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Portals to the past and bridges to the future: exploring the impact of doulas on the birthing experiences of black and Latinx women
  1. Victoria Rose Gregorio1,
  2. Sneha Mantri1,2
  1. 1Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2Neurology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Victoria Rose Gregorio, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC 27710, USA; vrg6{at}duke.edu

Abstract

Introduction In the USA, maternal morbidity and mortality is markedly higher for women of colour than for white women. The presence of a doula has been associated with positive birthing outcomes for white individuals, but the experiences of women of colour remain underexplored. The purpose of this qualitative paper is to understand the attitudes of black and Latinx communities towards doula-supported birthing practices.

Methods The perspectives of people of colour, both birthing women and doulas, were investigated through popular media sources, including blogs, magazine articles, podcasts and video interviews. Of 108 popular media sources identified in the initial search, 27 included direct accounts from birthing women or doulas and were therefore included in this paper. Thematic analysis was conducted by the grounded theory method.

Results Emerging themes reveal that doula presence allows for the experience of ancestral power, connection to the granny midwives, cultural translation in medical settings and physical protection of the birthing woman. When labouring with the support of a doula, women report the emotional and physical presence of their ancestors. Similarly, doulas recognise an ancestral presence within the birthing woman, and doulas experience their occupation as carrying on ancestral tradition and feel a strong vocational tie to the granny midwives of the American South. Lastly, doulas mediate communication between birthing women, their families and medical providers by emphasising the need for consent and patient autonomy.

Conclusion By connecting women of colour to historic and ancient spaces as well as providing comfort and familiarity in the birthing space, doulas grant their clients the self-advocacy and empowerment needed to survive the present. Doulas serve as protectors of women of colour and have become an important piece to bridging society from the current maternal health crisis to a more equitable future.

  • patient narratives
  • medical humanities
  • popular media
  • qualitative research
  • women's health

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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Footnotes

  • Contributors VRG acquired, analysed and interpreted the data and drafted the manuscript. SM made substantial contributions to the conception of the work and revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. SM is the guarantor of the project, accepting responsibility for the work and conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish. Both VRG and SM give final approval of the version to be published and agreed to be accountable.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.