Nicole Deggins was scrolling through her Facebook in late 2011 when she came across several posts asking where expectant parents could find a Black doula, a birth professional who advocates for families during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. At this point, Deggins, a Black registered midwife, had already founded her doula training business Sista Midwife Productions. Looking at the endless stream of posts on social media, it was clear that Black families wanted to work with precisely the kind of people Deggins had dedicated her life to training. The question was how to connect them.
“I’m thinking, I’m not an IT person,” said Deggins, 50. “I don’t know HTML or anything about how to make a website.”
So she did what those of us with limited technical knowledge do; she made a spreadsheet. At first, she was just emailing people in her contact to create a shareable directory. But as the directory progressed, she started a Google form and began promoting it on social media. Her project grew from a directory of a few hundred doulas to 1,300 over the last few years.
Now, Deggins is embarking on the next part of her journey to connect Black birthing people to doulas. On Wednesday, Deggins and Baby Dove, a Dove company brand, announced a partnership to create a massive directory of Black Doulas. The website, which launched during Black Maternal Health Week, allows parents to search by state, city, zip code, and rating to find a Black doula in their area. (They recommend searching by state first for best results). The site also answers frequently asked questions about doula care, including cost and how to find the right doula for you. The website can also help connect families to grant money to hire doula care. (Here’s the link.)
“This is so important,” said Deggins at the launch event for the site. “Having this directory will increase exposure, but it will also increase access.”
Deggins isn’t just promoting her and Baby Dove’s new directory for the sake of it. Research has shown that pregnant people who use doulas have improved health outcomes and more satisfying birth outcomes. Experts have recommended doula care for Black pregnant people to improve the alarming rate of preventable Black maternal deaths in the United States. During the pandemic, the Black maternal mortality rate nearly doubled, further highlighting the need for care that considers the needs of Black birthing people.
The fact that everyone listed on the directory is Black isn’t an accident. We know bias plays a significant role in poor birth outcomes for Black Americans. And research from Blue Cross BlueShield doula pilot program found that pregnancy outcomes improved when Black mothers used culturally competent doulas from within their community.
Chanel Porchia-Albert, who became a doula after working with one during her first pregnancy, says it’s crucial to share community-based solutions, like Doula care, not just spread fear about Black maternal health.
“While the intentionality may be raising awareness, we may also be causing harm and fear,” says Porchia-Albert. “We need to reframe the context of the conversation to center a mode of hope of joy... and to understand that there are community-based solutions that have been out here and consistently doing the work.”
At the end of the day, “doulas aren’t magic,” says Deggins. The health care system is still incredibly broken, and doula care alone won’t fix that, she says. But having access to this type of care is still invaluable for the millions of Black birthing people looking for hope.