Maternity Care Coalition’s Doula Training Program offers an antidote this Black Maternal Health Week

Naeemah Patterson is a doula. She was a member of the Maternity Care Coalition’s Perinatal Community Health Worker Training Fall 2022 Cohort.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother telling me my birth story. I was born with the assistance of a midwife at Booth Maternity Center on City Line Avenue. My mother always made it sound special—that it was not a medical birth in a hospital, that my grandmother was there with her, and that although her water had broken more than 24 hours before, she was allowed to labor naturally at her comfort, until I decided to finally start laboring my way out.  My mother was celebrating the fact that she could give birth with dignity.  

Forty-eight years later, during this Black Maternal Health Week, I am still tracing that idea of birth with dignity between my own birth, birthing my children, and my doula training with Maternity Care Coalition (MCC), supporting Black and Latinx mothers and birthing people. In a city where Black birthing people continue to suffer from higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, amidst daily gun violence by and against Black and Brown youth, in a nation where school shootings and violent medicalized births have become commonplace, MCC’s Perinatal Community Health Worker (PCHW) Doula and Lactation Program offers an antidote. 

MCC doulas are trained through a Reproductive Justice lens that considers historical and cultural relevance as context regarding the persistent absence of birth with dignity for certain people. There is a focus on how structural racism and institutional and interpersonal biases impact the health and economic outcomes for ALL Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities. This is important so that both doulas and clients can be clear on roles, goals, and potential challenges of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. It also creates space for us doulas to genuinely connect and strategize with the clients for their own best outcomes.  

Community-based doulas and clients are empowered by MCC within a social justice framework that includes paying doulas, keeping services free to clients, fostering informed choice, and building a sort of sisterhood all at the same time. I encourage my clients to take the MCC doula training themselves and share the opportunity with their communities. I recently completed a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) course to complement my doula training and I look forward to taking advantage of other professional development opportunities offered by MCC. 

As a mother of five, I have had successful home births and given birth within a hospital system. Training to be a doula has helped me better understand my own birth experiences and that as a doula I am there strictly to provide information, resources, and physical and moral support towards clients having complete agency in their own journeys. I have learned that birth with dignity doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't complications or interventions during birth, but that a person giving birth is respected, encouraged to use their voice and listened to, and treated as a human not a subject.  

My clients are young Black mothers often experiencing instability in their lives outside of their pregnancy. Though we might have had different lived experiences, our shared Blackness allows them to see themselves in me, and for us to have a closer connection. I am honored to offer guidance and support during such a vulnerable and important time. I aim to instill in my clients that being an advocate for themselves during pregnancy and birth is a springboard to being a confident self-advocate in the rest of their lives. 
No one should have to struggle to find support they need to birth with dignity. I believe that doulas should be on every block and in every family. MCC is building a wide-reaching network of doulas, so eventually there will no longer be pregnant people on the referral list who are requesting birth support and not getting it.  

Each safe birth outcome gives new life the best start possible and has a positive ripple effect for the comprehensive health of individuals, families, communities, and beyond. Booth Maternity Center where I was born no longer exists, but each day that I get to put my doula training into practice I am more confident in the sustainable community that we are building to support birth with dignity for all in Philadelphia.