Comfort, emotional and physical support, information, advocacy, peace of mind, and pain management techniques are the tenets of being a doula. In ancient times female relatives assisted the midwife, aiding her through the joyful act of bringing babies into this world. While doulas have been part of the birthing process for generations, the role began to integrate into recognized birthwork in the 70s and 80s.
At a local level, Black doulas are stepping in to create an ecosystem of support for families across all socio-economic backgrounds with vital techniques, care, and culturally sensitive resources. They’re focused on making sure that each family gets the strong foundational support and birth experience they deserve throughout their ante and postpartum birth journeys.
Black women are dying at roughly three times the rate of white women in birth-related deaths. Black women over 30 are 4 to 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. The disparity in Black maternal outcomes, and Black women’s struggle to be seen and heard by the medical system, has led to a rise in people across the Black community dedicating themselves to changing the narrative with each supported birth they shepherd.
As one of our spotlighted doulas, Chanel L. Porchia, Founder & CEO of Ancient Song Doula Services, states, “I want to see structural oppression and its root causes held accountable to the people and the generations who have suffered and continue to suffer through the dehumanization and criminalization of BIPOC birthing people and in parenting.”
We are celebrating Black doulas doing the work and evolving the birth experience for so many women of color by spotlighting seven mission-focused doulas across the country who are creating real change in their communities.
A Family Duty
Toni Taylor and Tayo Mbande
The Chicago Birth Collective
For mother-daughter birthworkers, Toni and Tayo, their doula commitment has roots in tradition and legacy.
After Tayo’s first birth, they realized that their destiny was to become birthworkers. As daughter Tayo explains, “we’ve both been working as full-time doulas since then, though my mother has been our family birth keeper for decades.”
In 2018 they launched The Chicago Birthworks Collective, the first collective of birthworkers, healers, and wellness practitioners uniquely serving Black birthing families across the city, assisting over 1,500 families to date.
Toni takes a more hands-off approach when supporting families through their birth journey. “I share as much knowledge as I possibly can, allow them to make choices that feel within their capacity, and support them as they journey to the other side of pregnancy, through birth and into postpartum. My own motherhood journey has taught me that this entire reproductive cycle, pregnancy, birth, parenting is fragile, everchanging. There is no one who can fully control it, so we’ve got to be hands-off and respect and ride the waves.” For her daughter, Tayo, being consistent and encouraging allows her to help families recognize they deserve to be heard and seen.
Both women have encountered empowering moments when working with mothers. Toni recalls one of her first moms who had a very surprising playlist that let her be free and express what she wanted and needed. “Just before she was ready to push (a self-declared great pusher), she asked me to put her eyelashes on, which she sat patiently still for.”
Tayo felt a sense of community during a twin birth where all of the people in the room felt free to be comfortable to express themselves freely. ‘Baby A was born, and the OB said, ‘Oh, I just love Black babies, always born with a head full of hair.’ We laughed, and I mentioned that my son was born as bald as George Jefferson. The OB slid his face shield and glasses down and said, ‘His daddy must not have been Black then.’ It was such a sacred moment between the three of us where we all belly laughed so hard. I love being part of these spaces where Black folks can feel safe to be themselves, especially during birth.”
For the doula duo, working together has created a mutual understanding and immense respect. They describe it as literally mothering mothers while they are being mothered. Toni feels it gives her a reflection of herself and how she can still change and evolve as a Mother.
Toni and Tayo see change for women of color in maternal and birth care focused on eradicating harm through a brave reclaiming of our bodies.
“There must be a serious unlearning of harmful practices, thought patterns and structures. The history of obstetrics in America is deeply rooted in the direct harm and brutalization of Black women’s bodies. We have to be brave in navigating this reality and dig into systems, practices and ways of thinking that our grandmothers, their mothers and their mothers knew were not only safe, but the absolute best for us. It’s going to take much bravery. We’ve also got to have a widespread acknowledgment of the racist inception of obstetrics and a radical recentering of Black and other POC as experts in their own bodily experiences.”
Discovering an Ancient Song
Chanel L. Porchia-Albert CD, CPD, CLC, CHHC
Ancient Song Doula Services
Brooklyn, New York
Chanel L. Porchia-Albert begins her connection with families by asking two questions: What does support look like to you? And, how do you envision your birthing process? “These questions are often the catalyst for deeper conversations and give an introspective approach to care that is often missing,” she says. “I center them by uplifting a culturally humble approach of learning from them. Each person is unique, but what I have learned is that we all have an Ancient Song. An ancestral connection to the source that guides us and that source is ever-present when someone becomes pregnant. Everything that has happened to them and the generations before them is encoded with their spiritual and physical DNA. It’s important for us to center them and listen and hear, not always to respond, but to understand.”
