A doula's viewpoint is informed by the families we serve, the medical teams we interact with, and the larger dynamics of birthing politics. Deeply Rooted is excited to launch a series offering doulas from around the world a platform to share experiences, "Through Their Eyes". This time we're going to New Orleans, LA.
Despite any odds, Jamilla Webb commits to never giving up. Instead, she has allowed her setbacks to propel her closer to her dreams; no matter how long it took. After 13 years, she completed her schooling and began a career in nursing. Today, Jamilla works as a public health nurse, doula, and writer. Her work has taken her around the world, and in her words: "...most importantly into the homes and lives of families who have changed my life". She may be considering a new career path toward midwifery, but for now, she's going to launch her own health education service.
Tell us about your path into the birth world? What is your expertise? Who is your clientele?
My journey into birthwork was born out of curiosity. I became to doula to gain a more intimate understanding of birth and to see if midwifery could be a career path for me. Between 2011 and 2016, I worked with mostly GBTQ men in a HIV/AIDS clinic. While I thoroughly enjoyed my clients, a big part of me missed working with women and children. Birthwork gave me a chance to return to serving that population. As a Public Health Nurse, I specialize in sexual/reproductive health and infectious disease. As a doula, I specialized in working with low income Women of Color and survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
"As someone who consumes and provides healthcare, I’ve intimately witnessed barriers Black women encounter when seeking health services. Part of my role involves helping women navigate, overcome, and avoid such barriers to maximize their health outcomes."
Where are you most connected to the birth world? Describe the current climate.
At this stage in my birthwork career, I have transitioned from direct client care to advocacy and community education. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to write a piece about birthwork for a magazine here in New Orleans. The article was about a client of mine who was a survivor of sex trafficking and how she was able to overcome various challenges with support. I received such a positive response, that additional opportunities to write about birthwork opened for me. I believe the current climate is ripe for all Black women who are dedicated to this work. Because of national reports on Black health disparities, because of Serena Williams sharing the difficulties she faced during labor, Black women in America are finally being heard when it comes to our demands for more inclusive, just and effective healthcare delivery systems.
"I never fully understood how sexism and patriarchy affected the lives of women of color until I became a doula."
What are some regional challenges you face as a doula, midwife, or otherwise?
There are several challenges. Louisiana has some of the worst health outcomes in the country. According to the 2018 America’s Health Rankings report, Louisiana ranks 46th out of the 50 states for infant mortality and 49th out of 50 for low birth weight babies. Doulas do not receive insurance reimbursement in our state, so our families have to pay out of pocket unless they are able to obtain discounted or sliding scale services. During my time as a birth doula, I was intentional about supporting mothers who could not typically afford doula support. Since I have a regular stream of income from nursing, I was able to provide birthing services free of charge periodically. However, if I were relying solely on birth clients for income, it would be difficult to financially sustain myself.
As a nurse who is reaching the tipping point in my career, I’m torn about whether to pursue Midwifery. In my opinion, midwifery is not as supported here as well as it is in other states like Texas, California or on the East Coast. I believe midwifery here is divided - all the CNMs (Certified Nurse Midwives) I know in New Orleans work in hospitals, while CPMs/CMs (Certified Professional Midwives / Certified Midwives) do home births exclusively. If I were to become a midwife, I would want to practice in a birthing center. My ideal practice would include a group of CNMs and CPMs/CMs working together. I believe ALL midwives are valuable regardless of the path they utilized to enter the profession. We have very few midwives of color and a small number of homebirth midwives. The closest independent birthing center to New Orleans is about 75 miles away in Baton Rouge. As I age, I’m starting desire more freedom in my professional life. I want an environment that nurtures my growth and empowers clients to have optimal health outcomes. I will continue to explore and spread my wings in Public Health Nursing and writing at this time.
"I believe ALL midwives are valuable regardless of the path they utilized to enter the profession."
