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Scholarship aims to grow doula workforce, help Black mothers and babies

The scholarship recipients pose for a photo with Sharon Hawkins (Center) the director of the The Health Equity Activation Think Tank at University of Dayton.
Ngozi Cole
The scholarship recipients and Sharon Hawkins (Center) the director of the The Health Equity Activation Think Tank at UD.

When Alayzia Ponder helped her sister during labor, she realized she wanted to be a doula, a trained health worker who provides physical and informational support to women during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.

“There's a lot of information that I don't think is communicated effectively to mothers,” Ponder said. “I'm glad that I can just be that middle man, to make sure that they are making the best decisions for their care and for their infant's care.”

This month, University of Dayton, with additional support from CareSource and the Dayton Foundation, gave scholarships to Ponder and nine others to be certified through Doulas of North America, an internationally recognized organization. This is part of the university’s efforts to address Black infant and maternal mortality.

That’s because Black women in Ohio were two and a half timesmore likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women, according to a 2022 state health report.

According to datafrom the Ohio Department of Health, Montgomery County had the highest Black maternal mortality rate in the state from 2008 through 2016 at 19.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, where the Ohio overall rate was 14.7 deaths. Research also shows that Black mothers have lower breastfeeding and higher postpartum depression rates.

“We're excited that we now that there's this cohort of doulas who are not only serving the women in our community, but also our partners in this work,” said Nancy McHugh, executive director of UD’s Fitz Center for Leadership in Community, which houses the health equity think tank. “We realize that if we really want to make change, that, that we are doing it in deep partnerships with you."

The doulas were given $1,600 each to cover certification costs, and two years of membership to the Doulas of North America.

Expanding doula access

Over half of births in Ohio are covered by Medicaid, and this fall, Ohio will start covering doula services for those covered by Medicaid. With this certification, doulas can bill Medicaid so more women can access their services.

“As a doula, you're not only looking at what the birthing experience is, but also what the aftermath looks like for the mom,” said Maleka James, a certified doula who will be providing mentoring support to the scholarship recipients.

“We don't speak for our clients, but we do advocate for them and equip them with the knowledge so that they feel good about speaking up for themselves within the hospital,” James said.

Sharon Hawkins, the director of Health Equity Activation Think Tank at UD, said the certification program will tackle Black maternal mortality in Montgomery county, which has some of the worst outcomes in Ohio.

“I think the most wonderful thing is that doulas are part of your community,” Hawkins said. “With these 10 doulas that we're launching into certification, they actually live in the zip code of 05,06 17, 26. And they don't view it as others. They view it as self.”

Ngozi Cole is the Business and Economics Reporter for WYSO. She graduated with honors from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York and is a 2022 Pulitzer Center Post-Graduate Reporting Fellow. Ngozi is from Freetown, Sierra Leone.