With this mindset, Porchia-Albert, who is also an NYC Commissioner for Gender Equity and vegan chef, has assisted 100+ families in their birth care. She credits her children for being the catalyst for her work. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I want them to grow up in a world where they are Seen, Heard, and Loved,” she says. Staying connected and speaking to the community is another way to gain insights into her field. As Chanel states, “They know exactly what’s going on in the community and the best ways to approach situations.”
She wants Black women appreciated for their contribution to humanity. “I want to see Black motherhood treated not as a political act of revolution but as an act of grace in bringing forth life in the world to continue a rich legacy centered on hope, love, and joy.”
Chanel cites many women in the birthwork space as inspirations, including her own midwife, Memaniye Cinque, and midwife and trailblazer, Shafia Monroe along with Jennie Joseph, midwife and CEO of Commonsense Childbirth Inc.; Loretta J. Ross, academic and reproductive justice advocate; Dr. Lynn Roberts, Assistant Professor of Community Health and Social Sciences at CUNY, and so many more also have influenced and motivated her work.
Chanel has found herself enjoying the lighthearted moments that organically happen during the process. “I attended one homebirth where the mom and family told jokes the entire time. Playing music and enjoying the moment. When the mom would have a contraction, she would become very internal, but as soon as it ended, she would tell a joke about it. Not only did it center her, but it made the room feel light. So many times, we are fed the narrative about pain and agony in the birthing process, but it’s a magical moment every second of it to see life penetrate into this world in real-time. It’s truly an ancestral process that touches the soul and connects us to the source. Understanding that our work is more than just aromatherapy and rubbing backs. It’s a reclaiming of ourselves and a generational healing.”
Ashé Birth Services
Bronx, New York
Every time she assists a birth, doula Emilie Rodriguez feels her great grandmother Edna Redding’s hands guiding hers. And every time she gets a chance, she sits down with the family matriarch to hear stories about her years of being a midwife in the South.
Despite her expertise in birth as a trained veterinarian and medical anthropologist, Rodriguez faced a steep learning curve as she struggled to prepare herself and her body during her pregnancy. “I got a doula and started reading. I attended an amazing comprehensive childbirth education course at Manhattan Birth with my partner and sat down for lunch with an elder, Chanel Porchia from Ancient Song Doula Services. With the right information and solid support, I switched from a hospital to a birthing center, and then ultimately to a home birth midwife within my pregnancy. Despite desiring an unmedicated birth, I didn’t think I could have a home birth for my first baby (since I didn’t know what I was doing), much less afford one. But I did on Medicaid at that! Labor wasn’t what I expected at all, and it was beautifully transformative!”
Over five years, she’s assisted over 150 families as a traditional full-time birth and postpartum doula. And through her organization, Ashé Birthing Services, her team has reached about 400 families. Emilie keeps up with new approaches through training and by communing with other birth workers to keep each other accountable on current peer-reviewed research. But it’s her elders, ancestors, and the long-forgotten indigenous medicine that she seeks to infuse into her process.
Emilie approaches her doula work by meeting families where they are and offering them the insights they need to make informed choices that are right for them. “My own birth has taught me what pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is like, but maturity and experience has taught me how to be an anchor and guide for the families I help during such a sacred time.”
She loves the little moments that happen during the birthing process, such as one family who danced to James Brown during active labor, one woman who waited to push until a particular Beyonce song was on, and the two-year-old who jumped into the birthing pool after the birth!
Emilie knows that racism, not race, across the medical profession, is killing women of color. She believes more accessible options such as freestanding birthing centers and Black midwives’ integration into the process are a big part of the answer. “We need to enable easier pathways to midwifery (to make up for the attempted erasure in the past) and to make it easy for families to find them. That’s why we created The Bridge Directory — an invaluable resource to find birth workers of color in your area, starting with New York City. Once we bridge problems of access, we can build community and equip ourselves with the information and the tools to demand better care.”
In Pursuit of Fierce, Fresh, Fit, Mamas
Bronx, New York
Wasidah integrates what she has learned through her NAFSA Project School certification in traditional Moroccan doula techniques into her full-spectrum doula work, which primarily focuses on fertility and postpartum.
In two and half years, she has worked with 10 families who have chosen her to be their supportive and guiding voice to learn from and lean on postpartum. “I am passionate about mental health. I was overseeing mothers and women in general not having the opportunity or space to heal properly after a birth”, she says.
Wasidah infuses her background as a certified personal trainer, her B.A. in fashion design, and work as a stylist into her birthwork approach Wasidah. She integrates feeling and looking good into helping women get healthy and stay healthy before and after pregnancy. She focuses on helping her mothers keep a fierce, fit and fabulous state of being as they strive to get pregnant and achieve a healthy postpartum outlook.
She believes that Black women need to be cared for respectfully and sensitively in order to achieve positive maternal outcomes for Black families everywhere.
