Non-profit tries to reduce Black maternal mortality rate in Virginia

Published: Nov. 5, 2022 at 9:23 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - For the first time, Birth in Color RVA provided doula training in Roanoke. Their goal is to train doulas of color in underrepresented communities at no cost.

“Black women are dying; they’re afraid to even give birth when that’s supposed to be one of the joyous moments of their lives,” said Birth in Color RVA Executive Director Kenda Sutton-El.

The CDC reports the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times higher than for white women.

“There’s a bias that Black women don’t feel pain like others and that we’re supposed to be this strong person,” added Sutton-El. “That we’re really aggressive when we’re really really not.”

In an effort to change those numbers, Birth in Color has trained more than a hundred doulas of color across the commonwealth.

“To have someone who looks like you, you feel more trusted. You’re able to talk about those underlying conditions that you actually have,” explained Sutton-El.

Five doulas graduated Saturday in Roanoke. They provide physical and emotional support to mothers. Newly-graduated doula Natalie Cook says this work is necessary.

“Doulas can help remind people that mom matters too. And that there is a fourth trimester,” explained Cook. Our work doesn’t end after birth or after delivery.”

Cook draws from her own experience with consecutive c-sections at a young age.

“I didn’t have all the support that I could’ve benefited from as a young Black woman,” said Cook.

They will provide free services to pregnant women here at home.

“We take ourselves out the equation and put mom in it,” said newly-trained doula Paiton Wainwright. “So, whatever she wants or her wishes or her desires that what she wants in her birth. That’s what we go with.”

In January 2022, Virginia expanded coverage for community doula services for Medicaid beneficiaries. The Birth in Color RVA training meets the requirements to enroll as a provider. The next training will be in December.