A doula's viewpoint is informed by who we are when we show up, 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". First stop, Brooklyn, NY.
Berenice Kernizan is a Haitian-born, full spectrum doula on a mission. After migrating to the US, her family settled in New York. She was five. Her maternal grandmother, Ana Rose, played a huge part in shaping her family's ideology of moving as a unit, and not as individuals. As a working model for "it takes a village", her wise grandmother always left her door open to children and community members. With midwifery in her future, Berenice aims "to create a sustainable village like my grandmother".
Tell us about your path into the birth world? What is your expertise? Who is your clientele?
My pathway to birth revealed itself in my final semester as an undergrad student. I was in a class entitled "Women in the Medical System: A Feminist Perspective". We watched a documentary entitled "The Business of Being Born". It talked about the medicalization of birth in the western hemisphere versus the more traditional models of the eastern hemisphere. It was alarming to see how far removed we were from something so intimate and beautiful as birth. The documentary introduced me to the term "doula". Once I discovered that I could support women in childbirth and provide advocacy to clients something in me clicked, and I knew this was my why. I serve folks of low-income, immigrant families, single parents, as a volunteer doula at Ancient Song Doula Services. I also take on paid, private clients.
Where are you most connected to the birth world? Describe the current climate.
Empowerment, political education, activism currently have my heart in this birth world. I am all about creating solid foundations within my community. The current climate is
hot! Brown and black folks are sick and tired of being left out of decision making in their own neighborhoods, and tired of talking about our disparities just to see no change come from these discussions. As a form of resistance we are forming collectives to meet our needs, spaces of healing, and projects that highlight the beauty of blackness.
What are some regional challenges you face as a doula, midwife, or otherwise?
As a doula, I am facing health disparities and implicit biases in medical institutions. I advocate hard for providers to listen to
Black women. Health disparities are on the rise, and researchers have no answer for it. Around the time of birth and early postpartum brown/ black folks are 4x more likely to die during childbirth and 12x more in NY. I think it’s because of systematic oppression: implicit bias has browbeaten birthing folks into second guessing their rights and their bodies. I work everyday to make that change.
There's a strong network of black and brown birth workers here in NYC, it feels good to be supported. Self care and POC-specific workshops are a common thing in Brooklyn, it offers a space for folks to assemble and shed the dead weight of socioeconomic burdens.
What are some of the resources for pregnant families in your area?
What do you need to better support the communities you serve?
Awareness and acknowledgement from political figures in Brooklyn. We need to shine a light on health disparities and the maltreatment of birthing individuals. The only way we can be change agents is if we are first aware of the problems, and then mobilize for change.
From Unearthing Tradition to You: You are powerful. The work you do is so necessary. Thank you for sharing parts of your story with us!
Berenice is currently forming a new collective with a group of folks who's goal is to build a village centered around health care, education, training, and so much more. To continue to follow this amazing work, visit www.BereniceKernizan.com or @AdventuresofaWombman on Instagram.
Unearthing Tradition is a reproductive justice organization dedicated to addressing modern issues with ancestral practices through a continuous process of rediscovery.