May 29, 2023

Racial disparities in maternal health continue to be a problem in the U.S., as Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One organization in Los Angeles is trying to combat this trend by providing Black women with doulas — trained professionals to guide them through the birthing process.

Carrie Bernans and her partner, Jeremy, are expecting their first child, a baby boy. Bernans is healthy, but she feared she would have to deliver at just 24 weeks. After having some early contractions, doctors misdiagnosed her with an open cervix.

“I freaked my mom out, I freaked my family out. That was just unnecessary and that was hard,” she said.

Bernans felt her concerns over the medications that she was prescribed were being ignored, so she switched doctors and got a doula through Frontline Doulas, a community program that provides free access to care for Black mothers in Los Angeles.

“I wanted a Black woman,” she said. “I wanted someone who could understand me. Understand what I was going through. Understand my body.”

A host of factors, including health inequities, mistreatment and underlying chronic conditions, contribute to the higher maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S.

Doula Felicia Francis-Edwards fights to improve those outcomes by advocating for families and providing physical, emotional and informational support. She told CBS News that a striking number of Black women have signed up for the program “because they thought they were going to die.”

One study showed that mothers who use doulas are less likely to require a C-section or use pain medication, and their babies are less likely to have a low birth weight.

But doula services can cost upwards of $5,000 and most aren’t covered by insurance.

Bernans said she would have been lost without a doula, but now that she’s found one, she’s ready for delivery.

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