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.
Unearthing Tradition is a reproductive justice organization dedicated to addressing modern issues with ancestral practices through a continuous process of rediscovery.