Out of Pain a Beloved Path
My Darling Doula
Charlotte, North Carolina
Many Black birthworkers’ own personal births have propelled them towards a commitment to making sure that another woman’s experience is better and safer than theirs.
After a traumatic birth with a racist midwife, Fametta suffered through years of postpartum depression. During that time, she discovered that providing support to others like her was her destiny. “I did not want to see other families go through what I experienced. I am passionate about all things birth and enjoy educating pregnant people on ways that they can advocate for themselves. I continue to be inspired by the determination and strength of the families that I serve.”
A committed life-long learner, Fametta keeps education top of mind, attending advanced training and seminars that have allowed her to connect with and support over 172 families since she started My Darling Doula. Her dedication to prioritizing her continued learning is rooted in a need to make sure she stays current and compliant in her field. For Fametta, this ensures she can support families and solve problems that arise quickly. Her dedication has been recognized by families in Charlotte — My Darling Doula has been voted in the top 9 out of 147 Charlotte, NC doulas to have on your birth team for four consecutive years.
Fametta has a deep connection to her native Liberia, a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates globally. She hopes to one day affect change there once she completes her midwifery training. “I am motivated by my grandmother’s legacy. She was a Liberian elder in our small Charlotte, NC, Liberian community. She never met a stranger and was very much a doula without having the word in her vocabulary. She massaged pregnant mothers, counseled families, prepared meals, made herbal medicines, took care of babies, and supported families as they transitioned into the postpartum period.”
For Fametta achieving sound maternal health for women of color has to come from a place of power and leadership. “Black women have consistently been trailblazers in the fight to resolve many of the social injustices in American society. Whether one examines Black women’s access to healthcare, earnings, or access to much needed social support like childcare and eldercare, Black women are getting the short end of the stick, even as our ideas are co-opted. Yet, our contributions are still undervalued and under-compensated. I would like to see more Black women holding leadership roles and advancing the vision of American culture through politics, health care, criminal justice, news media, etc., to ensure that the issues affecting women, families, and people of color are addressed.”
Being the Change
Meshawn Tarver Siddiq, MPH
New Orleans, Louisiana
In 2002 when the time to become a mother was upon her, Meshawn Tarver had all she needed. She had a trusted birthing team, the support of a great companion, and a peaceful, calm environment when she gave birth to her daughter. “I felt empowered, protected, and at peace. When I learned that every woman did not have the right to the same opportunity, I had to be a part of the change. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to birth in the manner she chooses, and the world is there to support her on the journey because all life comes through her.”
Since this realization, Tarver has been a HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator since 2007 and officially trained as a doula since 2016. She has founded the H.E.R. Institute, a non-profit providing health education, outreach and consulting services in the New Orleans community to prioritize maternal health, birthing, breastfeeding, and teen health. She also engages pregnant or breastfeeding mothers with the Nola Baby Cafe to give them a place to gather and learn new lactation techniques.
This intense drive to provide actionable services and resources is rooted in Meshawn’s belief that Black women’s maternal health can significantly improve if they are offered options to give birth in communities that reflect and validate them, and where they feel safe and secure. “They have access to fresh foods, and the air is clean, the people look like them…access to birthing hospitals that provide respectful maternity care, a free birthing center, AND home birth midwives. I want them to have access to postpartum care and the ability to stay home to bond with the baby for one year postpartum and access to quality child care if they choose to return to work.”
Meshawn understands motherhood’s vulnerability and how important it is for the families she works with to build confidence and feel the freedom to choose in the birth process. This approach is rooted in her commitment to researching her craft, keeping up with CDC reports and Maternity Weekly reports, along with constant training. She is also motivated by what she calls the “sheroes” in the field: JayVon Muhammad, CEO of the Marin City Health and Wellness Center focused on African American Health Equity; Shafia Monroe; Dr. Joia Creer-Perry, MD Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative; Asasiya Muhammad, CPM aka the People’s Midwife; artist and certified doula and midwife Erykah Badu; Latham Thomas, founder of Mama Glow; Jennie Joseph, fellow doula; Janay Muhammad and OB-GYN and professor Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell.
Meshawn is inspired by the delicate and powerful moments that she has encountered in her work, like when she caught her first baby, feeling the baby’s head turn in her hands for the first time. Or at another birth, she looked into the mother’s eyes and saw that she could not give any more, until her partner recited an Arabic prayer to her, and she birthed the baby with a burst of energy. Or when a close friend asked, “When is this going to be over?”, and her question was answered by her baby emerging like a flower blossoming. She says, “Experiencing an actual birth is the most patiently rewarding experience. It’s not instant gratification. Each birth and journey is unique and magical.”
A lover of flowers (except red roses), Meshawn dreams of one day being a traveling midwife, meeting different people, helping them bring in new life, and of course, having fresh flowers wherever she goes.
The National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC) creates solutions that optimize Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaboration.