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'Trying to make a difference': Riley doula program aims to fight minority maternal mortality rate

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Posted at 8:10 AM, Apr 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-14 09:33:45-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A new doula program at the Riley Maternity Tower aims to decrease maternal mortality rates in Indiana.

It's an issue that's been widely discusses across the Hoosier state.

The program is filling the gap for a historically excluded and undeserved group of mothers.

The most recent Indiana University Health datashow Black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy and postpartum complications than white women.

The study shows the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries and is the only developed nation in which that rate is rising. Within the United States, Indiana has the third highest maternal mortality rate among all reporting states at 44 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2022.

"A lot of the times mistakes can happen when mom isn't listened to or it's just disregarded. Oh you're fine, that's normal. Well can we check anyway just in case this is the event where it's not fine and it's not normal."
India Vance, a Doula at Riley Hospital for Children

The study defines maternal mortality as, "The death of a mother during pregnancy or up to one year after childbirth, due to a cause related to pregnancy or a mother’s pre-existing condition that was made worse by pregnancy."

When you take a deeper dive into the IU study, it shows marginalized communities are impacted at a much higher rate than white or latin-x women.

"As a black woman who wants to have children, I would be lying if I said I didn't fear having children because of what can happen or going into the healthcare system and being afraid that I won't be heard," Vance said.

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IU data show in 2020, the maternal mortality ratio for Black Hoosier women was 208 per 100,000 live births, compared to 108 for white women and 71 for Latin-x women.

The say, "historically under-served communities are exposed to overlapping inequalities in medical care. They also lack access to other opportunities—such as employment and education—that are linked to higher risks of maternal mortality. People’s racialized experiences also impact whether and how they access care, how they experience care, and how they respond to it. Women from low-income households and those from rural areas experience higher pregnancy complications as well."

It's a reality many mothers face daily.

Which is one of the reasons Riley created the BIPOC doula program.

They help mothers in the Black Indigenous People of Color Community, to create a layer of support for those patients.

"To be a part of a program that is actively trying to change those things it makes me feel like I am doing something important. I am making a difference, I am making a change," Vance said.

The doulas offer physical and emotional support before, during and after labor.

They start meeting with patients prenatally to talk about the mothers birth preferences and are there during the laboring process to help.

"Even if you feel like you're alone you're not. If you feel like you can't ask questions. Doulas, everybody's there to support and ask them for you," Rae Brewer said.

Brewer is a new mom to a 4-month-old and she was referred to the program at Riley.

She says having a doula there during labor gave her a sense of safety and security. It also made her feel empowered to know she was in the know.

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The doula is also with the mother after she delivers the baby to do postpartum checks before going home.

Their main goal is to provide emotional, physical and informational support to mom.

Doulas often also check in once they go home to make sure they have all the information they may need.

The doulas work with patients at no additional cost.

"They're miracle workers just like doctors, nurses, and everybody else that's in the hospital," Nigel Franklin said.

Franklin was there with Brewer during the birth of their daughter. He said knowing there was someone inside the room who's focus was on his partner made him feel at ease.

Patients must be referred by their IU Health OB or WeCare coach if they will be delivering their baby at the Riley Maternity Tower.

The BIPOC doula program is open to patients who are expecting their first live birth, identify as BIPOC and expect to have a vaginal delivery.

To learn more, click here.