Birth in Color

With two years under its belt, Birth in Color Central Virginia has trained a fourth group of doulas to help support pregnant women of color

How a Local Non-Profit is Supporting Expecting Parents

Photos by Ashlee Glen

With two years under its belt, Birth in Color Central Virginia has trained a fourth group of doulas to help support pregnant women of color and their families in the Lynchburg region throughout their entire birth journey. Doulas work alongside the other professionals responsible for birth care by offering physical, emotional, and informational support during and shortly after childbirth—efforts that have been proven to improve maternal mortality rates during childbirth.

Miosha McDaniel, a doula for Birth in Color Central Virginia, said the maternal mortality rate for Black women during delivery is three times higher than that of white women.

“That’s a really scary number and we understand that a lot of women walk in wondering if they’re going to be able to come out of the hospital with their babies,” she said.

In just two years, Birth in Color Central Virginia has already received hundreds of applications from women wanting support from the program’s doulas and wanting someone who understands their needs and struggles.

Kenda Sutton-El, Executive Director of Birth in Color RVA.

Kenda Sutton-El, executive director of Birth in Color RVA, created the flagship organization four years ago in Richmond after realizing the birthing needs of women of color—especially Black women, who needed support, education, and advocacy. She launched Birth in Color Central Virginia as RVA’s sister organization in 2021.

McDaniel said most doulas meet with their clients two to four times throughout their pregnancy to educate them on what their rights are and how they should be protected within the birthing spaces of hospitals. The doulas also hold community baby showers, childbirth classes, including classes for spouses and partners.

“We serve them emotionally, physically, and we’re really heavy on advocacy as well,” she said. “Because a lot of the time in the hospital rooms, the partner is uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to speak up or doesn’t know what to say. And that’s where the doula can step in and advocate for them and educate them on what the doctor or nurse is saying.”

Doulas also provide comfort measures including acupuncture, acupressure, and the “double hip squeeze,” which is performed during a contraction to help with discomfort in the lower back and pelvis.

“So a lot of education goes into being a doula, a lot of advocacy, and a lot of mental and emotional support, because that’s a really trying time when labor comes around,” McDaniel said.

Birth in Color Central Virginia has trained more than 20 women to become doulas but not everyone serves at once, she said. Right now, the program has about 10 active doulas.

Miosha McDaniel

McDaniel said the program is important to have in the area because, before the program launched, there weren’t many doulas who were women of color.

“When I was pregnant with both of my little ones, I used doulas, but they didn’t look like me,” McDaniel said. “And a lot of the times when I would walk into appointments at the doctors’ offices or even with my doulas they didn’t understand or know how to advocate for me as a Black woman.

And it was uncomfortable. I’m just a pregnant person. Don’t look at my color, just look at me being a pregnant person and coming in wanting to be educated. “

McDaniel said that Sutton-El noticed this as well when she looked around doctors’ offices and hospitals searching for women of color who worked there.

“We understand that it’s not going to be fixed overnight, but we are grateful for the role that we do get to play in helping change those numbers,” McDaniel said. “We are the first collective of Black women who serve Black women in our city. So I think it’s really special that [Sutton-El] thought that Lynchburg was worth investing in and supporting to help support other women.”

For others in the community looking to help, McDaniel advises them to have the awkward conversations and ask how they can support these women.

“Most importantly, if you see something, say something. That’s my biggest thing. If you are in a doctor’s office and you’re overhearing something or a conversation that’s going on that might be inappropriate or is not a supportive or inclusive conversation, speak up and say something,” she said.

She added that each doula is paid through donations and grants because the organization doesn’t require families to pay for their services.

“We believe that everyone should have a doula,” McDaniel said. “Every birthing person deserves that support and advocacy outside of their partner, their spouse, or family members. So donations help us do the work that we’re doing. And if you can’t support financially, just share about Birth in Color by getting the word out and talking about the work that we’re doing.”

Now more than ever, the community needs to support one another, especially women, she said.

“I think it’s a really trying time that we’re going through right now where women’s bodies are being policed,” she said. “We know our bodies the best and I think that we all need to come together to support one another and advocate for every person no matter what and no matter who they are.”  


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