Black Maternal Health Week: A Doula Gives Insight into the Practice and Honoring the Ritual of Childbirth

In 2018, prior to embarking on my path as a doula, I experienced the heartbreaking loss of a loved one due to complications arising from an emergency c-section. This profound event became the driving force behind my commitment to becoming a birth worker. As a result, I have remained dedicated to guiding Black women and families toward decolonizing and reclaiming their birth experiences.

Doulas are trained professionals experienced in childbirth. My doula offerings include doula support for prenatal, birth and postpartum. As a doula, I get to serve as a constant presence of support and an emotional anchor for my clients, whether she is a hopeful expectant, pregnant or a new mother. My work/offerings is an ongoing and ever-evolving practice of Sankofa—an invitation to remember and go back and get the practices, knowledge and wisdom that is within each of us—ultimately aiding in our co-creating the birth experiences we desire and deserve.

Image: courtesy of Lauren B. Solomon.

It is important we remember that throughout history, women have received support from other women and their communities to not only survive but thrive in the sacred ritual and ceremony of childbirth. The human body is profoundly wise and intelligent, capable of creating, carrying, birthing and nourishing our babies. Reconnecting with this innate understanding liberates us from the fear and uncertainty surrounding childbirth, fostering trust in the journey’s mystery. It’s important to acknowledge that the modern practice of hospital births is a relatively recent development in human history. While there are numerous benefits to modernity, there are also accompanying consequences.

We must ask ourselves: Who benefits by our forgetting this timeless wisdom?

Maternal health outcome statistics have unveiled the glaringly disproportionate harm inflicted upon the Black community unit in the United States. In New York City, where I practice, Black women are 12 times more likely than White women to die during childbirth or from childbirth-related causes. Nationally, a Black woman is four times more likely than a White woman to face this fate. We must persist in the necessary work to shift this narrative and challenge the entrenched norms of Black maternal care within the medical industrial complex, which largely perpetuates these unacceptable outcomes.

Image: courtesy of Lauren B. Solomon.

While giving birth in hospital has its place, especially for high-risk individuals, there are viable alternatives such as birthing centers and home birth that many women and families are unaware of – a decision made without the awareness of alternative options ceases to be a genuine choice. Even when out-of-hospital birth isn’t feasible, understanding the benefits of having a doula can significantly enhance a woman’s experience of her pregnancy and childbirth.

Evidence-based studies have shown that the support of a doula results in improved maternal health outcomes:

  • 25% decrease in the risk of Cesarean; the largest effect was seen with a doula (39% decrease)
  • 9% drop in use of pain medication
  • 31% less use of Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin)
  • 34% fewer perceived negative birth experiences
  • 40 minute shorter labor
  • 12% increase in vaginal births
  • 28% fewer cesarean sections
  • Higher APGAR scores for newborns
  • Increased breastfeeding success

These statistics crystallize the urgency for me: as Black women, we are uniquely positioned to advocate for ourselves in birthing spaces. Behind these numbers are human beings and families torn apart, and the losses reverberate throughout our communities in ways that cannot be fully encapsulated or merely quantified. It is for these reasons and more that I intentionally, unapologetically, and exclusively prioritize the birthing experiences of Black women and families as they journey towards crossing the sacred threshold of birth into parenthood. In recognizing this, the invaluable presence of a culturally competent and experienced birth worker should never be underestimated or overlooked.

Advocacy stands as one of the meaningful and impactful benefits. There’s often a misconception that it’s primarily the doula’s duty to advocate for the mother, but as a birth worker, my role is not to speak for the families I support; rather, I empower them to advocate for themselves. This act holds significant and far-reaching impact, both within and beyond the labor and delivery room. For example, I have dealt with many clients who have felt disempowered by their previous birth experiences. One client in particular who had 2 c-sections and desired to experience a vaginal birth expressed to me in their own words that they felt, “ I encouraged her to consider home birth and align with a midwife who would honor her birth preferences. I have witnessed firsthand that when Black women are equipped with the necessary tools and information to make informed decisions for themselves, their bodies, and their babies, and are encouraged to use their voices to challenge the status quo, the potential for life-saving and elevated outcomes becomes attainable. (And the good news is, yes, my client chose to have a home birth with a midwife and she was able to experience a successful vaginal birth after two previous c-sections!)

lauren b solomon
Image: courtesy of Lauren B. Solomon.

Lauren, an accomplished Columbia Business School graduate and former Wall Street professional, has become a sought-after and widely celebrated certified international yoga instructor, reiki and breathwork practitioner and doula. As a trailblazer and advocate for wellness, Lauren passionately guides communities toward mental clarity and physical strength, leaving an indelible mark on the evolving landscape of holistic health and wellbeing.

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