“There is Hope for Black Mothers”: Black Morbidity Rates and Doula Magic

Daysha Lewis, Doula and Parent Educator, was given false information when it came time to deliver her first baby. She experienced complications under the care of health care professionals, and it motivated her to help other Black women who may find themselves in similar situations. 

Headshot of Daysha Lewis, Doula and Parent Educator, provided by herself.

Daysha Lewis, Doula and Parent Educator, was given false information when it came time to deliver her first baby. She experienced complications under the care of health care professionals, and it motivated her to help other Black women who may find themselves in similar situations. 

Black women are the least advocated for race of women in America, especially when it comes to health care. In Missouri alone, the rate of Black maternal deaths are four times that of white women. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), 87.5 Black women have died out of every 100,000 live births––compared to the deaths of 27.1 white women out of every 100,000 live births given. Even more shocking? Mental health is the leading cause of those Black maternal deaths. 

Black women are more readily labeled as “unfit” if they admit to experiencing normal postpartum difficulties such as postpartum depression and anxiety. For the women who have figured this out, they lack the trust to communicate their struggles with their doctor or OBGYN for fear that social workers would get involved. The problem then becomes who can they talk to? Where are the resources for struggling Black mothers or just Black mothers in general? Who is advocating for Black mothers? Who is truly in their corner? 

Justice Gatson (left) speaking at a protest at the Jackson County Courthouse on May 3rd in light of the Roe v. Wade leak. Gatson leads efforts at The Reale Justice Network.

Justice Gatson, Founder of The Reale Justice Network, has dedicated herself to being an advocate for underprivileged, abused, and pregnant women. In an interview with The KC Defender, she speaks about how she was a victim of abuse in her past, leaving her to upend her life while pregnant. Having nowhere to turn, she concluded she would become what she needed and didn’t have, for other women. 

According to their website, The Reale Justice Network is a community organization that fights for improved health care for Black women through their full spectrum doula services, while giving special attention to Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) survivors of intimate partner and sexual abuse. At their core, The Reale Justice Network is about reproductive justice. 

Gatson believes it is important for pregnant women to have a doula to help advocate for them during pregnancy, in the delivery room, and postpartum. She and Lewis are among many Kansas City doulas who were trained by Hakima Payne A.K.A Mama Hakima, Founder and CEO of Uzazi Village.

Uzazi Village is a nonprofit organization geared towards reducing and eliminating the disparities of maternal Black mothers in Kansas City, and one of the ways they do this is through their full spectrum doula services as well. 

Doulas and Black Mothers of Kansas City with their children at Uzazi Village.
(Photo by Travis Young for Catcall Magazine) From Uzazi Village’s website: “Uzazi Village is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating maternal and infant health inequity among Black and Brown communities. Through education, support, and advocacy, Uzazi Village works to improve perinatal health in the Kansas City community and around the country.” Learn more. >

Kellye McCrary, CHW and Uzazi Village Program Coordinator, says that Uzazi Village is dedicating itself to being a safe space for Black and other minority women. They pride themselves on being an educational component for Black mothers in Kansas City. Having a doula isn’t just about having someone advocate for you, but also teaching you how to advocate for yourself. It’s important to know what questions to ask so that an informed decision can be made when necessary. 

Doulas also establish a bond with their clients, which makes it easier for maternal women to open up about the struggles they’re facing without fear of judgement. They provide trauma care. An estimated 35% of Black women experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Some women are not aware of how that affects their birthing experience. Doulas at Uzazi Village take the time to get to know their clients in that way so they can help maternal women create the most beneficial birthing plan to their unique situations. 

Uzazi Village does not only provide resources to pregnant women, but they continue their relationships with these mothers three months postpartum and even past that. They not only provide chiropractic services, but they have their own therapist. Black women no longer have to feel afraid to get the mental and emotional help they need and desire. 

Postpartum recovery is a lifetime. What McCrary refers to as the fourth trimester never ends. You can’t put a limit on how long a woman takes to adjust to life after children, how long she recovers from physical strain on her body, from mental and emotional disdain, or from the spiritual oppression that comes with the territory. Black women are known for having “thicker skin” and this are not handled with the same care as their white female counterparts.


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