When Charles Johnson found out he was welcoming a second child with wife Kira Johnson in April of 2016, he was, in his own words—over the moon. Charles and Kira relocated to Los Angeles and sought out a “shiny” hospital in Beverly Hills, Cedars-Sinai, to ensure optimal care. It had a stellar reputation—it was named one of the best hospitals in the United States, and is known for excelling at caring for the most medically complex patients across various specialties.
On April 12th, 2016, at their doctor’s recommendation, Kira and Charles went into Cedars-Sinai for a routine scheduled C-section, and for what was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a procedure for a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy ended in life-altering tragedy. Their son, Langston, was born healthy—but, after over ten hours of hemorrhaging, Kira passed away. For Charles, the experience was equal parts angering and galvanizing. The weeks after would come with a budding interest in maternal health, which cascaded into the desire to unveil the unique role of Black fathers in improving maternal health outcomes for Black birthing people.
Charles Johnson, founder of 4Kira4Moms, took the Doula Expo stage on Sunday, May 21st, to discuss how Black fathers can advocate for better outcomes. During the fireside chat, Johnson asserted that in retrospect, the main thing he would have done differently during Kira’s births was to engage a doula. After engaging with the Doula Expo’s vibrant community of birth workers, policymakers, and key stakeholders, Johnson is going a step further to encourage male figures to arm themselves with the tools we are increasingly accepting as valuable in the fight against the United States’ maternal mortality crisis.
“As a maternal health advocate, I strongly believe that it is crucial for male figures to receive doula training and be actively involved in the birth space. While birth work has traditionally been dominated by women, it is important to recognize that fathers and male partners play a significant role in the birthing process. By receiving training, they can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to provide emotional support, navigate the complexities of childbirth, and actively participate in decision-making alongside the birthing person.”
To Johnson, the importance of male figures receiving doula training goes beyond heightening their capacity to contribute to better outcomes. It would herald an unpacking of deeply-ingrained notions that currently shape the United States’ maternal health landscape. “Including male figures in birth training helps break down gender stereotypes and promotes gender equality within the birthing experience. It fosters a sense of shared responsibility and empowers fathers to be more engaged and supportive during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. This involvement can have a profound impact on the well-being of both the birthing person and the child, promoting healthier outcomes and stronger family bonds.”
Birth work is a feminized space, and Johnson understands that this means male-identifying people must rest on organizations and initiatives started by women and femmes—like Mama Glow. During our interview, he named the significance of exchanging knowledge and expertise, sharing resources and best practices, and collaborating on advocacy efforts to drive systemic change.
“Organizations like Mama Glow and mine can work together synergistically to achieve the shared goal of collective liberation for all birthing people. Doula Expo by Mama Glow provides a platform to convene individuals who are passionate about improving maternal health and addressing disparities in the birthing experience. By working together, we can amplify our impact and advocate for policies and practices that prioritize the well-being and autonomy of birthing people, especially those who have been historically marginalized and underserved.”
Some of this work could look like organizing joint events, workshops, and training programs to enhance the skills of birth workers—including doulas, midwives, and other healthcare professionals. To Johnson, embracing interdisciplinary approaches ensures that all individuals involved in the birthing process are well-equipped to provide comprehensive and inclusive care.
Doula training comes with many skills and tools that heighten people’s ability to shape outcomes. Johnson deems the advocacy skills especially valuable. “Doulas are trained to provide emotional support, unbiased information, and advocacy for the birthing person’s rights and preferences. These skills are transferable to the medical context, where patients often face challenges in navigating complex healthcare systems and making informed decisions.” Having male-identifying relatives or a partner with these advocacy skills enables them to serve as a bridge between care providers and create a more compassionate, patient-centered, and equitable healthcare system for all.