“But Cheyenne, maybe they can fundraise the difference.”
Black and POC birth workers are already fundraising to the ends of the earth to support our work. We ask for funds straight up, we offer little rewards, we turn to fun slogan t-shirts — we’ve been doing this.
In fact, we’re already working multiple jobs, too — trying to juggle clients who are able to pay more and those who are not able to pay as much, too — living with roommates to reduce costs, applying for scholarships, dipping into savings, living without certain things, leaning on friends and family, etc.
And all the while that we do these things, we experience discrimination just like our clients do — day to day in normal life, and in the birth world, too — whether because unconscious or conscious bias based on the color of our skin or because of distaste for / misunderstandings of our roles as support people or all of the above.
And by our peers we are asked to explain (“Can you teach me about…”), solve (“Tell me what I need to do…”) and not to talk about (“Why does race have to be brought into everything?”) the inequities that we face.
As we look into the eyes of the parents that we work with, telling them, “I am here to support you,” many of us are being forced into corners that leave us feeling unsupported ourselves. And then we look around as see that we’re not alone in this. And we talk about it. And we wonder (among other things), “When will something be done to support us?”
And then a headline about a Doula Program pops up. And we open the page. And what do we see…
It is more than a little frustrating. It is literally adding insult to injury to create a system to support a group of people that cannot support the support persons themselves.
“But Cheyenne, if you’re okay with taking on free births in general, why aren’t you grateful for some support from this program for NY doulas?”
Payment from a program like this and payment directly from a client — that’s a horse of a different color.
The families we’re working with on Medicaid aren’t handling budgets of millions of dollars, moving money around on spreadsheets with teams of accountants, looking at income flow from multiple avenues and then telling us, “This is what I have left to set aside for your services.”
Is a response like mine actually ungrateful, or holding a capable authority to a reasonable standard?
But Cheyenne, at least they’re trying something, right? Can you really expect it to be perfect out the gate?”
Birth work is a job. Birth workers are doing a job. A job with expenses we must pay to perform it properly. A job that takes a physical toll on our bodies, and an emotional toll on our beings. A job that sometimes requires that we remain as a continuous support person for 10, 12, 16, 24+ hours.
Yes, it’s a beautiful job that we feel called to and incredibly honored to do… and it’s so impactful that many of us are WILLING to make sacrifices to do it — but that does not mean we shouldn’t expect to be able to sustain our own lives through it.
And I’m not saying that I don’t think folks should participate in this pilot program, or that it shouldn’t exist at all. I hope that many people do participate and find ways to make it work for them, and advocate for improvements that would make it better.
But I have a very real concern that there’s no intent to improve it — that in fact, people somewhere are patting themselves on the back for what they’ve created — a system that perpetuates the “Strong Black Woman” trope by making “Strong Black Birth Workers” who must make due with the little allotted to us on top of the regular set of stressors we continue to have.
Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong on that.
Because to be honest, I’m not interested in the “Strong Black Birth Worker” blue ribbon for myself or anyone else. I want safety, support, joy and empowerment. As we stand in the gap for those who are bringing new life into the world, I want birth workers to be able to have full lives of our own.
*This doesn’t justify the payment of the doula, it just means that OB/GYNs and midwives are also being underpaid and done a disservice when they’re reimbursed by Medicaid, too.
**None of this began to address taxes.