Written by Whitney Wortham
I am currently a graduate student pursuing a dual Master’s degree in social work and public health. This Spring semester, I was an intern with Healthy Start Brooklyn – a federally-funded grant program that is a part of the NYC Department of Health. On May 15, Healthy Start Brooklyn’s director Mary-Powel Thomas and Regina Conceicao, one of the By My Side Birth Support Program’s doulas, were interviewed on ABC’s Here and Now news program. I think it is great that the doula program was featured, and watching it I realized how much I have learned about birth and doula support over these past few months.
Prior to working with Healthy Start Brooklyn I must admit my perception of the birthing process was skewed. Because I have not experienced childbirth myself, my working knowledge of the process was limited to what I have seen in movies and TV. These depictions parody labor as hectic, scream-worthy, and scary. Doulas dispel these media propagated images of the labor process with knowledge, expertise, and encouragement.
Before beginning my internship with By My Side Birth Support Program, what I knew about doulas was even more finite. I understood them to be involved in the birthing process in some capacity, but that was essentially the extent of my knowledge. As my comfort with the term and the profession grew, my belief in their inherent value and mission deepened.
In the fast-paced medical world, doulas offer something unique—their time. The By My Side Birth Support Program matches doulas to women before they give birth. The doula visits the expectant mom three times before she gives birth, answering questions and helping her prepare for her birth experience. She sticks with her throughout labor, no matter the time of day, and she’s there after birth assisting with breastfeeding. She visits to follow up during the postpartum period. She advocates. She cares. Most importantly, she’s present from beginning to end.
Regina’s notion that parents are born along with a child rings true. Just as children need their parents to love them, support them, and help them grow—new parents need similar backing. Doulas serve as strong columns of support, to use Regina’s word, a sisterhood. During this beautifully complicated experience, this village of women supporting women is incredibly important for mothers.
A glaring disparity in birth outcomes and access to health services exists in our city. Infant mortality is 1.5 times higher in Eastern and Central Brooklyn than the rest of the United States. This startling statistic underscores more than just a community need—it highlights an opportunity for service. Doulas work to fill this gap. By definition, doulas are women who serve, in this case, other women.
Aside from their value to mothers and families, doulas are an asset to this community. Stress serves as a differentiating factor in the health of babies in this area. Doulas help mitigate some of this toxic stress and lead to better birth outcomes. The By My Side Birth Support Program provides a service that is normally out of reach for many—for free.
Ultimately, doulas serve as educators, advocates, and friends, making for an informed and supported experience. This is an invaluable service here in Eastern and Central Brooklyn that’s proven to improve health outcomes. Doulas cultivate a sense of serenity throughout the birthing process—beginning well before the labor itself.