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Shining a Light: Maternal Mortality and the Vital Role of Doulas

Updated: Apr 5

Schronda Williams is the CEO of DMV DoulaLUXE & Inspire My Life Blog, Certified Nursing Assistant, 3 years OBGYN/Pediatric Medical Assistant for Kootnia Healthcare, North West ICU Nurse Technician, Author/Journalist & Baltimore City's Mayor Women's Commission Board Leader.

Hey there!

Let's get real about something crucial – the experience of pregnancy and childbirth for women of color. It's no secret that the journey isn't the same for everyone, and the numbers tell a story that needs to be heard.

Here's the deal: when it comes to having a baby, women of color, particularly Black and Indigenous women, face significantly higher risks compared to white women. Maternal mortality rates among women of color continue to be a pressing issue, shedding light on the healthcare disparities that persist within the United States. These disparities are multifaceted, influenced by a range of factors such as access to quality care, implicit biases within the healthcare system, and socioeconomic challenges. Shockingly, the rate is more than double that of white women at 44.0 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 17.9. The rate was exceptionally high, with more than three times the rate of Hispanic women at 12.6. Which simply means Black women are three to four times more likely to encounter serious complications during pregnancy, and Indigenous women also face elevated risks.

Tragically, these statistics only account for deaths up to 42 days postpartum – the time when most women attend their single postpartum appointment. There is no data on the number of deaths occurring beyond this time, particularly concerning postpartum depression and other mental health issues. It is very likely that the actual number of deaths is much higher than reported.

According to CNN, the husband of a Black woman who tragically passed away shortly after giving birth to their second son stood up against Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and its parent health system. Mr. Charles Johnson took legal actions, filing a civil rights lawsuit that alleges inferior care based on the color of his wife's skin. This comes after a previous judge dismissed similar allegations in 2022.

An autopsy revealed that Kira Johnson died from massive internal bleeding following a planned cesarean section in April 2016. The lawsuit contends that the 17-minute length of the surgery was "reckless." Less than two hours after the procedure, her husband noticed blood in her catheter bag. Despite his urgent pleas, a "surgical emergency" CT scan ordered for Kira never took place. It wasn't until well after midnight that she was taken back to the operating room to address the bleeding, but tragically, it was too late. Kira Johnson died from a postpartum hemorrhage.

Kira Jonson’s husband Charles was devastated and became an advocate for maternal immediately after she died from a hemorrhage, following the birth of her second son.

Advocate for Change: The Story of Charles Johnson

Sharing his family's story led to a wave of people reaching out to Charles Johnson to share their own experiences of loss. It became clear to him that this was not just a matter of coincidence. After extensive research, he came to realize that the United States was facing a maternal mortality crisis.

Determined to make a difference, Johnson founded the nonprofit organization, 4Kira4Moms. The organization advocates for families impacted by maternal mortality, giving a voice to their struggles and working towards change. In 2018, Johnson took his advocacy work one step further by collaborating with Congress to pass the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act. This law provides funding to states to create committees that track, review, and investigate maternal mortality incidents. By analyzing data and identifying at-risk groups, these committees will ensure that pregnant people receive better care during childbirth and the postpartum period.

However, Johnson's advocacy work revealed that patients across America are suffering due to the medical system's inadequacies. He is pushing for a new ballot initiative in California called the Fairness for Injured Patients Act. If passed, this initiative will require malpractice lawsuits to be heard in front of a judge and jury instead of being settled out of court. It will also remove a cap on financial awards for patients affected by malpractice suits.

Despite the immense grief caused by his family's loss, Johnson strives to keep his wife Kira's memory alive. He wants his children to know who she was and what she stood for. He acknowledges that no amount of joy can fill the gap left by Kira's absence, which is why he remains committed to his advocacy work. His aim is to ensure that no other family has to face this type of tragedy, and that his children can grow up without experiencing avoidable loss.

The case of Kira Johnson brings to light the critical need for doulas in maternal care. Kira Johnson tragically lost her life due to complications following the birth of her second child. One glaring factor that stands out in her story is the absence of a doula during the delivery.

Doulas serve as advocates and support systems for women during childbirth. They are knowledgeable about the birthing process and can help navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. In Kira Johnson's case, the absence of a doula may have contributed to the delay in receiving necessary treatment and care.

