I am so thrilled to have hit the ground running as the new Executive Director of Chicago Volunteer Doulas (CVD). I’m also so appreciative of all the work that Amy Catania—our outgoing volunteer Executive Director—and our Board of Directors have done to prepare CVD for this transition.
CVD is a birth justice organization providing comprehensive doula support with a focus on vulnerable communities in the Chicagoland area. Our goal is to foster a birth and postpartum environment where all laboring parents in Chicago are informed, supported, and empowered, and therefore better positioned as health advocates for themselves and their families. Our vision for what birth justice is includes, but is not limited to: accessibility for all to quality prenatal, labor, and postpartum healthcare and non-clinical support, lower rates of birth trauma and cesareans, and the normalization of birth as a pregnant person-centered event.
We hope that by providing the type of supports that allow for an empowered transition into parenthood, we also impact the confidence with which parents advocate for themselves. This way, they can meet the needs of themselves and their family in a way that challenges other forms of systematic exclusion, such as access to quality and responsive education, childcare, and nutrition. According to Gruber, Cupito and Dobson, "doula-assisted [birthing parents] were four times less likely to have a low birth weight (LBW) baby, two times less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding." Essentially, this research suggests that doula supports disrupt unwanted reproductive health outcomes, as well as some of the most significant disparate parent and infant health outcomes being experienced by vulnerable birthing parents.
As a former CVD client (childbirth education, traditional doula match, and parent and baby group) I understand deeply the important role that CVD can play in a birthing parent’s journey to parenthood. And as a black woman who suffered an incident of near-severe maternal morbidity—surviving a hemorrhagic stroke when my youngest of three was just two weeks old, and having been loved on and cared for by my community including our doula, Sue Gottschall, who checked in on me and my family and secured donor breast milk for my little one—I understand the reality of the health disparities that we see in our maternal and infant health outcomes today. I have often wondered about the burden that race may have played in this life-threatening health emergency that impacted me and my family. I'm happy to also report that I and my family made a full recovery!
CVD is intentionally designed to benefit expectant, laboring, and newly parenting birthing parents (why we use gender neutral and gender non-conforming inclusive terminology) and babies in vulnerable communities. We do this by offering parents information and referrals, education, labor doula support, basic chest/breastfeeding support, and new parent support, both in one-on-one and group settings. We offer doula support through our innovative on-call doula model and a traditional doula-match model. We also bring people together in multiple spaces throughout the year for events that imagine what birth justice might look like and what steps we can take to make it a reality. We mentor new doulas and provide them with ongoing training (including intercultural communication in birth work) to ensure that the support doulas provide is trauma-informed and intersectional, in order to meet birthing parents where they are. And finally, we increase the accessibility of the multiple benefits of doula support to communities in Chicago who are unlikely to utilize doulas due to prohibitive cost and/or lack of access. In doing so we increase the likelihood that individuals who may otherwise be excluded from such support, receive access to health equity through culturally relevant support that provides the knowledge and social-emotional encouragement that empower them to self-advocate for equitable and empowering health care and birthing experiences.
In the case you have not seen it in the news, there are links here. I deeply appreciate the amplified discussion that we’ve seen of late regarding parent reproductive and infant health disparities in birth outcomes based on race, ethnicity, and income in this country and this state. I appreciate the explicit naming of the causes of these disparities as well: racism and implicit bias. We cannot fix what we don't name. At a time when birthing parents need to dig deep to be fiercely vulnerable to bring new life into the world they are at risk of not being seen, not being heard, and not being valued or cared for in the same regard as their peers because of their race. This worry then extends to health outcomes for parents and children in their first year of life. We believe that having the dedicated, caring, and steady presence of a doula to notice, listen, amplify, educate, and inform is incredibly important to impacting disparate outcomes.
In the last fiscal year (October 2017-September 2018) we served 86 birthing parents with over 900 hours of labor support. Forty percent (40%) of our clients identify as Latinx, 30% as African American, 23% as white, 6% as Asian American/Pacific Islander. We supported 30 on-call doula clients and 56 traditional doula clients. We supported 87% of our clients through vaginal births and 13% through cesarean births. Thirty-three percent (33%) of our clients birthed without the use of pain medication and we offered breastfeeding support to 55% of clients served. We also serve doulas—we provided workforce development for 76 volunteer doulas through our quarterly orientation and trainings, and scholarships to DONA trainings.
CVD is currently 76 volunteer doulas strong and two programs strong (on-call and traditional doula programs). We are partnered with seven midwifery practices and a birth center. This fiscal year (October 2018-September 2019) we are planning to roll out two new mission-aligned programs to impact vulnerable communities in Chicago: infant feeding class in the Cook County Jail in partnership with Illinois Birth Justice, and postpartum doula services, which clinicians and clients have been requesting for some time. We are excited to move into these two new exciting initiatives and the impact that they will have in people’s lives. Also this year, we are announcing quarterly doula recognition awards, so keep an eye out for our awardees.
I'm thrilled to be aboard and am greatly looking forward to Drink for Doulas, which will serve as a launch to our all-important annual campaign, and a meet-and-greet opportunity for me as well. I'm looking forward to meeting many of you. And we certainly hope that CVD is at the top of your list for holiday giving. Please also bring a friend.
Thank you for your support of CVD and a tremendous thank you to our volunteer doulas who literally are the heart of our organization. Right now in Illinois, black birthing parents are three times more likely than a white bring parents to die from childbirth. In Illinois, black birthing parents are six times more likely to die during pregnancy than white birthing parents. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these deaths were medically related. Seventy-two percent (72%) of these deaths were preventable. While doulas are not medically trained, our presence and relationships can have a significant impact on health outcomes and experiences for birthing parents and their supports. And all birthing parents deserve to feel loved and seen while they are at their bravest and most vulnerable. Contribute to an effort to reduce those disparities and ensure everyone is emotionally seen. Make doulas more accessible with a contribution to CVD today and in the holiday giving season. Thank you!