In terms of regional triumphs, I believe the increase in national awareness of Black maternal health disparities has caused some of our major birthing facilities to be more intentional about mandating skin to skin, welcoming doula support and implementing other holistic practices such as delayed cord clamping and the usage of non-pharmaceutical comfort measures during labor. We also have a strong birthwork community that is very nurturing and supportive. I’m an advisory board member for the New Orleans Breastfeeding Center which was founded by two of my amazing colleagues in the spring of 2018. I believe it will revolutionize mother/baby care here. This is a major regional triumph because this is the first center of its kind in the state!
What are some of the resources for pregnant families in your area?
What do you need to better support the communities you serve?
Currently, I need increased self-discipline and confidence to be a better servant. There was a time in my life when I believed all barriers to my success and personal growth were external. While systematic and institutionalized racism, sexism and various other ‘isms’ are real, when I think about my mother, grandmother, Maude Callen, Harriet Tubman, Loretta Ross and other great elder women who inspire me, they embody unshakable strength and self-confidence. Sometimes I worry and try to control situations and outcomes. I am learning that if I give my best efforts and make compassionate insightful decisions, then no further action or fret is required on my part. Quiet confidence is one of the most powerful tools one can possess. It speaks for itself.
From Unearthing Tradition to You: Sis, you genuinely care and we can all feel it! Thank you for giving us an intimate glance into your life.
Jamilla is launching her very own health education service on June 10, 2019. To continue to follow this amazing work, follow @HERHealthNurse on Instagram.
The smoky clouds of 4/20 seem to never fade in Denver. Here in Colorado ~ one of the 1st states to legalize recreational cannabis, and across the U.S., women are routinely punished for consuming cannabis while pregnant. No, these aren’t your average “marijuana moms”. Many of these pregnant people are black or brown, and poor. Elephant Circle’s Indra Lusero and Heather Thompson join us to share their birth justice vision for all pregnant people and their families, including those that use cannabis in any way.
Elephant Circle is inspired by elephants who give birth within a circle of support for the entire period immediately before or after birth, also known as the perinatal period. Their work offers legal and scientific-based advocacy to support families of every kind.
Although cannabis use is not illegal anywhere, Lusero and Thompson often hear from folks who are pregnant or recently postpartum and facing legal trouble or the threat of legal trouble, due to their cannabis use.
"We hear from a wide range of people in this position, from rural to urban, younger to older, first pregnancy to multiple pregnancies, from regular to occasional users, to people who use recreationally and those who use medicinally."
Follow up with these families is often in the role as a "legal doula" by helping them strategize, with support, education and information in navigating the legal systems of the State of Colorado.
Lusero and Thompson agree that the current state of science and law is far removed from the needs of Elephant Circle's clientele.
"The public health literature is inaccurate, which leads to mistrust, alienation, and stigma. People want reliable information and work hard to find it. The laws are applied inconsistently and with bias, and often ignore the best data available. The laws themselves are doing damage to families. Families are traumatized by child welfare investigations," Lusero said.
Historically, many cultures regard plants as remedy for their natural healing properties. In the age of legalization, the medicinal qualities of cannabis are marketed and sold, yet not available to pregnant people without punishment. Thompson, who has a background in molecular and cellular biology, says the boom of "big pharma" has taken a toll on the use of plant medicines.
"Cannabis in its whole plant form is scheduled as a schedule I substance (the most dangerous, with no medicinal potential)," Thompson stated. "Interestingly, most of the sched I substances can be used in ceremony. However Marinol, the synthetic THC, is schedule III. Handy! Also, the FDA does not like to regulate whole plants (think herbal medicine) - they prefer isolated or synthesized compounds."
Lusero, trained as a reproductive justice attorney, says the needs of pregnant people were never taken into account in the creation of the system, the services, the research, or the interventions.
"And really this disconnect is part of the bigger problem in our perinatal health care system where interventions that are proven to be dangerous or ineffective are overused while interventions with greater demonstrated benefits and less risks are underused."
Elephant Circle is working strategically to tackle systems of power and oppression particularly concerning our healthcare and legal systems with vision; a birth justice vision.
"Birth justice occurs when everyone is equally capable of self-determination during this powerful and important time, when their self-determination is supported and amplified," Elephant Circle asserts.
I met Indra and Heather through my internship with Elephant Circle. I’ve always been amazed by their work and many years later nothing has changed about that. Many thanks you two!