their birthing experience. This will result in better health outcomes during pregnancy, birth and now during struggles with COVID-19.
As more challenges emerge for people of color amidst this pandemic, the health of pregnant women and their children must be a priority. This pandemic has cut many women off from their support system. Community-Based Doulas coupled with “promotoras” or community peer educators are key to addressing this divide.
My experience with a doula at a very young age was pivotal to my health and that of my baby. She supported me throughout my pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. Most importantly, she empowered me and never judged me for being a young parent. My doula, listened, affirmed me and encouraged me to use my voice throughout my birthing experience. I had a beautiful birth experience and was encouraged to practice our traditional rituals including cuarentena. For 40 days, after women give birth,Latinas family stay and support new moms and teach new skills. Now the pandemic has made this practice of cuarentena much more challenging.
Imagine how difficult it is for pregnant women during this pandemic. They cannot see their doctor for fear of getting sick, or because they lack health insurance, have language barriers, or are afraid of being deported. During pregnancy, women are vulnerable and need the comfort and reassurance of their family and community, they need culturally competent care to ensure safe delivery. Sadly this is not always possible.
HealthConnect One professionals understand the strain COVID-19 is putting on our communities. Maria a doula from Merrillville, Indiana said, “The mothers I talk to are confused about what to do, and they do not have enough information. The news is all they have since medical offices are limiting access to care and practicing telehealth. Mothers are asking, What if my baby isn’t ok? What if I need WIC? Is my baby sick? She looks sick. Lastly, an undocumented mom isolated in her apartment, with her kids crying is most concerned about getting food and help with online schooling.”
Community-Based Doulas provide critical, affordable, reliable care and are readily accepted in Latino communities. As the pandemic continues to challenge expectant mothers, CBDs can provide much needed culturally sensitive support. But their hands are also tied with regards to insurance coverage in providing access to care for low-income communities.
HealthConnect One is advocating collectively for congressional legislation that ensures access to funding to continue and expand support for Community-Based Doulas. We must work towards greater investment in helping pregnant women of color during this unprecedented time. Community-Based Doulas can provide critical support and connect families to resources and lessen the effects of health disparities on Latinos and people of color.