JAIMA SAUNDERS – FOUNDER OF MOMMY DIARIES
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 / Mommydiarieskc@gmail.com
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. https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article272196223.html?ac_cid=DM764967&ac_bid=-2118524435
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.