“When a doula and a physician are working in sync to provide both the best care and the best experience for the patient, mothers get to experience childbirth as it was meant to be.”– Lakeisha Richardson, OB-GYN
According to the Washington Post, black women are three to four times more likely to endure these complications and succumb to the country’s mortality-rate crisis. Historically, this has always been the case for black women. Researchers link this to both institutional racism as well as health disparities in the black community. I had the opportunity to interview Gerria Coffee, owner of Genesis Birth Services, LLC. We talked about why doulas are vital for black mothers, and how her business is surviving a global pandemic.
How long have you been working as a Doula?
I have been a Doula for 4 Years. I run a private practice called Genesis Birth Services, where I train Doulas in addition to providing childbirth education, lactation and full spectrum support from planning to become pregnant all the way into 1 year postpartum.
What are the responsibilities of a Doula?
As a Doula, my responsibility is to provide continuous,non- medical support.
What is the difference between a Doula and a Midwife?
Medical/Clinical support is the midwife’s scope of responsibility. Support means I am educating, supporting emotionally, and physically. Due to my training and experience, I am able to give nutrition and herbal/holistic support as well. The goal is to help women not only have a positive birthing experience, but to survive physically. Educated support can make a big difference in birth. I don’t set out to catch babies, not yet at least. A Doula is a great and necessary complement to the birthing team.
What is the scope of your clientele (age range, ethnicity, etc.)?
I serve a wide range of clients. Many are first time moms. Some have had a traumatic experience previously and want to avoid the same path, while others really know that having a Doula will give them them a better chance of having the experience that they hope for. Generally my practice serves everyone, but I am very intentional in seeking out Black women. The Maternal Mortality Rate for us is disgusting, so that is a real focus of mine.
What drew you to this work?
I came into this work so organically. My professional background is diverse, but the focus was always engineering and design, then I started having children and my first pregnancy was a set of twins. As I began to study birth and became more knowledgeable about what’s happening and not happening, I knew that I wanted a Doula at my second birth. I wanted a more natural experience. It was then that My Doula said “You should really, become a Doula. You would be great.” I honestly hadn’t considered it prior but it’s been a very natural transition. If feels like it works with who I am.
What are the benefits of working with a doula for black women?
I am a nurturing person, but I also love history. Working with black women gives me the chance to give back to women to the best of my ability, something that has been taken away from them for centuries in this land. As a Doula we are giving back a piece of culture that may have been lost, or upholding parts of culture that they may bring with them. It’s about honor and protection with Black women.
Black women are not being listened to in medical spaces so a second set of eyes, an extra voice doubled with cultural humility, knowledge and representation goes a long way. Even the most well meaning nurse can’t provide continuous support, massage through contractions, and support the partner when applicable as well. A Doula completes the birth team.
How has COVID-19 impacted the ability to service clients?
Covid-19 has created a big shift for many in Doula work. Ever changing hospital policies, making sure women aren’t giving birth alone, the separation of moms and newborns, all of this on top of the existing Maternal Mortality Crisis is a lot. Most hospitals have regulations that only allow one support person at the birth, so it’s putting families in a position where they have to choose.
Fortunately I have always offered virtual Doula services, so one of the solutions to the limitations is to serve mothers virtually. Alternatively, making sure that Doulas are trained to support women in the midst of a pandemic so that they can provide in person support, but do so as safely as possible. I’ve been training Doulas in Pandemic Preparedness to see to it that women who have no support or limited support aren’t left behind due to Covid-19, one of my first cohorts was a group of Doulas serving Pittsburgh, Pa with the Healthy Start Program.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I love helping people, much of my life has been spent helping others or teaching. I love the idea of proving comfort and support for someone. Regardless of the birth outcome, families are always so grateful for having someone by their side. It really is heart warming.
What types of births do you assist with?
I assisted with all births, from home births to cesarean, then I also support families in their transition in their homes immediately after birth, so mom can rest and recover and everyone can get adjusted to the newest member of the family. This means I’m cooking, light cleaning, giving breastfeeding help or helping mom so she can at least shower and brush her teeth.
What inspires you?
Knowing that I am helping people keeps me inspired. Making a difference one family at a time.Being a Doula is heart work, so I’d like to think this is one of my gifts, helping others.
What impact do you hope to make with this work?
My hope is to get to a point where the birthing experience for Black Women is turned around. Granted this isn’t something I can do all alone, so training others to do this work and making sure there is as much representation as possible is a start. Shining a light on some of the real causes for disparities in birth for Black women, such as racism and biases is high on the list as well. It may be a long road, but I’m honored to be on it.
Whew! We are honored to have Black women like Gerria taking care of our lives, and the new life we bring into this world.
For services, you can contact Gerria directly at Genesis Birth Services or (717)-970-3009.