In recent years, a number of black and brown women in Milwaukee have become doulas, and now there’s also a push to train more midwives of color. These trained, licensed medical professionals deliver babies in hospitals, birthing centers, and at homes.
Sabrina Foulks-Thomas, who is black, is one of those midwives. She has done this work for the past three years.
While there are midwives in Milwaukee who have worked in the field for decades, Foulks-Thomas says she recognizes the impact she can have as a black woman.
Twenty-four-year-old Kayla Mumford of South Milwaukee says she knew the birth of her second child had to be different than the first. When she had her first baby almost five years ago, Mumford and her partner went the traditional route. She saw an OBGYN throughout her pregnancy and gave birth in a hospital.
"After having my first daughter in a hospital, I’m like 'No more kids.' And after having this baby, I’m like, 'Oh my gosh, I could do this again,'" Mumford says.
During that first experience, Mumford says she felt she was judged for being young and unmarried — even though she and the father of her children are in a happy and healthy relationship. "We didn’t have the best experience. Even for my guy, he didn’t really like going to doctor’s appointments because he’s like they’re not going to listen to me. He felt really excluded."
For the second baby, Mumford wanted to find a midwife of color. When she found Sabrina Foulks-Thomas, she felt relieved.
"I felt like I could relate to her and she was more personalizing (of) my cares and what I wanted and what I needed and not judging anything," Mumford says.
Foulks-Thomas adds, “I think being a woman of color definitely plays on the impact of how you treat people. I also have a personal experience with how I was treated as a woman of color. And I’ll speak to just having my daughter in the hospital setting. It’s just a different level of stress, a different level of safety, feeling like you have to guard yourself. So I think it has a huge impact in just relationships is the best way to put it and understanding the dynamic of the level of oppression that we’ve felt."
In Wisconsin, midwives are only allowed to work with women whose pregnancies are considered low risk. That means no gestational diabetes or other complications.
Foulks-Thomas doesn’t work out of a birth center. She does home deliveries and typically charges around $4,000 for the prenatal care and delivery. Private insurance usually considers midwives who do home deliveries to be out of network providers. In Wisconsin, Medicaid will cover the cost of a home birth with a licensed midwife.
She says about 35% of her patients are women of color, and the majority of them are black. She says she’s happy to provide an option for black and brown women.
"Most of the women that I was seeing in my training that were being served were white women. And I’m like why aren’t black and brown women and families knowing about this," Foulks-Thomas says. "I’m really excited now that I feel like because of social media and a lot of things being done in the community families are becoming aware of the opportunity."
Foulks-Thomas is also working to introduce more women of color to field of midwifery as a career through an initiative she calls Birth in Color. One of her goals is to diversify the industry.
Come fall, she hopes to have a mobile midwife clinic up and running to service pregnant women in Milwaukee. Foulks-Thomas believes the services could help improve birth outcomes and reduce black infant mortality in a city that has the highest black infant mortality rate in the state.
Editor’s note: This is story is part of our series about Milwaukee’s high black infant mortality rate, and the role birth workers play in helping to reduce it. This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Sabrina Foulks-Thomas is not Wisconsin's only black midwife.