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'Doulas are a right, not a luxury': Doula advocates for families, works to change disparities in health care

Grand Rapids recognizes March 22-28 as Doula Appreciation Week. Bump to Birth Doula Services and Day One Doula Collective provides care, resources, and doula training.
Doula with baby during Cesarean birth
Doula services in Grand Rapids
Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 23, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The World Health Organization saw more mothers die during childbirth in 2021.

Studies show disparities in maternal mortality exist by race, age, and education level.

In Michigan, MDHHS reports 80 to 90 maternal deaths every year.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.

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A doula is working out of the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids on a mission to change disparities in maternal healthcare, one baby at a time.

"Doulas do more than you know, just support the birthing person. We're really there to support the entire family," said doula Kiara Baskin, Bump to Birth Doula Services and Day One Doula Collective.

Before birth, Kiara is with her families at gender reveals and ultrasounds. The majority of the magic happens outside the hospital. "So, it's really important for us to hold the mothers, because when the baby gets here, everybody wants to hold the baby. It's the fun part, it's what we've been waiting for. But, I think we still need to be focused on that mother and what her needs are as well," said Baskin.

Kiara Baskin
Doula Kiara Baskin puts boots on the ground in Grand Rapids with Bump to Birth Doula Services and Day One Doula Collective to make sure birth equity is available to all.

Bump to Birth Doula Services works with community partners to host two community baby showers a year, just to make sure families are stocked up on what they need.

Kiara references how much the community supports this project, "I want to say we got over 20,000 diapers, and I can't remember the wipes, like most of my space here is a wall of diapers."

She has trained about 45 people from grandmothers to college students to be doulas through Day One Doula Collective. "We recruit women of color specifically from the communities in which they live in reside to go back out and provide that support. And then families are able to apply to have a doula support at birth completely at no cost," said Baskin.

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Kiara Baskin works with doula trainees at a 12-week program through Day One Doula Collective.

Despite all her boots-on-the-ground efforts, and the efforts of others, the numbers in Michigan still show some real problems.

According to the 2022 March of Dimes report card, Black women in Michigan are 59% more likely to have a preterm birth. Michigan gets a D+ grade, with a 10.6% preterm birth rate. Kent County scores even lower, with a D grade, 10.8% preterm birth.

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"Once we center and really address the maternal mortality and morbidity rate for black women, we fix the problems for all women, in particular," said Baskin.

There is some momentum in Michigan, legislation just passed to allow for medical reimbursement for doula services. That kind of help makes having an advocate like Kiara much more accessible.

Kiara Baskin with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss Doula Appreciation Week Proclamation
Grand Rapids recognizes Doula Appreciation Week March 22-28.

In Grand Rapids, Kiara worked with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss to recognize March 22-28 as "Doula Appreciation Week" in the city.

Kiara will continue fighting to make sure your zip code doesn't affect your birth story.

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"You absolutely should be supported and have someone to walk alongside you throughout that journey. There's an old African proverb that says, it takes a village to raise a child. And I'm a firm believer in that," said Baskin.

Friday, March 24 at Celebration Cinema South there will be an exclusive free screening of "Birthing Justice" put on by Day One Doula Collective and Kent County. This feature-length documentary sets the tone for Doula Appreciation Week.

After the film, there will be a panel discussing equity for all birthing people. To attend the film, sign up here.

Check out the full 2022 March of Dimes report card for Michiganbelow:

March of Dimes Report Card - Michigan by WXMI on Scribd