Black Mothers and Doulas: Partnering for Birth Equity in Maternal and Neonatal Health Outcomes


By Susan Stevens

Ever since watching the 2022 documentary film “Aftershock” last summer, I’ve been eager to support any and all measures that can help close the awful racial health equity gap, in which Black mothers are at so much greater risk when giving birth (indeed, healthcare-wise, Black people are at much greater risk in our society already).

From personal experience, I’ve learned how midwife and doula care reduce the risk of unnecessary medical interventions — interventions that can be lifesaving in those rare cases when they’re needed, but that also increase the likelihood of infection and other complications. I had my first child at a hospital with a policy of automatically inducing at two weeks overdue, so even though my baby and I were both doing fine on the stress tests and everything, I got the automatic dose of Pitocin which then led to other interventions.

While thankful for a healthy baby as well as my own total recovery, I was intrigued when I got to know some other moms who’d had several babies at home. I delved into all the information I could find about the difference it could make to have birth attendants who followed your lead, and supported you in listening to your own body, which in the vast majority of cases know just what to do. I learned that doulas and midwives also have a broader knowledge of the full range of characteristics of healthy pregnancies and healthy labors, so are less inclined to push for unnecessary interventions.

So I had my second (and last) baby at home. The first part of labor was so easy that we didn’t realize I was in active labor till I was about to give birth, and our midwife was too far away to get there to catch the baby! But I had wonderful support from my husband, as well as two friends who were experienced home-birthing moms — one of them a trained doula! Plus, of course, our midwife arrived soon after, and followed up during the days following birth to make sure everything was as it should be.

But enough about me: this is just the personal framework that makes me so excited about UHC Kansas Medicaid covering personalized doula care for Black mothers in our Kansas City, Kansas community! This people-oriented care based on trusting and supporting the human body, while staying alert for signs that medical intervention may be needed, should be the default for all pregnancy care, not just for the privileged few!

I interviewed one of the doulas partnering in this initiative: Jaima Saunders — also known as Doula Jai — founder of Mommy Diaries: a doula co., LLC:

Could you tell me what inspired you to become a doula, and about your journey to where you are today?

There were many years of the unknown for me in my career. I’ve always worked in healthcare and loved serving others, but there was something missing. After my second child was born in 2019, I started to reflect on my own personal experiences. During my pregnancy, I journaled and read a lot. There was an article about Serena Williams almost dying during birth because she was ignored. I thought to myself, if a woman as prestigious as Serena is neglected during childbirth, the maternal health world doesn’t stand a chance. After further research, I decided to become a doula and incorporate journaling with the birthing journey. It can help protect a woman’s memory of her birthing experience.

How would you describe your role as doula?

Doula means “woman’s servant” or “one who mothers the mother”. As a doula, I provide emotional, physical, and resourceful support to moms before, during, and after childbirth. My main goal as a doula is to assist mothers with the best birthing outcome.

Emotionally, Mommy Diaries provides meditation, aromatherapy, and journaling tips for mom-to-be. Aromatherapy has a positive effect on pain relief and lowers labor anxiety. Physically, my company provides different exercises, stretching, and massage that tailors to each mom’s individual needs. Resources are huge with Mommy Diaries! We enjoy nurturing and connecting families with resources needed for them to have a successful pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience.

I understand that every mother’s birth story is her personal story and confidential, but is there anything you can share regarding your observations of the impact of doula care on Black women’s health and wellbeing?

Black women in the US are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. The impact of doula care for black women is crucial as we are well suited to reduce racial disparities in our community. The biggest observation for me is how a lot of moms are becoming more informed and aware of their birthing options for themselves and their newborns. As a doula, we advocate for our moms and their families so to see them advocating for themselves and being heard is the best observation yet! Also, I have observed the positive impact journaling has had for moms. They love reflecting back on things from pregnancy, labor and birth! Pregnancy brain fog is a real thing! 

What can you tell me about the hard work that’s been done, and is still being done, to make doula care accessible to Black mothers, especially low-income black mothers?

