Nonprofit tries to reduce black maternal mortality rate in Virginia

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – For the first time, Birth in color RVA provided doula training at Roanoke. Their goal is to train doulas of color in underrepresented communities for free.

“Black women are dying; they’re even afraid to give birth when it’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of their lives,” said Kenda Sutton-El, CEO of Birth in Color RVA.

The CDC reports the maternal mortality rate for black women is three times higher than for white women.

“There’s a bias that black women don’t feel pain like other people and that we’re meant to be that strong person,” Sutton-El added. “That we’re really aggressive when we really aren’t.”

In an effort to change those numbers, Birth in Color has trained over a hundred color doulas across the Commonwealth.

“Having someone who looks like you makes you feel more confident. You’re able to talk about those underlying conditions that you actually have,” Sutton-El explained.

Five doulas graduated Saturday in Roanoke. They provide physical and emotional support to mothers. Newly graduated doula Natalie Cook says this work is needed.

“Doulas can help remind people that mom matters too. And that there is a fourth quarter,” Cook explained. Our work does not stop after birth or after childbirth.

Cook draws on her own experience with back-to-back C-sections at a young age.

“I didn’t have all the support I could have had as a young black woman,” Cook said.

They will provide free services to pregnant women here at home.

“We’re taking ourselves out of the equation and putting mom in it,” newly trained doula Paiton Wainwright said. “So whatever she wants or her wishes or desires than whatever she wants in her birth. That’s what we’re going with.

In January 2022, Virginia expanded coverage of community doula services for Medicaid recipients. The Birth in color RVA the training meets the requirements to register as a supplier. The next training will take place in December.

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