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Doulas, Midwives, OB/GYNs: Exploring Your Birth Options & Building a Support Team

Daphne Thompson | September 14, 2021

The Black Maternal Health Crisis has taught us that education, self-advocacy, and a birth team are important tools for an empowered birth. So, in partnership with Carol’s Daughter and in alignment with the Love Delivered campaign, Mama Glow assembled a dream team of birth workers to shed light on the various choices you can make along the pregnancy continuum to prepare for birth.

Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas was joined in a webinar conversation by certified professional midwife Racha Tahani Lawler, certified Mama Glow doula Ebonie Karma Tudor, and clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine specialist Terri-Ann Bennett, MD.

As our esteemed panel answered questions about their respective roles across the reproductive continuum and reflected on what they hope the future of maternal health will be, these were 5 key takeaways to remember when choosing a birth option that feels right to you and your needs:

Navigate the unexpected. 

While it is valuable to come up with a birth plan, it is important to understand that what you are really devising is a list of birth “preferences.” Ebonie explained that even when you prepare for one kind of birth, something else could happen that requires you to divert from that original route. Having a doula as a part of your birth team is vital because doula education is rooted in advocacy, which means they are equipped not only to help you execute your plan to the best of their abilities, but also to hand-hold as you navigate the unexpected if changes in the plan have to be made. The goal is for you to have a safe, positive birthing experience, no matter how your baby is born, and your doula will always prioritize that. 

Protect the birth village.

Dr. Bennett, who is a new mother herself, believes that the ideal birth team is one that consists of a doula, a midwife, and an OB/GYN, so that the birthing person’s needs are covered and experience is fully supported by the entire village of providers involved. Not only should the birthing person feel safe and seen by all of their providers, but the providers should all know and be ready to work alongside one another.

Racha says that it is the midwife’s responsibility to be known in the hospitals, if that is where their client is giving birth. She says that it is part of her work to keep her clients safe by making sure the doctors know who she is and what she does. Building relationships also helps her to know who the allies are within the hospital, who she can turn to when people are not treating her or her client right. When pricing their services, doulas should consider working into their budget the cost of treats or gifts that can be brought to hospital staff to create an energy of high expectation in advance of the client’s birth. 

Protecting the birth village also means making sure that they are cared for, so that they can care for the client. The panelists were in agreement that you cannot keep your clients and their babies safe if you are burnt out or still dealing with traumas. Make sure the people on your team are in a good place personally, so that they can do the work you need them to do without falling apart. 

Call upon the ancestors.

Racha Tahani Lawler is her family’s 4th generation to carry on the midwifery tradition having (so far) supported over 1,500 families in their out-of-hospital birthing; she says that her journey to midwifery and away from corporate life was largely the result of “ancestral harassment.” 

Racha points out that the source of birth work – how we get pregnant and bring our babies here – is innate: “Where we don’t have written texts, trust and believe those ancestors were finding other ways to pass it down.” You have to have book smarts and skills to be a birth worker, of course; however, but once you have all those tools to keep the families you are serving safe, she encourages fellow midwives to tap into all the prayers/traditions/examples that were left behind to support their work, should the birthing person desire it. 

Apply knowledge to power.

Dr. Bennett affirms that Black birthing people are so powerful and impactful and need to prioritize self. Ebonie recommends that you sure yourself up with all the education and information you can, ahead of any doctor’s appointments or provider interviews, so that you can be bold and ask all your questions. A good birth team should provide you with the knowledge you need to feel safe on your birth journey, and empower you to tune out the noise that may be coming from outside opinions or judgements. 

The panelists stated and it is by design that there is no federal mandate protecting BIPOC midwives and doulas, and that the lack of accessible birth workers of color is an intentional pathway to destroy health and wealth within the community. Be mindful of who you hire for your birth team, and know that there is power to be had in finding providers who are a part of your community and share your experiences.

Birth without fear.

Ebonie started her doula journey 3 years ago, after being made aware that Black women were dying at 3-4x the rate of white women. She knows firsthand what it’s like to be scared during childbirth and to be neglected, and has made it her goal to make sure her clients feel seen, heard, and supported on their birthing and parenting journeys. In her 19 years of practicing midwifery, Racha says that the statistics for Black birthing people have not gotten better.

Stories of tragedy and loss are out there if you look for them, try your best to lean into the good/positive/happy stories to cultivate a peaceful space for your pregnancy. Racha acknowledged that the people who are unafraid are the ones who have the easiest births and that birth workers center their work in the reduction of whatever fears their clients may be carrying. On your day of delivery, if your voice is the loudest and you are certain of what your body is capable of, you will be able to birth without fear. Dr. Bennett says that building this trust and safety starts with knowing that the providers who are caring for you are truly in your corner. If a doctor is looking down on you for any reason, then you need to find a new doctor immediately.

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