March Community Corner

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced his plan to expand access to child-birthing healthcare services across the city. The expansion of the Midwifery Initiative, Maternity Hospital Quality Improvement Network, and Citywide Doula Initiative will provide free access to doulas for all birthing families across 33 neighborhoods and 38 facilities citywide. For the first time, the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) will be collecting data from public and private facilities to better understand the gaps in quality care, particularly when it comes to the racial disparities in childbirth mortality rates.

Black birth-givers are 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications due to the modern legacy of a medical system founded on the exploitation of Black and brown bodies. Implicit bias is killing Black women and Black gestational parents. For many families, having a doula ensures that proper care and guidance will be present throughout the birthing process. Doulas are advocates, emotional support, and expert medical liaisons during an otherwise overwhelming time.

Reproductive justice and birth equity cannot be achieved without inclusivity. Many doula programs today are centering Black doulas as necessary leaders for culturally competent healthcare. When Black, indigenous, trans, and disabled experiences are centered, the idea of equity becomes a reality. Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings (BADT) and SisterSong are two doula training and membership networks that define reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children in safe and sustainable communities.”

Bodily autonomy and advocacy should not be available to a select few, especially when deeply entrenched discriminatory practices are killing Black women and Black trans people. Doula services are not a luxury; in a world where Black women and femmes are forced to exist at the periphery or not at all, access to full spectrum birth workers, including doulas, should be a right. New York City’s efforts at mass expansion will be the first step in lowering pregnancy-related mortality rates.

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