Elon Geffrard, left, of, Metro Detroit Midwives of Color, and Khalifah Green, right, is doula through Womb Wise Co., are here for positive birth experiences for new Black mothers.
Photos provided by Elon Geffrard and Khalifah Green
They practically wear capes.
That’s because doulas are one of many superheroes in the birthing world — rolling up their sleeves and getting to work every time an expectant mother calls on them for support and more.
They provide practically everything (except for delivering babies) a new mother needs emotionally, physically, and even sometimes spiritually.
Recently in March, doulas were celebrated during World Doula Week — and the annual Black Maternal Health Week will be recognized from April 11 –17.
Several local doulas shared why they help the mothers (who love them) and champion for doulas to up their coins when it comes to being reimbursed for their services, which they sometimes give away for free.
Their First Breath
Khalifah Green, 33, of Detroit, is a full spectrum doula through Womb Wise Co., who says her job is oftentimes “hard to put into words.”
“It has allowed me to witness the most beautiful things, and watching first breaths or hearing first cries is always wondrous,” she said, adding that she began her work about 12 years ago.
Green doesn’t know if her passion came from watching her mother care for the community, feeding or clothing them, or “even catching a baby in an impromptu home birth,” but holistic care always came naturally to her.
“Being invited into the sacred space of birth repeatedly made me feel so honored,” she said, adding that people trust her in their “most vulnerable times.” She added that her career can be lucrative because babies are born daily and there is no “shortage of work.”
“For me, it’s about empowering birthing people. Most importantly it’s about lowering the mother and infant mortality rates,” she said, adding that she is also concerned about the inhumane treatment of Black birthing bodies. “I knew sitting by wasn’t an option. I received more training over time, including placenta encapsulation. I then launched my business Womb Wise Co. because nobody would know you’re here to help if you don’t make your presence known.”
Green added that people should know that doulas are not midwives and vice versa.
“I get the question a lot, and want to be clear we operate in a non-medical capacity. We educate, advocate, offer physical and emotional support and create lifelong bonds,” she said. “To become a doula, you should train with a trusted source, have continuous education, know care standards, medical terminology and practices, as well as laws/rights of where you work. Most don’t just wake up and do this, often you’re called to birth work.”
When being called to birth work, it can be difficult to turn expectant mothers away when money is a barrier to receiving doula-related services, especially when soon-to-be mothers are unaware that they can have a doula at no cost.
The National Health Law Program’s Doula Medicaid Project is hoping to make that more of a reality by seeking to improve health outcomes for pregnant Medicaid enrollees by making sure that all pregnant individuals enrolled in Medicaid who want access to a doula will have one, according to its website https://healthlaw.org/doulamedicaidproject/.
The Doula Medicaid Project sees that low-income women are at the highest risk of poor birth outcomes in the United States, and women of color, especially Black women, who are described as “vulnerable.”
Women receiving doula care were found to have improved health outcomes for both themselves and their infants, including higher breastfeeding initiation rates, fewer low-birth-weight babies, and lower rates of cesarean sections. Doulas can also provide patient advocacy.
The project’s goal of Medicaid coverage of doula care includes:
- Working with doulas and other stakeholders to identify and overcome barriers to creating a sustainable and equitable Medicaid coverage of doula care program.
- Educating legislators and other stakeholders about the importance of expanding full-spectrum Medicaid coverage of doula care, including doula support for prenatal care, labor/delivery, postpartum care, miscarriage management and abortion.
- Information gathering and sharing with states around the country who have proposed legislation relating to Medicaid coverage of doula care.
- Advocating for state legislation creating a Medicaid coverage of doula care program, initially in California and then promoted as a model strategy in other states.
Even locally, many doulas are engaged in supporting themselves and other doulas so that in addition to expectant mothers receiving care, doulas can be reimbursed through Medicaid.
Green, who is a part of the Michigan Doula Coalition, said that many others are doing great work with local legislation to “move this forward.”
“They recognize the great need for our services. Many of us offer sliding scales, payment plans or even end up working for free because most often than not money or lack of insurance coverage for birth work is a barrier for those most in need of our support,” she said.
A Birthing Experience to Call Your Own
Metro Detroit resident Elon Geffrard, 37, is a member of the non-profit organization, Metro Detroit Midwives of Color. A certified doula for the past five years, she teaches childbirth education to Medicaid-eligible families who are primarily Black and of African descent.
Geffrard said that she used to work in Lansing and worked hard to bring community-based doula training to a local county health department with one of the reasons being to bring diverse representation to the doula field, especially for Black families.
She added that there is current legislation being developed and policies being worked on to support the reimbursement of doulas who work with families on Medicaid.
“Just by eligibility they typically cannot afford the costs of a doula — on average it can be about $1,000,” Geffrard said. “It is a worthy $1,000 but most families cannot always reach that.”
Geffrard is a doula who works with clients regardless of their ability to pay her, too.
“There are some cases and clients I accept regardless of their ability to pay me,” Geffrard said, adding that people should own their own birth stories and doulas can help.
“If you are a person of color or African descent — you want a person who looks like you, is culturally relevant, and can understand your family support and journey and support [you],” she said.
For the Black Mamas
Robena Hill, 36, of Detroit, is one of two doulas at the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) in Detroit.
Hill was at a community baby shower when a BMBFA representative asked her if she needed doula resources during her pregnancy in 2017. “I didn’t know what that was,” Hill, a mother of three boys, said, adding that the woman wound up becoming her doula and helping her through her birth and 10 months postpartum.
Now, the community advocate is a doula herself and loves to provide other mothers, and their support systems, with resources.
“Never would have I thought in a million years I would be a doula,” she said. “I thank God for BMBFA and my doula — if it wasn’t for BMBFA I wouldn’t have breastfed for two-and-a-half years.”
She added that she can work from home and helps coach expectant mothers in the delivery room virtually — she recently helped a mother during labor on a Zoom call while her family cheered her on.
“[I] figure out how to meet them where they need to meet,” she said, adding that she typically has a caseload of two to three births per month or up to nearly 30 births a year.
BMBFA services Black mothers in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park.
“Doulas are very important for African American mothers — any mothers because of the death rate in mothers and babies,” she said. “I want to see our mothers and families have better outcomes.”