Last week, Mayor Eric Adams announced the citywide expansion of the doula program, a Midwifery Initiative, and maternal health care services in an effort to address maternal and infant health inequities and mortality rates rooted in generations of structural racism and disinvestment.

In New York City, Black women are nine times more likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause than white women, and their rate of infant mortality is more than three times higher. For Puerto Ricans, the mayor’s office said, the infant mortality rate is twice that of white women.

“The root causes of racial disparities in maternal health are real, so it’s time we do right by every mother and every baby, no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak,” said Adams in a statement.

Under the Midwifery Initiative, there will be more training and licensure opportunities. There will also be 23 new birthing hospitals and centers opened. The Citywide Doula Initiative will aim to train 50 doulas and reach 500 families by the end of June, and provide free access to doulas for birthing families and focus on 33 neighborhoods with the greatest social needs. Families will receive at home and clinical care as well as prenatal home and postpartum visits.

A doula is essentially an emotional support system and coach for the birthing parent. Cynthia Travieso is a certified doula. She believes that “cultural competency” is a key component for patient care because many women and women of color aren’t empowered to ask questions about their care, or aren’t listened to about their symptoms.

“There’s something that’s specifically happening in the medical field and how they treat women of color, specifically Black women,” said Travieso, “I’m Latina, and I had pre-cancer stage one for endometrium, and for the longest time I was just told that my health, my pain that it was because I was overweight.”

“Having a child should be a cause for celebration of the gift of life, not a cause for concern for the lives of the mother and her infant,” said U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke. Last year, Clarke and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed for Black maternal health in the Build Back Better bill under the ‘Momnibus’ Act. Clarke said she was deeply appreciative of Adams’ new doula and midwifery initiatives.

Dr. Cyrus McCalla chairs the OB/GYN wing at One Brooklyn Health at Brookdale Hospital. He said that most of the deliveries at his hospital are done by midwives while the physicians concentrate on Cesarean sections (C-sections) or are on call in case of emergencies. They deliver about 1,000 moms per year, but that number had decreased during the pandemic to about 700, he said. “There’s a tendency to ignore or not listen to Black mothers, so having an advocate like a doula or a midwife in the process will certainly help,” said McCalla.

McCalla agreed that the rates of C-sections citywide have increased in the last decade. He said at his hospital about two-thirds of the women deliver vaginally or naturally.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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