Doula services can be expensive and inaccessible to a lot of people but a lot of doulas offer pro bono and sliding scale prices. The fight has been ongoing to get insurance coverage, awareness, and community involvement. When I first became a doula in 2020, there were only two states Medicaid that covered doula services. Currently, I am a part of a program in KCK. We have partnered with United Healthcare Kansas Medicaid to provide free doula services for black moms. The program is still ongoing and I have just joined The Doula Network to provide services for ALL moms in the entire state of Kansas! 

How can lay people in our communities help promote this important work and increase the access of everyone, especially the most marginalized, to a happy and healthy birth? How can we bring more legislators on board, and is there any legislation that we should be pushing for, whether at the local, state or federal level?

I plan on hosting an in-person or virtual “meet the doula” event where anyone can join and be informed about our services, benefits, and even how to become a birth doula. I believe the best way to promote is to be informed so there has to be more info put out there to the community. Consistency is key.

My plan for legislation is to host an event for women of politics in KCK to attend and learn more about doula services and what we do. It would be great to inform them while informing myself and other doulas about what they may need to help us be successful with helping moms receive doula care and save lives! 

My contact information is: Doula Jai, CD/PCD, CPR Certified / Mommy Diaries: a doula co., LLC / Phone/Text: (816)447-8803 /

Note: Kansas State Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau has been trying for years to pass a bill mandating racial tracking of maternal mortality, but it keeps getting defeated.

Black maternal health is an issue in every state, so we need to push our legislators wherever you live!

Susan Stevens is the Chair of Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA.


By Michael Mottern

For the Common Council seat representing North Buffalo, incumbent Joseph Golombek, Jr, is being challenged by progressive Eve Shippens in the June 27 election. FUN FACT: Golombek is the reason why I even got to graduate from Buffalo State College, with my interest in history, in the first place! He was my professor there, when I met him for the first time at a Democratic Primary presidential fundraiser for 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and anti-war progressive Dennis Kucinich. 

But he turned out to be not so progressive on other issues. I once asked Joe about what he thought about rehabilitating old freight houses for possible use in Buffalo’s new renaissance several years ago. At that time, it didn’t work, but when Mayor Brown and gentrification came into play, he was totally on board. This would have rehabilitated the old freight houses on Military Road, that Joe said, “were too much off the beaten path,” in the heart of his district that could have connected to the new development on Niagara Street.

I met his opponent, Eve Shippens, for the first time in Buffalo’s Olmsted Bidwell Park, at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally, when Bernie started gaining momentum for the first time in his 2016 presidential run. She looked familiar, and I couldn’t pinpoint the face so I asked her, do I know you? And she said: I am a science teacher in Buffalo, and I said, that makes sense at this rally!! Bernie, a Social Democratic Jewish politician that caucuses with the Democrats and that year won 22 States in the primary election for President was right up our alley, both for myself, Eve and Social Democrats USA.

Unlike incumbent council member Joseph Golombek Jr, who is no stranger to American gentrification with Mayor Byron Brown and the big developers at the helm, Eve Shippens is receiving the endorsement of the Working Families Party of Western New York. Her long history as a leader in the NYS teachers union and her family’s traditional labor activity makes Social Democrats USA proud to endorse her as well. 

We are confident she will do a great job in the Common Council as a community leader and as a working-class mom who knows what it’s like to pay a mortgage bill and raise children, and eschew the dark money contributions from the Erie County Democrats that do nothing but lobby on behalf of big business and their biggest donors. It will be heart-wrenching not to give Eve a chance after all the work she has put into progressive causes and making sure everybody has the right to organize a union!

We look forward to working with her in the future and sharing her candidacy as a national organization that can contribute as a teaching hospital of the Democratic Left.

Michael Mottern is the first vice chair of Social Democrats USA. 


