I met a Bronx momma one Sunday to check in. We had a prenatal visit in her car one afternoon by a park. Reclining her driver seat back, I asked if I could touch her growing belly. I felt for baby’s back and head, showed her where and how to feel for them. She told me about this ache near her groin; I explained about the ligaments that support the uterus and how normally they aren’t stretched the way they are in pregnancy, that this can cause some pain but it’s normal. I kept touching her belly and my hands went instinctively to where it ached, massaging. I kept talking to momma about birth and that I understood why she was scared of the pain and gave her some advice about taking the last couple of weeks to disconnect from everything and focus on the last precious moments of having her child this close to her. I saw the tears. I heard the all-too common statement that rarely does she receive attention and touch in this way. I think about her and how she is one of many women who would not have this moment if it weren’t for community doula grants and organizations that advocate for every woman, regardless of finances.
Though some of the systems of making this happen are not perfect, they are an attempt to support doulas financially who would love to completely dedicate all their time to moments like this. For me, it seems that the women who can afford to have me at their births are those who are in a financial position to do it. While I do not make anyone wrong for this ability nor shame doulas who market themselves to demographics who can afford their rightfully deserved fees, I think about women like the Bronx momma who cannot afford me because of the different systemic barriers that come with being a Black low-income woman. I think that as a birthworker, I must tread carefully the line between being paid what I deserve and knowing there are women who truly cannot afford it who I want to serve. I often wonder why I haven’t managed to completely support myself on what I love. I am reluctant to pursue higher paying clients because I know that with money comes the ability to have easier access to this service, and to be completely transparent, I want to attend Black and Latina women in my community. This is also not to say that Black and Latina are inherently impoverished but the chances of them suffering from economic disenfranchisement are pretty high. Because of this, they are more likely to birth in subpar hospitals in their communities and run the risk of not being informed about their options nor anything being done to them.
Recently, I had to pay a visit to Lincoln Hospital and memories of the cruel and unusual treatment (read: torture) that I witnessed with birthing women came flooding back. I won’t go into detail about them but the awful bedside manner and proceedings that I saw have been enough to drive me up a wall just with the thought of it. Hospitals are my least favorite places but I also know that in a couple of situations, I was at the very least able to ease the blow of these circumstances. Ultimately, I wish they could have birthed at home on their own terms and with a much more compassionate team of healthcare providers at their feet. I am reminded of this as I figure out my next steps in my career. I want to find a way to continue to reach women who need women like me to help them. It is my hope to have more moments where a woman’s gratitude is the most rewarding thing after a prenatal session.
Bottom line is, there continue to be many barriers that keep women from having the care and support they need. I would like to see the red tape that keeps the funding from some organizations that deeply desire to do this. I would like to see there be less debate on whether a woman has the money for it and more emphasis on doing the work while keeping in mind the element of not being taken advantage of (that’s real). Above all, I want to have more experiences like the one I opened this stream of consciousness up with: homegrown community connections that truly matter and have an impact.