Unlike doctors and midwives, doulas do not have medical training. Instead, they serve as an educational and emotional support system for pregnant people—focusing on the wellbeing of a mother or birthing person “from the waist up.”
In New York City, infant and maternal mortality rates vary drastically from neighborhood to neighborhood, with a clear racial bias. The risk of maternal death is twice as high for Hispanic women and seven times as high for African American women as it is for white mothers. Despite research that shows doula care can significantly improve birth outcomes for at-risk mothers, only five percent of births in New York City are assisted by doulas.
Many of the doulas working most closely with low-income mothers and LGBTQ families are women of color, who often bring a background in social services or community work—as well as a nuanced understanding of the ways in which race and sexual orientation can impact the care a patient receives. For these birth workers, maternal and infant healthcare is a reproductive justice issue, one that is anything but a luxury.