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Milwaukee doula, Kay'La Mumford, says more doulas of color are needed

Two women, one standing and the other seating down.
Kay'La Mumford
Kay'La Mumford
Kay'La Mumford teaches a class as part of her doula training program through her organization Birth & Embrace.

Black infant mortality rates continues to be alarmingly high in Milwaukee. In 2019, the infant mortality rate for Black babies was 12.4 per 1,000 births. Comparatively, for white babies it was 3.3 per 1,000 births. Black mothers' mortality rates are also high. Nationally in 2019, 42.4 of every 100,000 Black mothers will die in birth according to the CDC. For white mothers it’s just 13 deaths per 100,000.

Black doulas in the Milwaukee-area are hoping to change this narrative. Kay'La Mumford, who is the executive director of Birth & Embrace Communities Inc., is one of the first Black women to train birth doulas.

She founded the non-profit in order to address the inequalities in birthing. Ultimately, she wants to provide equality to birthing BIPOC and Black birth workers.

Doulas are non-medical professionals who are trained to assist pregnant people through childbirth. "When it comes to birth is kind of like what don't doulas do," says Mumford,

Doulas offer continuous support, including during the prenatal stages of pregnancies, but especially for the birthing period. Also doulas support moms or birthing person when coming out of their delivery.

After her first birth, Mumford says she was left feeling like she didn't have much of a say during her birthing experience. As a result, she and her husband were both left traumatized. Mumford says it was because of the trauma they felt the need to wait five years to have their second child. It was then that she decided to hire a midwife for help.

"I ended up doing research, I found a midwife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sabrina Foulks- Thomas, and she was amazing and just gave me a different experience. She poured courage and confidence in me. She helped me believe in myself. After that experience, I felt empowered and like I was on top of the world," says Mumford.

While the healthcare system seems to be failing to support Black mothers and babies, Mumford sees her work as a means to provide support for women to be heard and get the care they need.

"First thing I see is a change in mindset, a change in confidence, which is important for change in self belief and community belief," says Mumford.

While healthcare has its problems, doulas have a lot of work to do within their own field. In general, there needs to be more doulas of color, says Mumford. Additionally, doulas should be trained on equity, she says. She emphasizes the need for training to be led by people who may have experienced inequity.

"Doulas need to work together and be collaborative to support communities because it will take a community in unity to see the changes that we want," says Mumford.

Mumford says she hopes to see changes by expanding how many doulas of color there are. She says her company is creating more opportunities for birth workers of color by providing education and supporting families.

She says the more educated you are, the more you can expand further. "Eventually, I do want to offer support in other areas for economic growth. We're just really looking to connect with the community and other community partners who get the resources we need. Who get the funds we need to support more Black birth workers coming on and having the funds to support the community to get the families that need [services the] most," says Mumford.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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