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Doula Initiative aims to reduce maternal mortality rates in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A new initiative called the Doula Initiative aims to address maternal mortality rates in Kansas City’s most underserved communities. The initiative is a partnership between the Uzazi Village, Kansas City Health Department, and city leaders.

A doula is someone hired to be a voice for birthing mothers and guide them through the stages of their pregnancy. They say this is especially valuable for mothers who experience unjust treatment due to race and social status.

This is because black women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States, nearly 70 per 100,000 live births in 2021, almost three times the rate for white women.

“I am excited that we’re going to be giving more moms within our community the care that they deserve,” said Kansas City Health department director Dr. Marvia Jones.

According to the CDC, between 2018 and 2021, Missouri had a maternal mortality rate of 25.7 while Kansas had a rate of 22. That puts both states at the middle of the pack nationwide. Maternal Morbidity in Wyandotte is high at 83.5 per 10,000 live births -- compared to the state average of 61.9. According to the CDC, black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.

As for infant mortality rates, in 2021, Missouri ranked 21st in the nation with a rate of 5.85 while Kansas ranked 29th with a rate of 5.3. These deaths are rates per 1,000 live births.

Bringing new life into the world can be both exciting and daunting for new mothers. From navigating physical challenges, to vocalizing concerns with doctors, Ronnetta Thompson of the Uzazi Village says this burden falls heavier on the shoulders of black women. The organization is dedicated to reducing maternal and infant health disparities among black and brown communities through childbirth education, a lactation clinic, and other resources.

“It is already assumed that we’re medication seekers. That we are not compliant in our care and that is far from the truth,” said Uzazi Village chief operating officer Ronnetta Thompson.

That’s where a doula comes in. It’s someone who steps in as an ally for mothers before, during, and after childbirth. Part of their job is to educate them on what to expect during labor and make suggestions about birthing positions and how to cope with pain.

“What my doula was helpful with was being able to say ‘These are the desires of my client. This is what she would prefer in this process,” said Jones.

Dr. Jones has personally experienced the benefit of having a doula. This is why she wants others to have the same access for free.

“They’ve been through the birth process themselves so being able to be there and just advocate for your needs and be a voice for you when you feel like you may not be able to do that,” she said.

Third district councilwoman Melissa Robinson describes her own birthing experience when she delivered a child preterm. If she had a doula, she feels things may have been different.

“It was my first child and being able to effectively advocate and communicate and articulate what was happening in the process and so when you have a doula, they understand, they’ve been trained, they’ve had experience and they can be able to provide some information and help to provide that advocacy,” said Robinson.

Kansas City residents in the initiative will choose from the network of doulas available through Uzazi Village. For more information, visit their website.

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