Doulas are trained to recognize signs of distress and communicate effectively with healthcare providers. They can help bridge the gap between the birthing woman and the medical team, ensuring that concerns are addressed promptly. In Kira Johnson's situation, a doula may have been able to advocate for her and ensure that her symptoms were taken seriously.

Furthermore, doulas provide emotional support during labor and delivery. They offer reassurance, encouragement, and a calming presence. This emotional support can be crucial in high-stress situations, such as when complications arise. Having a doula by her side may have helped Kira Johnson feel more supported and empowered to voice her concerns and advocate for her own care.

The presence of a doula can also positively impact the experiences of partners and family members. Partners may feel overwhelmed and uncertain during labor and delivery. A doula can provide guidance and support to partners, allowing them to be more present and supportive to the birthing woman. In Kira Johnson's case, a doula could have helped her husband navigate the complexities of the healthcare system and ensure that her needs were met.

It is important to recognize that doulas are not a substitute for medical professionals. They work collaboratively with doctors, nurses, and midwives to provide comprehensive care. However, their unique role as advocates and support systems can make a significant difference in the overall birthing experience and outcomes.

The tragic loss of Kira Johnson highlights the need for doulas in maternal care. Their presence can help ensure timely and appropriate treatment, improve communication between the birthing woman and healthcare providers, and provide emotional support during a vulnerable time. By advocating for the use of doulas, we can strive to prevent similar tragedies and promote safer, more empowering birth experiences for all women.

So, what's the game-changer here in Baltimore? This is where DMV DoulaLUXE steps in. In

2020 our Founder and CEO Schronda Williams was based in Los Agnes, California and came across a mother and family who needed her assistance, she was a little hesitant because she was on an current contract but after hearing the story of Charles Johnson and what happened to his wife at a local Hospital, she couldn't turn away the family who needed an Doula.

Schronda's mission for DMV DoulaLUXE is to provide comprehensive education and support to families, tailoring referral our services to meet the unique needs of Black expectant individuals and couples, such as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ, and IVF/Surrogates.

We recognize the mix of emotions of both nerves and excitement that follows the joy of parenthood for you and your family. We have experienced doulas on standby ready to assist you with support and care every step of your pregnancy and birth journey.

Our approach is all about empowering and advocating for you and encouraging you to advocate for yourself. We are passionate about homebirth, supporting hospital birthrights, and utilizing postpartum medicine and care. Our doulas are equipped with an evidence-based approach that encompasses mental, physical, and emotional support, ensuring that you and your family receive the guidance and care you deserve.

The statistics are clear, and the need for support is undeniable.

In the face of these sobering statistics, the presence of doulas has emerged as a valuable and beneficial resource in providing crucial support to women of color during pregnancy and childbirth.

Take this time. to watch an video on how an Philly Doula Service empowered an Black Mother.

How can you benefit from a Doula?

Whether you are seeking a Doula now or in the future. Keep in mind Doulas are trained professionals who provide physical, emotional, and informational support to expecting mothers before, during, and after childbirth. Doulas have been shown to play a pivotal role in addressing these disparities. Research indicates that the presence of a doula can lead to improved birth outcomes, reduced rates of interventions such as cesarean sections, and enhanced overall satisfaction with the birthing experience. For women of color, who often face additional challenges within the healthcare system, the support and advocacy provided by doulas can be especially impactful.

Check out some benefits of having a Doula:

  • The benefits of having a doula are particularly significant for women of color due to the advocacy, emotional support, and culturally competent care they provide.

  • Doulas offer continuous support throughout the childbirth process, serving as a consistent and knowledgeable presence to help navigate medical procedures, communicate with healthcare providers, and offer personalized comfort measures.

  • Additionally, doulas can also help address the impact of systemic racism and biases within healthcare by advocating for the needs and preferences of the mother, thus contributing to a more empowering and respectful birthing experience.

DMV DoulaLUXE is fully committed to addressing the disparities in maternal mortality among women of color. We understand that it requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses systemic changes within the healthcare system.

The role of doulas in providing essential support, advocacy, and culturally competent care cannot be overstated. By acknowledging the invaluable contributions of doulas and working to integrate their services more widely, we can take meaningful steps toward improving maternal health outcomes and promoting equity within childbirth experiences for women of color.

What are your thoughts on the issues surrounding women of color in maternal health? Have you experienced something similar or less tragic? We would love to learn more about your story and share it in an effort to raise awareness. Comment Below 👇🏽

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