Reimagining Black Maternal Health

Nov 17, 2023

A new initiative aims to ensure joyful, healthy births through the proven power of doulas.

The Doulas4CT Coalition works to address maternal health disparities by improving access to doula services.

Doula: a trained and trusted professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to pregnant persons and their families/significant others to help achieve the healthiest, most satisfying pregnancy and birthing experience possible.

Cynthia Hayes still remembers the moment she knew serving as a doula was a lifelong calling.

After coaching a Black patient through acute birth complications — a woman 2.6 times more likely to die during birth than her white peers — Hayes witnessed her patient transform into a mother who was even healthier than before her pregnancy.

“It was because she felt supported in a way that was significant to her experience,” said Hayes, who has worked as a doula in Connecticut for nearly 20 years. “It warmed my heart to see how someone can be empowered just by having the right information.”

As trained nonmedical professionals, doulas offer educational and emotional support that is often lacking in the health care system. Studies show doulas are especially effective at improving outcomes for Black women, who suffer the highest maternal mortality rates of any population.

“Pregnancy is not a medical condition, which is how it’s often treated in the U.S. To support all birthing women, we need to focus on more human-centered ways to help. This is where doulas come in. We don’t give power — we empower people.”

Cynthia Hayes
Project Director, Doulas4CT Coalition

Today, Hayes is helping expand doula services to at-risk women through the Black Maternal Health Initiative, a new program of the Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls. Launched in fall 2022, this three-year, research-driven initiative aims to reduce racial disparities in maternal health outcomes while expanding career opportunities for Black women.

The initiative convenes health care practitioners, policy experts, community leaders, Black mothers, doulas, and academicians from nearly a dozen different Fairfield County organizations to explore holistic ways to address maternal health disparities.

“The power of this initiative lies in its multidisciplinary approach,” said Dr. Djana Harp, a member of the initiative and OB-GYN at Norwalk Community Health Center. “By convening diverse stakeholders, we’re able to explore more innovative solutions. We are reflecting on ways to improve our health care system, which is how we can begin to change.”

Convened by our Fund for Women & Girls, the Black Maternal Health Initiative is generously supported by The Vincent J. Coates Foundation.

Learn more about FWG programs:

Collaborating for Policy Change
Our grantee, Health Equity Solutions (HES), advocates for health equity through antiracist policies statewide. Committed to a vision that every Connecticut resident attains optimal health regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, this nonprofit puts itself in spaces where policies are discussed to inject a health equity perspective.

Recent policy wins include advancing Medicaid reimbursement for community health workers and establishing a state certification process for doulas. HES helped the Black Maternal Health Initiative develop a three-pronged strategy to reduce disparities, increase birthing satisfaction, and address structural racism in the health care system by incorporating doula care

“I really liked that our strategy felt comprehensive and interconnected because if you want to change a system, you have to think about a lot of multifaceted factors,” said Karen Siegel, former Director of Policy at HES. “I believe these are the right strategies for creating a system that better supports mothers and their families. And that’s huge.”