From the power of doulas to the sorrow of stillbirth: Experts talk joy and pain of Black motherhood

Just a few weeks after the loss of Jack, her third child with John Legend, Chrissy Teigen shared an intimate public letter about the stillbirth. She explained that always had “placenta problems” during pregnancies, but that this time it ruptured, at just 20 weeks. “After a couple nights at the hospital, my doctor told me exactly what I knew was coming — it was time to say goodbye,” she wrote. “He just wouldn’t survive this, and if it went on any longer, I might not either.”

There are countless women with heartbreaking stories just like Teigen’s. Because of that, October, since 1988, has been widely recognized as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, dedicated to “the unique grief of bereaved parents in an effort to demonstrate support to the many families who have suffered such a tragic loss.” Now each year, it sparks awareness efforts on social media, personal essays like that of Teigen, and supportive events, such as the recent virtual event, the 2020 Multicultural Maternal Mental Health Conference, “devoted to the maternal mental health of women of color,” presented by the nonprofit “Shades of You, Shades of Me,” and touching on issues from perinatal depression to infant loss.

While it’s not a topic that most people are comfortable discussing, such loss is not so incredibly rare: 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, approximately 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. Statistics in this area for Black women are especially grim, due to racial disparities within healthcare (among other factors), as they are “more than twice as likely to experience a stillbirth compared to Hispanic and white mothers.”

To discuss both the beauty and hardships of Black motherhood, Yahoo Life spoke with Tika Sumpter and Thai Randolph, the co-founders of Sugaberry, a lifestyle brand “created by, for and about modern moms of color,” and to Nicky Dawkins, a “full spectrum” doula, meaning she provides support “from birth to abortion to miscarriage to adoption.”

Sumpter was prompted to start Sugaberry when she was pregnant with her daughter four years ago. “When I saw how Black mothers were portrayed in the media in general, it was like death, doom and destruction. And I just felt like there has to be joy out there,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Yes, there's pain, that's part of everybody's struggle. But that doesn't define all of who we are.”

Since the brand’s inception, Randolph explains, Sumpter has been “passionate about infusing joy and light into the conversation,” inspiring her to join the effort. “I realized, as a mom, I had not seen myself reflected in the marketplace,” Randolph says, and that despite “Black women and Black consumer moms in general [wielding] tremendous purchasing power ... there's so few companies that are carved out to cater to serving us — whether it's creating products that are for us and our little ones, [or] creating content that reflects our unique experiences.”

Sumpter further explains that the brand — including its Suga podcast — addresses a range of topics, from fertility to career advice. “We started the sugar podcast on Stitcher, and it's glorious. A lot of our listeners say they feel like they're wrapped in velvet and well taken care of,” she says, explaining that they’ve discussed issues from sex to “talking to kids about their bodies.” Says Sumpter, “We talk about all the things. We just wanted to have an avenue where we can give great resources, but also where we can give great product recommendations, so that they don't have to go searching.”

Regarding birth and pregnancy, the women are big believers in having access to a doula — something Dawkins says that “very important ... because we do reduce negative birth outcomes, we provide emotional support, physical support, education [and] advocacy for moms.”

But despite the positive outcomes with doula support, she says, “Unfortunately it's harder for Black women in particular to access us, because we're not typically covered by insurance in most states. There’s a fee that comes with the service that not everybody is able to afford.” Still, Dawkins says, there are now more doula scholarships, and insurance companies are starting to cover doulas more, “which is great.” Still, she says, “we have a lot of work to do to make sure that all of our moms of color can be covered.”

In addition to working to expand healthcare access, Dawkins says, “I always encourage women of color to speak up to each other, so that way people can learn and grow because once we know better, we do better.”

Video produced by Kelly Matousek

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