Doula Work is Tradition by Nilajah Brown


My awakening to birth injustice began thousands of miles away from my hood of Baltimore City where we see some of the poorest birth outcomes in America. It happened in Ghana, West Africa.

I moved to Ghana in 1999 after working for years as a midwifery apprentice. I felt a strong desire to learn traditional childbirth rituals and customs from African midwives. After a year in the bush, I suddenly became severely ill. My friends took me into town to the military hospital, considered Ghana’s best medical facility. I had to pay the equivalent of $5 US to enter the hospital. As I waited to be seen, I witnessed a woman in labor being turned away because she didn’t have the entrance fee. She begged and begged but the soldier would not receive her. I wanted to help desperately but I barely had the energy to breathe.

There were other women around but they supported her in the only way they felt they could… begging the soldiers to let her in. Meanwhile, the woman continued to labor alone. We could hear her screaming in agony. Hours later, I saw three soldiers carry her body away. We heard the other women crying. In that moment, my soul declared that if I lived to be strong again, I would make sure I educated as many women as possible on how to support a birthing woman.

We need women to stand against birth injustice from many angles. Birth injustice is not only a political issue, it is a cultural and spiritual issue. Yes, we need voices to vote, write letters and speak out against health disparities so that all women have access to care when needed. But we also need to return to the ways of women.

It is not our nature to look outside of our circle of sisters for support in bringing our babies into the world. There was a time when all the village women knew about birth–a woman might not be a midwife but she knew what to do until the midwife arrived. We have lost that tradition.

Even in indigenous communities, women have become disconnected from our innate knowing. We have surrendered out births over to modern medicine. Collectively, we no longer view birth as a natural, normal process, a rite of passage, but a medical emergency.

I encourage all women to take a doula training course, even if you have no intention of working as a doula professionally. You never know when someone in your community will need your support. Here is a list of a few really great, culturally conscious doula trainings.

International Center for Traditional Childbearing

The Birthwell

Mama Toto Village

Nilajah Brown is a mom, doula trainer, certified pregnancy yoga instructor and owner of the MD Birth Network.

For more information on the East Bay Community Birth Support Project doula training initiative, a collaboration of BWBJ and the Birth Justice Project, click here.

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