Mom, Doula, MPH Student, and Community Champion
Becoming a doula was by chance! I always knew as a little kid that I wanted to be involved with birth and labor and delivery.
I was inspired to become an OB/GYN. That was the thing I really wanted to do. But while at Fresno State, I realized that I didn’t like biology and on top of that, I didn’t feel like I had enough support to continue that path. They didn’t have tutoring hours. There was a lack of student support. As a student, I constantly had questions and to have a professor not be able to answer your questions or help you piece the puzzle together because they are lecturing to a huge group, that was off-putting to me.
I was still attending Fresno State when I got pregnant. I want to say it was the week before I turned twenty that I got pregnant with my oldest child. I was still going to class full-time and working. It was really important to try to balance both because I needed the finances from work because financial aid wasn’t enough. But I also knew that going to school was really important, so I had no intention of leaving Fresno State. I was even sort of frustrated about having to take a break at any point. It was a very tough experience — I won’t lie, it was really hard. I noticed that some people in class would look at you different or respond to you different because of your pregnant belly while honestly being one of the only Black students in class and already sticking out.
It was a tough point for me because I was like “I’m here to learn, be involved. I’ve got all this energy and I really do want to get these classes done.” But the response from other students and staff and even counselors — who should not be there because they need better training — was unsupportive of my situation and my goal of continuing. At the same time, at work, they weren’t supportive of my pregnancy or education so that was really stressful. It felt like a lot to juggle at one time.
It’s not that I didn’t try: I was asking people questions, but it seemed like my needs and me communicating was not working; it was like they were leaving me on read.
To be honest, looking back at it, I’m like “Man, I really should have been adamant about speaking to the dean, going to different meetings, being vocal, and advocating for myself.” The hardest thing for me to do was transition to a different major. Like I cried! I was devastated and crushed.
I had always been set on being a doctor since I was a little girl. I was actually accepted into the National Youth Leadership of Forum: Medicine at UCLA and my hometown rallied together to fundraise. And actually, my childhood doctor paid the rest of the bill so that I could attend and go to different workshops and network.
It was really really stressful, just trying to grow this little human, and I had hyperemesis during that pregnancy. So I was sick all the time. I tried not to miss class. But if I did miss class, I was communicating with my professors, and they tended not to even respond. Another example of where I should have went to the dean and see what kinds of support I could have had and to check my rights since there are protections for pregnant students.
Getting into anthropology actually happened on accident. One semester all of my classes were dropped. They were like “Your bill is not paid.” I was like “What do you mean? I get financial aid.” They were checking if I did and that everything was filled out, the FAFSA and all. Then, they admitted it was an error on their part but that I couldn’t re-enroll in the classes I had because the spots had been taken.
I was like, “What the heck am I going to do now?” I was stressing and scrambling, so I took a medical anthropology class and honestly, I fell in love with it. It made everything kind of come together. Yes, I was still sad about my biology major. But to me, anthropology was something that I was able to connect with on a more personal level. I always knew as a little kid that I wanted to be involved with birth and labor and delivery. I didn’t fit in at the biology program at Fresno State. I couldn’t relate to any of the students. They had different backgrounds and viewpoints. Whereas, in my anthropology classes, I felt a sense of belonging. And if you have taken anthropology classes, you can really go in any direction.
My anthropology professors go above and beyond — we still keep in touch today. When I was a student, they would meet one-on-one and were so helpful at connecting me to different resources. They knew you by name. They still send us things all the time, like job opportunities and other information. If I ever get the opportunity to be a professor. I honestly want to be like them.
When I was pregnant, being in Fresno severely limited my choices. Moving, financially, wasn’t an option for me. So I felt really stuck with the care that I was receiving. That was hard not only from an insurance standpoint — I was sort of fighting with my insurance to even find an OB/GYN that accepted that type of Medi-Cal that I had and it prolonged the time I went without prenatal care. By the time I switched, the list of providers who would see me was also limited because a certain amount of time had passed and I hadn’t had a prenatal appointment yet. Many doctors have policies where they don’t want to take on a new patient after a certain amount of time has passed in the pregnancy. At the time, I was like “What the heck does that even mean? I’m still pregnant. The baby needs care. I need care.” Living here in Fresno, the options are really limited. People should have many options available so that they can make the best choice for them and their situation.
I don’t know that I knew the term “doula” growing up but I know there were people who assisted women in birthing spaces and through the perinatal experience. When I was in undergrad, I was really able to hone in on what I wanted to do.
