In honor of Minority Health Month, we are featuring programs and partnerships that are raising awareness of the health disparities racial and ethnic minority groups face and improving health for members of these groups by addressing these disparities. One program at Swedish that is leading the way in addressing disparities in the birthing experience is the Black Birth Empowerment Initiative (BBEI, pronounced ‘bay’).
Connecting Black birthing women and people with doula support
Part of the Swedish doula program, BBEI was launched in 2020, designed by and for those who identify as Black or African American. The initiative is meant to center and uplift the Black birth experience by providing clients the option to work with culturally congruent, trained doulas. The BBEI caregivers aim to recreate the support that historically was more common in these communities and ensure that birthing women and people have someone that they can relate to and connect with during this important period in their life. When asked about the impact of having a Black doula supporting them during the birth of their child, one patient shared, “My doula was a huge part of my recovery, before our baby came home from the NICU as well as after. She has provided the kind of care that every person of color needs from a doula.”
In addition, doulas can be key to addressing the birth disparities and institutional racism experienced by Black and African American birthing women and people, including higher rates of prenatal and postpartum complications, stillbirths, and pregnancy mortality. By providing non-clinical physical, emotional, and informational support from pregnancy to the weeks after giving birth, doulas can serve as important advocates, confidants, and sounding boards for these families.
One patient shared that after giving birth, they experienced Postpartum depression and that their doula played an integral part in their choice to seek treatment. “When we had the big conversation regarding my distrust in the medical industry and my hesitation with getting help, she helped me navigate those challenges which led me to get diagnosed and to get on medication.”
When asked if they would refer this program to others in their community, one patient responded, “Absolutely! The support is worth it. All birthing people deserve support and there's no reason you should do it alone when there are resources out here that will provide you the support you need for your recovery.”
Creating a pipeline of future doulas
To support the development and entry of more doulas of color, LGBTQ doulas, and doulas from other historically excluded groups, Swedish established the Doula Diversity Scholarship shortly after the doula program started and more recently, this scholarship program became a crucial part of the BBEI. The scholarship fully funds doula training and certification as well as provides access to a lending library and shadowing opportunities.
In 2021, the program received community benefit support from Swedish to provide scholarships to four new doulas who will work in the community. One of these scholarship recipients, Jeleine Osario Smith, shared that she hopes to use the training she receives to “bring the support a laboring family needs when it matters the most” as well as “help service low-income communities, Black families, and young mothers.”
Applications are currently open for the Swedish Doula Diversity Scholarship. For more information, please visit their website.
Holding space through BBEI for historically excluded doulas
The doulas that work with patients through the BBEI are critical to Swedish’s ability to uplift the Black birth experience and as such, part of the initiative is ensuring this program is a safe space. Within the Swedish Doula Program, there is an existing community of Black doulas as well as mentorship and group therapy.
“As a doula it's really great to be a part of an initiative that is for us and by us,” shared one of our doulas. “I have a space where I can debrief, where I can reach out and I never have to overexplain myself. It's something I have that I didn’t know that I needed.” This work cannot be done for the community without the community and one of the biggest pillars of this initiative is making sure our doulas own a space in this program where they can be unapologetically Black and ensure their voices are heard and appreciated.
The future of Swedish Women’s Health
The work to create better birthing experiences continues at Swedish with two additional new programs, the JUST Birth Network and TeamBirth. The Justice Unity Support Trust (JUST) Birth Network is a program designed to provide an umbrella of services for Black/ African American and Native patients. Through the JUST Birth Network, patients will be offered doulas for support during childbirth and postpartum as well as on-call services and access to education that is culturally congruent from Black educators through the Birth and Family Education program. The team is also currently working with community partners to develop a list of vetted resources and services for families and developing a more equitable approach for women’s health providers.
In addition, TeamBirth will be launching at Swedish soon, which is a program designed to better support the preferences of the person giving birth and is centered around improving communication. A key part of TeamBirth is a labor and birth planning board, a white board in the patient’s room, that allows all members of the care team as well as the patient and their family to better share information, make decisions, and update the birth plan as things progress.
We are excited for the launch of these two programs and look forward to seeing how they continue the work Swedish is doing to improve patient experiences at their Birth Centers while also addressing inequities that are impacting the health of families every day.
To learn more about the Black Birth Empowerment Initiative, including how to hire a doula, request a subsidized doula, and booking a virtual visit, please visit their website. Please note, BBEI is for Black/African American Birthing parents at First Hill, Issaquah, or Edmonds Swedish Birth Centers.
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