Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 31, Number 1
Parents as Teachers’ Black Doulas Group Lends Support to Moms’ Birthing Process
by Eric L. Clark
What is a doula? A doula is a trained professional who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to an expectant mother during pregnancy, labor, and in the weeks following birth. As additional, non-clinical supports to new mothers, doulas work to improve health outcomes.
Parents as Teachers (PAT), an international nonprofit organization that specializes in early childhood development and parenting education through personal visits, has the most replicated home visiting model in the nation. headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, the 37-year-old organization has 1,301 affiliate partners across the world that implement its home visiting program. As part of its comprehensive package of services, its affiliate, Show Me Strong Families (SMSF), has five certified doulas who specialize in assisting mostly Black expectant clients. SMSF’s doulas help mothers design a birth plan and advocate for themselves during pregnancy, during the birthing process, and beyond, and have supported 26 families to date.
Kaylin Carter is a 21-year-old Black woman living in St. Louis who is enrolled in the SMSF program and is a committed user of doula support. When Kaylin, then 21 years old, became pregnant with her first and only child, she knew then that she wanted to take an unconventional approach to prenatal care and delivery. After a brief stint in a homeless shelter where she was referred to Parents as Teachers (PAT), Kaylin met doula Robin Lloyd, a lead parent educator at Parents as Teachers, during a counseling session.
Kaylin says that involving a doula in her pregnancy process was the best thing she could have done for herself and her baby. “I learned about the program during a prenatal visit at the homeless shelter and that’s where I met Ms. Robin. She was the best thing that could’ve happened to me during my pregnancy,” says Kaylin, mother to now one-year-old daughter Harmony Wims. “Although my daughter’s dad, Brenyn, was present during her birth, Ms. Robin made me feel peaceful and brought a lot of peace to my heart.
“In fact, she stayed with me the entire time I was in labor, for 14 hours, and I don’t recall her ever leaving to eat or anything. She didn’t leave until my baby was delivered and for that, I am most grateful,” she adds.
Addressing Health Disparities in Black Women
Doulas play a significant role in helping prevent deaths during pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women die from complications related to giving birth at roughly three times the rate of White women (CDC, 2021). That statistic gets more ominous with age, as African American women over age 30 are four to five times more likely to die in childbirth than White women (CDC, 2019). Those shocking numbers are what prompted Lloyd, who also is African American and a mother, to become a certified doula in 2019. Lloyd has worked for PAT for the past 20 years. She and her team are trying to combat this statistical outrage by getting involved in the early stages of Black women’s pregnancy. “Black women of all backgrounds are facing life or death challenges when pregnant,” says Lloyd. “The lack of safety in birth affects every Black mother and making doula care readily available may help improve Black maternal health in pregnancy and delivery.”
Doulas as Parent Educators
SMSF’s doulas are cross-trained as parent educators and can provide an extra level of education to families they already know and support during pregnancy. SMSF’s five certified doulas, who are African American and PAT parent educators, provide culturally competent, comprehensive doula care through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, as well as social, physical, and emotional wellness support so families can thrive.
PAT President and CEO Constance Gully notes that PAT has developed a model for training parent educators who visit families, in person or virtually, during pregnancy and with children from birth through age five. These trained professionals, says Gully, help new parents build their confidence in their role as the first and most important teacher in their child’s life. “Parent educators serve as mentors who offer friendly, reassuring support and expert guidance to new parents,” says Gully, who herself was a PAT mother during her son’s birth almost three decades ago. “They provide parents with information and resources to help them gain a deeper understanding of the emotional, behavioral, and physical developmental stages of their young children. They also help promote parental resilience and connect families to resources if needed.”
Many might assume the disparity in maternal deaths among Black and White women is primarily an economic issue. That’s not true. According to the CDC, Black mothers with a college degree are 5.2 times more likely to die in childbirth than their White counterparts (CDC, 2019). This has been attributed, in part, to the trauma of historic racism, referred to as “weathering” (Demby, 2018).
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Eric L. Clark is a seasoned journalist who currently serves as the marketing communications specialist for Parents as Teachers National Center, Inc. He has written extensively on matters involving under-resourced communities and the positive effects of early intervention in children’s lives.