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

As the last socialist to serve as mayor of a large American city, Frank Zeidler was the mayor of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1948 to 1960 and a practitioner of the school of politics known as sewer socialism. However, he was different from many of America’s sewer socialists, as most came from the right-wing of the old Socialist Party of America. Zeidler was on the left-wing of the party but as mayor of Milwaukee his power was limited, like any mayor, and he compiled an impressive record as a sewer socialist. After his stint as mayor, he ran for president of the United States in 1976 on the ticket of the Socialist Party USA, a successor organization to the SPA [Socialist Party of America] on a platform that included a shift of national priorities from bloated defense spending to fighting poverty, rebuilding cities, and creating a national health care program. He also favored the nationalization of some heavy industry.

Zeidler was born in the upper Midwest city in 1912 and became a socialist in 1933 because of socialism’s emphases on peace and improving the lives of working people. The writings of SPA presidential nominees Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas impacted his thinking. He studied at the University of Chicago and Marquette University but never graduated.  Zeidler loved the idea of democratic planning to achieve goals. So, he distanced himself from belief in revolutionary Communism. Zeidler was an active Lutheran, a religious commitment which he saw as being fulfilled rather than contradicted by his Socialist activism. 

He served as Milwaukee County Surveyor and on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. In 1948 he ran for mayor as a socialist and won in a field of 14 candidates, making him the city’s third socialist mayor after Emil Seidel and Daniel Horan. During Frank Zeidler’s administration, Milwaukee grew industrially and never had to borrow money to repay loans. Fiscal responsibility was a key part of sewer socialist administrations. During this period, Milwaukee nearly doubled its size with an aggressive campaign of municipal annexations: large parts of the Towns of Lake and Granville were annexed to the city.  In addition, the park system was upgraded. Zeidler spearheaded planning and construction of the beginning of Milwaukee’s freeway system (as infrastructure was a key part of the sewer socialist agenda) and turned it over to Milwaukee County in 1954. There was opposition to the annexation program: suburban residents and governments fiercely resisted annexation and the politics of regional Milwaukee became highly factional. 

Zeidler was a key supporter of the civil rights movement, and the African-American population tripled during his mayoralty. After leaving office, he worked as a mediator, as development director for Alverno College, and served in the administration of Wisconsin Governor John Reynolds.   Zeidler was key in forming the Socialist Party USA in 1973 when the SPA split into three different factions. Three years later he earned the party’s nomination for president of the United States. In 2004 he went to the Green Party convention to welcome delegates.

This prolific politician, socialist, and writer who passed away in 2006 wrote several books on municipal government, labor law, socialism, Milwaukee history, poetry, renditions of four of Shakespeare’s plays into present-day English, and children’s stories. His 1961 memoir of his time as mayor, “A Liberal in City Government,” is a treat for social democrats! 

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

In the past, sewer socialists municipalized certain capital-intensive economic functions like electric grids, sewers, and trash collection and fought for the efficient delivery of public services like fire protection, public safety, and infrastructure. A modern version of sewer socialism must make room for modern technology and embrace the information technology revolution. Therefore, sewer socialism must promote municipal Wi-Fi. Like garbage collection and electric grids, Wi-Fi is a capital-intensive function that comes with economic rents, a regularly recurring economic benefit. When worse comes to worse, those who possess economic rents can abuse their power by raising the costs, in this case on Wi-Fi, and make customers pay more on a regular basis. Those who provide Wi-Fi cannot argue that they’re competing in a free market. Those who compete in a genuine free market rely on a revolving group of customers. A municipal Wi-Fi network would be accountable to democratic legislatures, unlike private Wi-Fi.

The economic facts mean that municipal Wi-Fi would be a perfect project for contemporary sewer socialists. Albany, New York, Chicago, Illinois (in many public places), Burlington, Vermont, El Paso, Texas, Indianapolis, Indiana (downtown), Houston, Texas (downtown and in a few other select neighborhoods), Madison, Wisconsin (central part of the city), and Minneapolis, Minnesota are just a few American cities with municipal Wi-Fi.

There are other reasons why municipal Wi-Fi is essential, not just for individuals but also for businesses. An increasing number of citizens use the internet in their educational, professional, and social lives. People check regularly their emails and WhatsApp messages. They use the internet to find shops, restaurants and museums, to compare product prices and to get a taxi. Free public Wi-Fi contributes to a better-connected society and more agile interactions between citizens and business.

