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Birthmark Doula Collective hosts day-long conference ‘exploring the intersections of birth and racial justice,’ Oct. 23

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This coming Sunday (Oct. 23), Birthmark Doula Collective will host #BlackBirthMatters, a day-long conference at the Neo Jazz School of Music (1683 N. Claiborne Ave.) focusing on “issues, such as birth violence, reclaiming spirituality in birth, birth in/justice, the birth/abortion divide as well as midwifery and doula care.”
Founded in 2011, Birthmark Doula Collective offers a wide array of services to the New Orleans community. “Birthmark Doula Collective is dedicated to supporting, informing, and advocating for pregnant and parenting people and their families in New Orleans,” explained Latona Giwa, maternal-child health registered nurse, birth doula, and co-founder of the Birthmark Doula Collective. “We offer childbirth education, birth doula and postpartum doula services, and lactation support on a sliding scale so that the all families can access the services. In addition, we operate a birth doula mentorship program to help student doulas become professional doulas and participate in advocacy, community engagement, and community education projects on issues of maternal and infant health, health disparities, and racial justice.”
With its focus on birth and social justice, #BlackBirthMatters is “inspired by both the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Midwife Ina May Gaskin’s ‘Birth Matters’ mantra and will include a series of workshops, films, panels, discussions, art, and healing on issues at the intersections of birth and social justice.”

“The impetus for #BlackBirthMatters came from the reality of birth and race in New Orleans and the United States right now,” Latona explained. “We have midwives and birth workers decrying the over-medicalized and unsafe conditions for birth in the United States saying, ‘Birth matters.’ On the other hand, we have black activists around the country crying out against systemic violence against black people saying, ‘Black lives matter.’”
She continued, “With #BlackBirthMatters, we see the intersection of these two issues. In Louisiana, black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts and black babies die at 2 times the rate as white babies. At the conference, we will address not only the devastating disparities in black birth outcomes, but also the joyful reclamation of black cultural birth practices in our communities. We will learn traditional birthing songs, discuss the healing powers of the placenta, and examine strategies for change. We will have workshops on legal advocacy for birth centers and abortion access and a provider circle for young people to learn more about becoming a birth worker, obstetrician, or nurse. Our keynote address will be given by New Orleans midwife and leader, Nicole Deggins of Sista Midwife Productions.”
Not only is this conference important to Latona and the Birthmark Doula Collective, but also the work that doulas do in general. “There are still many people out there who have not heard the word doula or who don’t understand what we do,” she remarked. “By most definitions, a doula is a support person for pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. We work with anyone regardless of their birth plan, meaning that we attend unmedicated births, births with epidurals, and cesarean section births. Doulas provide prenatal visits during the pregnancy, where we get to know the woman, help her make a birth plan, provide education on the birth process, help to process past difficult birth experiences, and support the woman and her family as they prepare for the transition of birth. During labor, we stay with her for the entire labor and birth process and until the baby is a few hours old. In addition, we provide postpartum visits, where we help her process her birth story and assist with breastfeeding and postpartum needs.”
After working with homeless youth is when Latona found her own calling to support pregnant women. “I was doing street outreach and noticed that many of the homeless girls that I interacted with were either pregnant or had babies,” she explained. “I learned that this was why they were homeless; their parents had kicked them out of the house for becoming pregnant or they had become pregnant using sex to survive on the streets. I felt overwhelmed because I wanted to support these women, but I did not know how. I literally googled ‘how to support pregnant women’ and discovered the word doula. I had never heard of a doula before, but from that point on, I had to learn everything. I attended a doula training, read all the books I could, and started my student doula process. It has been an amazing journey.”
She added, “Doula work is immensely rewarding and challenging. As a doula, you provide physical, emotional, spiritual, and informational support to your client and her family. It can be extremely draining; you have to do a lot of self-care so that you are replenished and able to give yourself to others over and over again. The most rewarding moment is always right after the baby is born when the client is filled with pride and joy and all the hard work has been worth it. I have seen many babies come into this world, but birth has not lost its beauty for me yet. I am honored and humbled to witness the miracle of new life’s transitioning each and every time.”
All proceeds from #BlackBirthMatters will go towards Birthmark Doula Collective’s free birth doula support or low-income families.

WHAT: #BlackBirthMatters
WHEN: Sunday, October 23 (9:00am-5:00pm)
WHERE: Neo Jazz School of Music (1683 N. Claiborne Ave.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 October 2016
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