A doula is a professional who assists people and their partners during their pregnancy, birthing experience, and postpartum recovery. Assistance is both emotional and physical, and can include massages, breathing guidance, and more.
With so many societal conversations around inequity and racism coming up throughout the pandemic, we wanted to chat with two black doulas in the Ann Arbor area about their experiences.
Shri Ra Het Hetep is a doula at Star Doula International, as well as cosmetologist, caregiver, and mother. She became a birthing doula because she felt mistreated when she went into labor with her daughter.
Sheh says, “I wasn’t informed of what could happen to me or even what was going on until the threat to my life and my child’s was in danger. I was traumatized and angry at the medical field for their lack of concern or care of their patient. My daughter was born 15 weeks early at 1lb, 15oz. I knew that my support system wasn’t strong enough to give me the support I needed at the time. It was so challenging to deal with. It was so challenging to deal with. I began reaching to other women who had gone through something similar. I noticed a pattern of women silently suffering from anxiety dealing with motherhood, pregnancy and childbirth. I had a dear friend that lost at least 4 pregnancies before the age of 29. My heart hurt for her, and I knew that I needed to do something to support women and their families.”
Tanisha Love is a doula at Loves After Birth Support Services LLC, as well as a licensed master social worker, a state-of-Michigan endorsed infant family specialist through the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health, and a postpartum doula through DONA International. She became a doula after working as an infant mental health/early childhood home-based therapist and seeing the physical needs new moms needed help with, in addition to their mental health needs.
Tanisha and Shri Ra both frequently encounter people who equate a doula with a midwife. Shri notes, “I think a lot of people mistake a doula for a midwife, and the difference is that midwives deliver the baby and a doula is a part of the support of the birthing mother as she delivers and recovers. Most people don’t really understand what a doula is so I have to explain it often.”
Shri Ra and Tanisha have not experienced racial discrimination by clients, but they have absolutely seen discrimation directed against their clients by the medical system. Shri notes: “I unfortunately have witnessed Black fathers being treated like their role as a father didn’t matter. I’ve seen doctors turn their backs on fathers mid-sentence; mothers being treated like an inconvenience. Teaching my client to step into their power and be confident about what they need from their medical team is vital to a successful birth and parenting journey.”
Being a doula is a challenging but difficult job. Shri Ra notes: “You have to learn how to set boundaries for yourself. I feel the most important part of being a healthy working doula is balance. Balancing home life, selfcare, other work, and being a doula. takes so much balance and being in tune with yourself and knowing when you need a break. Doulas have to be able to educate, emotionally support, nurture others. It’s a beautiful experience to be a part of.”
Tanisha notes that a doula really can be whatever the mother/parents need most. “Two of my moms wanted assistance with giving their newborns their first baths as they were nervous about it–and both also enjoyed receiving help with keeping their newborns’ nursery well kept and organized. I also had a mom that mostly enjoyed more emotional and social support instead of physical support, despite her having a 1 and 2 year old toddler in the home in addition to newborn.”