Sewer socialist mayors, aldermen, or alderwomen would increase the competitiveness of his or her city by pushing this reform. Tourists visiting a city on business would find their stay more pleasant. The reputation of cities with municipal Wi-Fi would increase and these cities would attract more business conventions. A modern-day sewer socialism can be good for business! According to the National League of Cities, cities with economies based around digital technologies are more likely to have lower unemployment and poverty levels, and an urban area’s median income level and gross domestic product per capita correspond to the strength of its internet sector. Municipal Wi-Fi can also be used to combat inequality because it will bring Wi-Fi to areas where it doesn’t exist.

Wi-Fi is also a part of smart city plans, allowing data to flow more quickly. It allows cities to know where to allocate resources to address these gaps and trouble spots. In northern Alaska, for example, an IoT solution is used to more efficiently clear roads in bad weather.  In Philadelphia, the water department is using sensors to monitor infrastructure. And in Georgia, intelligent traffic solutions are helping municipalities respond to extreme weather events and improve traffic flow and vehicle and pedestrian safety.  Devices like cameras can also be used by first responders.

As part of any movement to elect sewer socialists around the country, municipal Wi-Fi should be the top reform!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

BRRRRRRRR……Surviving the Deadly Buffalo Blizzard of 2022


By Susan Stevens

This blog has been publishing Jason Sibert’s series on sewer socialism — municipal leaders utilizing taxpayer funds to support good infrastructure and create a happier, healthier and more sustainable situation for their citizens. The recent blizzard which covered Buffalo and nearby cities over Christmas, and has thus far claimed over three dozen lives, is a heart-wrenching example of why sewer socialists are the very best type of leader — of why the Hope of Mankind is often shining where we least want to look for it, in the tedium of keeping up the plumbing of our lives by mending a little hole now so it doesn’t become a bigger, more expensive and dangerous hole later. I spoke to Buffalo-are resident and comrade, SDUSA Vice Chair Michael Mottern, to fill us in on what this treacherous blizzard has been like. Michael lives in government housing near Buffalo, in a neighboring city where the leaders have done a much better job prioritizing winter storm readiness.

Susan: Can you describe the moment when you first realized you were in for some really severe weather?

Michael: When the fifth person told me that it was coming and we should look out, because it was like nothing we’d ever heard of from the National Weather Service before. I didn’t think it would be that severe of a storm, but when the fifth person told me, I said, “Okay, let me not go anywhere, and really quickly, I’ll run to the store near my house.” I’m not in a food desert if you count the convenience store and the Rite Aid right across the street. You can get enough food there if you’re just willing to pay more.

Susan:  Some workers were begging Erie County to announce a travel ban much sooner than they did, as their employers did not care about travel advisories and would only let them stay home from work on Friday if there was an all-out ban. The County waited and put the ban in place at 9:30 Friday morning, after many workers were already on the road; many of them ended up being trapped in their cars.

What made it possible for you to shelter safely in your home until the travel ban was lifted?

Michael: I live in a fairly modern public housing complex, and the electricity did not go off at all. As soon as my friend left for the day, I made myself a good dinner — but the snow came down early, and I watched a pure white out for three days, and was able to call my family because my cell service and electricity were fine. And I’m pretty sure my building, built in the late 1960s or early 1970s, is retrofitted with emergency generators that will kick on after the power in the building goes off, but that never happened.

Susan: What was the weather like from your perspective?

Michael: Warm at first, but the temperature dipped and that’s when the snow came. Out my window, I saw white out conditions not even five feet in front of my face where I normally get a nice view of the park and the houses in front of it. It was severe white out for several days, until finally it went on Christmas Eve by 11:00 PM, and then the snow was steadily coming down on Christmas day, but not as severe as Christmas Eve.

I was able to step out of the house briefly on Christmas Eve at 12:00 AM, after I put on my full hunting gear, and take out my trash. The snow was waist high.

