For decades, research has clearly shown that Black infants are more than twice as likely to die during birth than White infants; Black mothers are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White mothers. Higher education and income do not protect black women from these outcomes as demonstrated by Serena Williams’ recently publicized story of almost dying following the birth of her child. These disparities in birth and pregnancy outcomes for black women are a public health crisis. The disparities of poorer birth outcomes has worsened and been linked to the cumulative effects of systemic racism on black women, systemic racism within our healthcare system, inadequate access to healthcare services and lack of education about pregnancy and birth in some communities. The Portland NAACP Health committee has decided to partner with organizations that are focused on improving the health of black mothers and infants here in Oregon. And as a first step, we invited the internationally renowned Shafia Monroe to speak with us.
Shafia Monroe, DEM, CPT, MPH, President of Shafia Monroe Consulting (SMC), spoke with the Health Committee on August 9 during our monthly committee meeting. She shared timely and relevant information about the status of Black infant and maternal health in Oregon, and the SMC mission. One of Shafia’s mottos is “Black Lives Matter at Birth” and she has been working to improve the health of black mothers and babies since the 1970’s. Shafia worked as a midwife in her native Boston and co-founded the Traditional Childbearing Group (TCG) in 1978. The TCG taught low-cost birthing classes, delivered babies, and worked to change birth policies in the Boston area. In 1991, Shafia moved to Portland and continued her work with maternal health including founding the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC). The ICTC continues its work today as advocates for improving birth outcomes and increasing the number of midwives and doulas of color in the United States, Columbia, Jamaica, Ghana, Trinidad, and Sierra Leone as well as other countries.
In Oregon, under Shafia’s leadership, the ICTC was able to get the State of Oregon to recognize the use of doulas to improve birth outcomes in underserved communities. This effort has led to doulas in Oregon now qualifying for Medicaid reimbursement. Shafia has retired as leader of ICTC and is working as the President of Shafia Monroe Consulting. She is also a founder member of the Oregon Doula Association and President of Doula Ready, LLC. She is a master trainer of doulas and spoke with us about the important role a doula can play in improving the health outcomes for mothers and babies.
A goal of SMC is to increase the number of Black doulas to reduce infant and maternal mortality, increase breastfeeding rates and build healthy families. Doulas work with mothers during pregnancy, labor, birth, and into motherhood providing emotional and physical support. For Black mothers, and particularly those who don’t have adequate support from family or friends, a doula can serve a crucial role in helping foster healthy and positive outcomes for both mother and baby. There aren’t enough doulas of color to serve women of color in Oregon and SMC would like to change that.
Along with increasing the number of Black doulas and doulas of color, SMC strives to amplify the issue of poor birth outcomes in Black women and educate the Black community on how to improve mother and infant health. Our Health committee plans to partner with SMC to help reach these goals. Stay tuned for more information about the NAACP efforts. You can find more information about SMC and more information about Black infant and Maternal health in Oregon by visiting https://shafiamonroe.com/
Doula training is offered quarterly in Portland, Oregon and costs $800 for the 30 hour course. More information can be found at ShafiaMonroe.com or the link to the next doula training starting in September.