Q&A: Venus Standard explains importance of Black doulas

Venus Standard is an assistant clinical professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine. She is launching a pilot program to recruit, train and increase the number of Black doulas in the state. It’s an effort that she hopes will improve the health outcomes of Black pregnant women.

 

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Shawna De La Rosa: Can you explain this pilot program and why it is important?

Venus Standard: “We were awarded a $75,000 grant to launch a pilot program to train Black women to become doulas. We will be using the DONA International training program, which has been mentioned by Medicaid and private payers. Doula services are not always cheap or obtainable by everyone, especially if you don’t have insurance that will cover it. Right now, certification is not required by law, but insurance companies will require certification in order for a doula to be paid. Certification can be a costly process, which makes it out of reach for some.”

SD: What is the pay rate for doulas?

VD: “Pay rates are regional. The cost of a doula can cost anywhere from $850 to $1,400, so it can be cost-prohibitive. The training is also expensive. This program will train those who may have not been able to afford the training otherwise.”

SD: Why is it important to increase the number of Black doulas?

VS: “The Black community has a trust issue with the medical community. In New York there are ads targeting Black people that are hesitant about getting the vaccine because of things that have happened in the past. But you tend to trust someone that looks like you. Having a doula reduces the risk of C-sections by 28%. 

A doula is not just there for the physical aspect, she is there for emotional support and information. Doulas have resource books full of evidence-based, accurate, up-to-date information. They are not meant to be the patient’s mouth-piece, but are there to facilitate a conversation between the patient and the provider. I have noticed that patients may not understand something the provider says, but they don’t want to ask a question. It’s important that the woman understands what is happening because ultimately, she is the only person who has to live with the outcome of the pregnancy.

Black women have a higher maternal mortality rate than white women. It’s not about socio-economic status or level of education. Serena Williams almost died during childbirth from a blood clot. She could tell something was wrong and went to the nurses’ station and asked them to call her doctor. She was told to go back to her room, but she refused. If she hadn’t demanded her doctor be called she would have died. Kira Johnson, an educated Black woman who could speak five languages, died 12 hours after giving birth.”

SD: Why are providers less likely to listen to Black women when they report symptoms?

VD: “They aren’t listening. A page from one of my nursing books explains how to react to people from different cultures and races. The information has since been taken out of the newer editions, but it says that Black people exaggerate their symptoms. Which tells the learners not to listen to Black people. In Serena Williams’ case, she had a pre-existing condition of blood clots. She was 110% in tune with her body. Had she listened to her nurses and gone back to her room, she would have died. Likewise, Kira’s husband kept asking for help. He noticed blood was coming out in her catheter. But the providers didn’t listen to him. That happens way too often.

Wanting to have a family shouldn’t be a potential death sentence for Black women, but that’s the way it’s viewed in the Black community. So having the extra layer of knowledge and support that comes from a doula is important.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.