Susan: Can you share about your experiences with your neighbors while you were all snowed in over Christmas?

Michael: My neighbor from upstairs came over Christmas Eve, and I cooked boiled beef over scrambled eggs for her, because she didn’t want the venison roast with potato wedges that I was making for myself. It was humbling making WWI food for my neighbor considering that it was Christmas Eve, the birthday of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, I made myself another venison roast and ate it with raw carrots.

I still have a freezer full of meat because of the deer I shot earlier this month while out hunting with my father in Lancaster on a friend’s land. Since the blizzard, I’ve just occasionally been going to the store for milk and bread.

Susan: How’s the situation with your apartment building different from that of the housing situation in the older and poorer part of Buffalo?

Michael: It’s much better in my municipality — Kenmore/Town of Tonawanda — because the infrastructure is a little bit better and newer, and it has its own plow service, but that did not stop the plows from getting stuck on my street.

Susan: What do you know of the experiences of your fellow-Buffalonians attempting to survive the blizzard in buildings with poor infrastructure?

Michael: Two people — a mother and her teenaged son — who were in a more modern structure got caught because the ground floor was below the parking lot, and the area all around it filled in with snow, and the power went out. She was very smart and hung a red towel over the top of the door and then closed it, so that when rescuers did come after the snow started to melt, they would see the towel and know that somebody was in there. Then they hunkered down with a lot of blankets, and waited. She called 911 and they told her no service was available yet; she got no response when she called her property management for help. The first person who got to her was 7 News reporter Michael Schwartz, nearly a week after the blizzard started.

Myles Carter, our former SDUSA-endorsed Sheriff candidate, and his friend, local activist David Louis made national news on Good Morning America by helping an elderly woman who’d lost power get to her daughter’s home, before she became a victim of the elements.

Some people became so desperate to find a warm place when their power went out, that they went out in their cars and then were blinded and stopped by the whiteout, and either froze to death, or some died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they kept their cars and heaters running, and the snow quickly covered their exhaust pipes.

Susan: What’s the relationship between the political representation that citizens get in Buffalo, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda and any other nearby cities you think of, and how prepared these cities’ infrastructure and services were to protect people during the blizzard?

Michael: I’ve learned through national and local news articles, and from Buffalo meteorologist Don Paul — Channel 4 — that Buffalo doesn’t have the plow team that it should have — primarily, in my opinion, because of property tax caps, and lack of spending on infrastructure and good municipal equipment. Tonawanda is not only smaller: it also has a stronger tax base, whereas Buffalo covers more area, has more narrow, winding streets that a plow can get stuck on, and has a median income of only $39,000 a year. For several years, Buffalo has been among the top four poorest cities in America.

Susan: While we were talking the other day, you said that Buffalo received state and federal funding that could be used to update infrastructure — or maybe was even designated for that purpose? — but elected officials wanted to appear conservative with regard to spending. Yet we’ve learned from Jason Sibert’s articles on sewer socialism here at the blog that socialist leaders who put people first are great for city budgets. How can this be?

Michael: There’s a lot of public money that flows through Buffalo, but a lot of it is so mismanaged that all that money doesn’t mean that they can get a bigger plow team. Leaders are more focused on pleasing rich developers and funding microcosm projects.

Susan: Please share anything else you’d like that I didn’t think to ask about.

Michael: I think a lot of city residents are really brave to ignore these travel bans in order to rescue people. However, they should also remember not to take their car out in a snowstorm.


In the summer and fall of 2021, SDUSA endorsed and campaigned for young socialist Buffalo Mayoral candidate India Walton, who defeated longtime incumbent Byron Brown in the Democratic Primary. Brown, however, staged an aggressive write-in campaign, well-funded by his big-money donors, and won the general election in November. Should Walton run a second time, perhaps her vision for getting resources to the people and neighborhoods most in need of them will resonate with an even greater number of Buffalonians who struggled to keep warm and stay alive during this blizzard in outdated buildings.

Susan Stevens is the Chair of Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA.