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Doulas Seen As Key To Battling Maternal, Infant Death Among San Diego's Black Community

 September 24, 2019 at 10:36 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Tens of thousands of babies are born in San Diego County each year, but giving birth is a risk to both mother and child. KPBS health reporter Teran Manto tells us how San Diego groups are supporting the moms and babies that face the highest rate of death from childbirth. We often ask pregnant women the same questions. When do you do? Is it a boy or a girl? Have you picked names? The one you likely don't ask is, are you worried you'll die? But that's all charade and Johnson can think about sense of pink line told her she was with child. Speaker 2: 00:33 There was a series of drinks. It was haunting actually, so it was once I dreams and more like nightmares. Speaker 1: 00:39 Nightmares that she or her child would die. She became especially worried when she saw the data. Black women like her are three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women and their kids are twice as likely. I'm about to play Russian roulette with birth right now. Johnson was so worried about becoming a statistic. She wrote a letter to her unborn child, Justin Case. Speaker 3: 01:02 I did that in my phone Speaker 1: 01:04 with tears welling in her eyes and one rolling down her face. She remembered the message not even her wife Speaker 2: 01:09 knew about. I remember just saying how much I loved him. Um, and that you know, if anything did happen, I tried my hardest to hold on Speaker 1: 01:21 but she did hold on. She and her wife welcomed as sear Johnson in July. [inaudible] Johnson says she got there thanks to the help of her doula Venice, cotton, Speaker 3: 01:33 they trust us to know what the doctors are saying. Speaker 1: 01:37 A doula is an informed and experienced aid who advises a woman before, during and after childbirth Speaker 3: 01:43 to know what's going on and what type of complications could arise and they trust us to be able to explain to them what's going on and let them make the right decisions. Speaker 1: 01:55 Doulas are pricey and not typically covered by insurance. Limited research available shows they can reduce the risk of complications and low birth weights in the local nonprofit for the village once more women to have them, especially black women. The group is working with project concern international to train doulas and provide them for free. But doulas aren't without controversy. They aren't licensed, so training varies and cotton says medical staff may feel doulas get in their way. Speaker 3: 02:28 We come in with not medical training but experience and knowledge and a more natural way to do what they do with medicine. Speaker 1: 02:41 Johnson says cotton support was what she and her wife, Speaker 2: 02:45 someone to guide that family member and to tell me what to do and to tell her how to help me. It was, it was comforting that Speaker 1: 02:53 comfort wasn't just during labor. Johnson had prenatal checkups, but cotton was keeping up with her while she was home. Speaker 2: 02:59 I would have to send confirming pictures that I was laying in bed. Speaker 1: 03:03 [inaudible] program offers the same support after birth. The other doulas like cotton visit mom's at home before their first postpartum checkup. The additional attention already helped to black moms get to the hospital for life threatening issues that they didn't even know they had. This is three D ultrasound. Cotton's continued support. Also how Johnson achieve a positive birth experience with sun. A seer for her first child, McKayla Johnson was induced and reluctantly agreed to an epidural. She wanted a drug free delivery at a birthing center for her son, but needed help getting through the final hours of painful contractions. Speaker 2: 03:41 No. So was getting frustrated. Yes. And so now it's just like, you know what, I'm going to go sit over here. So and with Sharina she was even more than stubborn. Okay. She is, they can laugh. Speaker 1: 03:52 No, but the situation was tense. As Johnson begged to go to a hospital, cotton says Johnson didn't show signs of complications, so she pushed her on and Johnson is grateful. Speaker 2: 04:02 Allowing my body to do what it's made to do isn't the best thing ever. Definitely. I would do it again. I would, I'd, I would, I'd risk it all again. Speaker 1: 04:15 She now plans to support other moms to B Johnson completed doula training at four the village earlier this month. And joining me is KPBS health reporter Teran mentor. Taryn, welcome. Thanks Maureen. You know, just to keep this issue in perspective, I think we should say that it is rare for women to die in childbirth or have any pregnancy issues in the U S there are nearly 4 million births each year and about 700 deaths are related to pregnancy. Right. And thanks for making that point. But we should say that three out of five pregnancy related deaths are preventable. So that almost 60% and those statistics were enough to terrify charade and Johnson. How did you find out about the doula program? She actually found out about it through the founder of Ford, the village. That's the organization that trains the doulas. Her name is Sabya Wade and she met her through social media and they were communicating, never really met face to face, but that's how she learned about the program. Speaker 1: 05:11 And as this fear started to build within her as she was pregnant, she reached out and got a, got a doula. Tell us what the differences between a doula and a midwife. Right, so a midwife is someone who is licensed to practice medicine. They are certified, they are overseen by the board. Medical board of California. A doula is none of that. A doula is not providing medical care, should not be providing medical diagnosis. Um, they are really just there for emotional support. A Sabya Wade, the founder for the village referred to them as an educated best friend. They're there to support you, help you interpret some of the medical jargon and offer you their advice based on their experience and what they learn in. But they are not there to actually practice medicine. They're just present as support and information. Taryn, if you know, what does the word doula mean? Speaker 1: 06:07 It's a Greek term for women's servant. And since they don't have any medical training, what kind of training do they have? Primarily experience. They have been at a number of births or they have been trained by a women who have been at a number of births and they uh, the specific training that they get from, for the villages this weekend training Friday to Sunday. And they are learning and discussing, um, evidence based information about births. If they ever in a situation where, you know, it's their first birth, maybe they don't know what to do. There's a, there's a network where they are communicating with each other as frequently as possible to, to figure out what to do and how to give the woman the best advice that they can. And consulting with [inaudible] midwives themselves, since black women have a higher maternal death rate than white women in the U S is it safe, especially for them to use these non medically trained helpers? Speaker 1: 06:58 Right. So the thing to make clear, um, that a lot of the doulas for the village would probably want me to say is that they're not practicing medicine. So in terms of safety, they're just there to be another source of information, source of support and not just to the woman herself, to the woman's partner. Um, so they're there to offer advice. And so you do want to make sure that you'll, you, if you use a doula, wherever they're from, you get references from them, you know, their experience. Um, you ask them maybe their thoughts on this situation for set that situation. Um, so it is, uh, it, every doula is different. Um, so it is up to the woman to kind of figure out what works for them. You told us that charade and demanded to be taken to a hospital when she was in childbirth, but the doula encouraged her to keep to the natural birth program. Speaker 1: 07:50 How does the doula know when a woman really needs medical will help? Right. This was a really important question that I wanted answered because if you are not, you know, certified to practice medicine or licensed and you're basing it on experience, how do you know what, what kind of call to make in this situation when you have a woman who's who was, she was saying I was begging to go to the hospital, but it was very important to her. She Raven. She really wanted a natural birth. So I asked this question of the doula Venice cotton and this is what she had to say. Speaker 3: 08:17 Something like hemorrhaging, you know, I'm looking for bleeding. Um, if there are certain types of pain, if she's collect, uh, complaining of chest pain, you know, or she's complaining of like, right upper quadrant pain, it's just, it's paying attention. It's, you know, having experience as well. You know, the more clients I see, every birth is different. Speaker 1: 08:35 But she also did say that she's listening to the medical professionals that are there. If they say, sure, Raven needed to go to the hospital, then she, then that's what would have happened. Can a woman use a doula even if she wants to have her baby at the hospital? Absolutely. And I was talking to Sabya wait again, found her for the village and she said, most women do have it and have it, have their baby in the hospital and the doula will, we'll go along with them and work with the medical professionals there. So there is cooperation then between the doula program and the medical community? It was explained to me that yes, that is what they want. They want a collaborative effort. The healthy start program, um, that, uh, the project concern international and for the village teamed up on includes a doula, a midwife, and a, a what they refer to as a health navigator, a health consultant, someone that is, you know, going to be there offering advice long after the birth up to 18 months. So that is how they work. And then if the woman does and often do want to have their birth in a hospital, they do communicate as much as they can, as much as if a woman wants with the health professionals that are involved in the hospital as well as ensure Raven's child is doing well. Right? Yes. Uh, two months old. Adorable. You'll see photos. If you go to the web story, I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter Taren mento. Thank you. Thank you.

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San Diego groups are supporting the moms and babies that face the highest rate of death from childbirth.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments