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Doulas Making a Difference

Posted on The Fresh Chalk Blog • by Tom Laramee • Thursday October 17th

Seattle is filled with people and businesses that are committed to doing good and seeking to make a change in the world. Fresh Chalk loves meeting professionals who care about more than just making a profit. Recently, we met a group of doulas who are committed to helping expectant mothers in local underserved communities.

Outreach doulas are specially trained to provide support from the first months of pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. Many new mothers are navigating through a complicated foreign health system, and outreach doulas help them ensure a healthy birth outcome. For minority women, having a doula from their own community helps close any trust gaps that may exist.

Somali Doulas NW

Faisa Farole, Executive Director of Somali Doulas Northwest, has been working with women in a variety of capacities as a healthcare advocate. She graduated from the Midwives College of Utah and is a Licensed Midwife in the state of Washington.

What made you want to become a doula?

I am from Somalia and there women always take care of their siblings and other children in the community, so becoming a community-based outreach doula just feels like a natural extension of that experience. The Somali community here needed an alternative to traditional births because there were a lot of unnecessary interventions. I wanted to help give women a voice and advocate on their behalf.

What's one thing everyone should know about Somali Doulas NW?

We have a longer relationship with the mothers. During the postpartum period we meet with the mom twice a month. Not only do we help moms holistically, but we can help with housing issues, or if she's new in the area we can help get her children enrolled in a new school. We also sometimes help moms find employment. Our main goal is to help connect mothers to resources in the community.

Can you talk a little about some of the main barriers to helping Somali women?

There was an article published in 2003 by the University of Washington about Somali women having cesareans at a higher rate than Caucasian or African American women. The rate was staggeringly high because Somali women tend to post-date their pregnancies by going over 40 weeks. As a result, the rate of adverse birth outcomes is extremely high and babies are at risk of being sent to the NICU.

There are also common misconceptions that Somali Muslim mothers face. We just want to ensure that our patients have a trusted source that mediates between them and the hospital, so that we can overcome any cultural or language barriers.

Talk about some of the common racial disparities and how you help overcome them?

I was on a panel recently that Seattle Women’s Commission put together and it just boils down to racism, that's just what it is. People of color are treated differently when they arrive at a hospital. When a woman of color raises an issue it gets brushed off or dismissed. Unfortunately, people don't think we feel pain as much as other people, which is really ridiculous. The doulas will go with the mom to the hospital to make sure this doesn’t happen, we are there to advocate for the mom. We also are trying to bridge the birthing experience between Africa and America and ensure the mom has the best birthing outcome possible.

What are the greatest needs in the east African community around maternal & familial health?

I think having more awareness would be very helpful. The community rarely attends child education or parenting classes. I'd like to see that turn around. I want to make Somali Doulas HQ a place where women want to go, I want to provide a place for people to gather and support one another.

What's next for Somali Doulas?

With the grant we just received from the Satterberg Foundation my hope is to train more immigrant and refugee doulas from different communities and have those women help expand the number of mothers we can support. I know that my community is not the only one that needs this. Therefore, we may eventually outgrow the name "Somali Doulas", and you may see us with a new name that reflects the greater East African communities.

*If would like to donate baby goods to Somali Doulas, Ridwell is planning a drive in late January of next year. The drive itself will be available to members of Ridwell as one of their rotating categories. For more information contact aliya@ridwell.com.

Kenyan Doulas

Jackline Akoth Owiny arrived in the United States in 2006, seeking asylum from the sociopolitical instability in her home country of Kenya. Jackline recently received her Postpartum Doula certification from Bastyr University.

Were there any personal experiences that shaped the way your care for infants?

Most of my experiences occurred back home in Kenya. A friend of mine lost her husband when her baby was less than six months old. At the time, we were working closely with one another, and she asked me if I could come help her for a day. She was still mourning the loss of her husband, so I stayed with the baby. It was a great opportunity for her to get some rest and mourn the loss of her husband. That’s when I realized that I can help. Whenever she traveled for work I would help with the baby. I was always grateful that I could help and that she could leave the baby with someone she trusted. That’s when I knew I was really good at caring for families.

What are some barriers mothers face?

Some women have long births, elevated blood pressure, or post-date their pregnancy. At this point, the baby needs to come and women are resistant to recommended procedures, like epidurals. Often times, mothers don’t understand the word for epidural in their dialect (Congos, Somali, etc). We usually have to explain it visually and show them how to arch their back and that something will be injected into their spine. We explain that it’s medicine and it will help. Usually, they are worried about being numb and won’t know when to push, so they decide to skip it and have the baby naturally, which can be very painful.

Talk about some common racial disparities and how you can help.

Limited English proficiency prevents women from understanding the healthcare system. Often times, they can’t understand why the birthing experience here is so different from their country. The doctors sometimes make quick decisions and the moms are adamant that they don’t want what the doctor is recommending. Sadly, in those situations the mothers don’t get the birthing experience they expect. Another big problem is blood transfusions. The doctors will explain their reasons and the mothers still refuse the blood because of culture or religion. Unfortunately, the mothers can end up having a negative birth outcome. That’s what we are trying to prevent.

What do you want us to know about Kenyan Doulas?

We are really there to support both the mother and the baby. The mothers shouldn’t look at it like a luxury because it’s not. They shouldn’t feel guilty or regret any of it. Having a baby is hard, and we are there to offer unbiased support. We also form tight bonds with the families, we want this experience to be positive because having a newborn should be a good thing!

Seattle Day Doulas

Wendy Quast has over twenty years of childcare experience and recently received her Postpartum Doula certification through the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University.

Were there any personal experiences that made you want to be a doula?

There wasn't a single time or experience that stands out, however, when I was sitting in my doula training I had an ‘aha moment’ where I knew that this is exactly what I was meant to do. When I'm rocking or soothing a crying baby, I remind myself that I'm really good at this. It keeps me centered.

I started taking care of children at the age of twelve, it was something that came very naturally for me. It wasn't until my mid-teens when I was caring for infants that I began to notice that they were relying on me for all of their basic needs. Being able to provide that is such a rewarding and satisfying feeling.

What do you want people to know about Seattle Day Doulas?

We provide an unbiased, non-judgmental environment. I don't want a new mother to feel like she can't do it. I am their biggest cheerleader. I can’t do everything for them, but helping them know that they can do it on their own is really rewarding. Also, we're not there to disregard anything medical professionals say, nor are we there to change a mom’s mind. We're simply there to support the mother and guide her into making the best choices for her and her family.

What are some of the referrals you give new mothers?

The biggest recommendation is for lactation consultants. Often times new mothers will have issues producing too much or not enough milk--that can really freak them out. If they are having trouble, I can refer them to a psychotherapist, just so they don't get to that stage of feeling like they're a failure because they can't produce milk. Lactation is the first "test" of a new mother and it can be really emotionally loaded, so when it doesn't go well-mothers can feel like failures. Not all referrals are medical referrals, though -- they can also be for services like personal trainers, gyms, and spas.

What's next for Seattle Day Doula?

I have a five year plan of wanting to bring on at least two additional doulas to work for Seattle Day Doula. I have a ten year plan of eventually wanting to become an instructor and helping postpartum doulas become certified.

Do you have a great doula recommendation? Add it on Fresh Chalk and help build list of doula resources!