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NYC Expands Initiatives To Offer Free Access To Doulas And Midwives For Families

"Advancing Black maternal health is more than just a policy initiative, it's personal."

Motherhood

Black maternal health awareness is starting to receive recognition from policymakers. For decades, many Black women have suffered from improper maternal health care due to racism, bias, and overall lack of access. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues in comparison to white women. And because of these staggering statistics, a number of Black women have turned to doulas and midwives in order to have a smoother and safer pregnancy journey.


A doula is a trained professional who offers various types of support such as physical and emotional, to the mother before, during, and after pregnancy. A midwife is also a trained professional who helps the mother before, during, and after pregnancy, but they can also offer medical care.

The costs to have a doula can reportedly range from $500-$2000 and while some of those companies offer payment plans, it is still unaffordable to many women. But there is one city that is on a mission to do something about it. Last Wednesday, NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced the expansion of the Citywide Doula Initiative to offer free access to doulas for families in low-income areas and an expansion of the Midwifery Initiative.

In a statement from the NYC Mayor’s Office, Mayor Adams noted the racial biases and is working to present a solution. “The root causes of racial disparities in maternal health are real, so it’s time we do right by every mother and every baby, no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak,” he said. “Today, we are announcing a multifaceted initiative to help reduce the inequities that have allowed children and mothers to die at the exact time when we should be welcoming a life. By expanding and investing in both doulas and midwives, we are taking the steps necessary to begin to address the disparities in maternal deaths, life-threatening complications from childbirth, and infant mortality.”

The Citywide Doula Initiative will focus on 33 neighborhoods while the Midwifery Initiative will be available at all 38 public and private birthing facilities. Fifty people will be trained to be doulas in order to help over 500 families by the end of June.

Other important city officials spoke out in support of the initiatives including New York Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn who experienced the loss of her son due to a pregnancy-related cause. “For me, advancing Black maternal health is more than just a policy initiative, it's personal,” she said.

“The loss of my son Jonah in 2016 was a heartbreak that has never been healed. The cause was a common and preventable preterm labor condition. The Adams administration's doula and midwifery initiatives take a critical leap towards narrowing the racial and socioeconomic gaps that have long perpetuated a sense of fear and prevented new families from experiencing joy when they're expecting. I encourage all expecting parents in my district, and all 33 neighborhoods this program will pilot in, to sign up to access doula and midwifery care. The difference could mean life or death.”

In comparison to nationwide statistics, the mayor’s office reported that Black women in NYC are nine times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Also, infants are three times as likely to die under the age of 1.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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