I was trying to do research when I was pregnant with my first daughter because I realize “Man, I just don’t have the support I need.” I have questions and doctor’s visits just aren’t long enough. When you call them, you talk to the staff but not the doctor. No one really had the time to answer my questions. For them, it was about going through the checklists and routines. For me, it was my very first pregnancy and I had a lot of questions.
Obviously, I got feedback and input from family members. Growing up, I had heard about their pregnancy experiences but it wasn’t necessarily formal information. It was more their opinions and some medical information that they had gotten through the different channels.
When I found out about doulas, I was like “I want a doula!” Although I couldn’t have one, the idea resonated with me and I felt like it was the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to do. Even before I was officially a doula, I noticed that if I had friends or family or coworkers that were pregnant, I always tended to gravitate toward pregnant people and see if there was anything I could do to help. Being a doula was like they say ‘a calling” — I felt like I was supposed to be there.
My mom actually miscarried with twins. She was having twins when I was 5 and she had a placental abruption. They did everything they could to save the babies but they didn’t make it. I remember her being in the hospital for, gosh, weeks! It was so bad. My grandma had to come in from four or five hours away to help care for me. Although I don’t really remember a whole bunch of that, I do remember my mom being very, very sick. While I didn’t understand the seriousness of what was going on, it is probably one of my longest-lasting memories.
To look back on it — me being the person that I am — I started asking the women in my family about their birth experiences and pregnancies and have come to find out that infant mortality in my family is really common. My mom’s, that was one miscarriage that I know of. I can’t quite say if she’s had other losses. My grandma miscarried. Her mom had a stillborn baby. So I was like, “Oh, wow. I bet if I kept asking I’d learn that this is happening pretty frequently.” Even on my dad’s side of the family, another instance is that when I was a teenager, my aunt went into labor at six months and her baby was delivered at home in his amniotic sack. He passed away unfortunately a few days after because he started bleeding out and there was nothing they could do for him. I remember my aunt not being able to process that loss. For the whole family, just a wave of grief washed over us.
It keeps me going in my work. Not that we can necessarily prevent every miscarriage or every situation of infant mortality, but I think we could do a heck of a whole lot better. With the resources that we have, with all the skill and expertise that’s around, we could do so much better for the families and save them from that grief. Because the grief is long-lasting. It’s kind of forever, right?
It doesn’t add up — the more digging you do about the disparities between Black families and white counterparts, the more questions I have. Why is this happening? Why haven’t we been listening to the families that are speaking about this? Can we reach out to families? Can we have that conversation?
Tying it all back into anthropology, a big piece of anthropology is the ethnographic work that you do through an oral history component and having conversations with people. Sometimes I’ve noticed that people don’t necessarily have the words to name the problem but they know a problem exists. I want to be able to collect that quantitative and qualitative data and show that they go together — they really help to paint the whole picture, tell the whole story.
I get calls all the time — even though I am fully booked — by people who have experienced loss and they are not sure where to go. I hope to never have to work with the family that has an infant lost. Like in a utopia, we’d never have to deal with it.
If I was to support a family through loss, I would reach out to Shantay Davies-Balch of the Black Wellness and Prosperity Center. She’s got the most connections in the Central Valley. I do have some connections with different therapists around the Valley, but I will say a lot of Black mental health professionals, they’re booked and busy. I’ve been a doula for over six years and, still, that’s the number of resources that most of us have out here to support families through loss. It’s just that there is not much to offer. I really wish I had more.
Even as a doula, it breaks my heart because I am booked and busy. This year, I’ve had the most calls for my business and I cannot stand to turn people away but there are not that many other Black birthworkers that I can recommend because there are so few of us in Fresno. There is Dutchess of Doula and they train doulas but not many. I even consider switching up my schedule to accommodate them because I am the person who if I could give you the shirt off my back, I would do it, but I need to set boundaries as a mother, as a master’s student, and for my own mental health.
It’s like having a gunshot wound but there are no doctors to help you. So you may be doing everything you can to help yourself, and you may be thinking that you did everything right, but there is just no one reciprocating. Professionals are either not available, or they’re not willing. They’re not sensitive to help us in our situations.
I know that in our political climate, some people are uncomfortable talking about race, but we can’t separate it from the problem because it is the root of the problem. It’s like a weed; you can cut it down but if you don’t get the root out, the weed is going to keep growing and it becomes unmanageable. That’s where we are at with infant mortality — it’s unmanageable.
It’s gripping to know that people still think about the children they lost 20, 30 years ago. Asking themselves what they could have done differently. Missing out on the raising of that child.
I want Black families in Fresno to have the best birth outcomes that they can have. I want they themselves to be healthy and well. I want them to have their questions answered. I want them to have resources available to them. I don’t think that these families should have to be doing the level of research that they’re doing to find support.