Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Doulas Holding it Down in H-Town

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March 24, 2023

Doulas are non-clinical support people offering physical, emotional, and informational assistance to birthing people and their families. We have been foundational to birthing, reproductive justice movements, and society as a whole since the beginning of time. The public has become more familiar with doula care in recent years, a large part due to the exponential growth as a byproduct of coronavirus lockdowns and the way that affected the birthing landscape. More people than ever sought out doulas, midwives, and other birth work professionals to help support them when hospitals were inaccessible, unsafe, or incredibly restrictive.

Houston is home to a rich and budding doula community. Texas’ worsening maternal mortality rates, especially in Harris County, is indicative of a great need for further support. However, we often hear about how much doulas can do for us and the ways they can help mitigate disparities in birth outcomes. We don’t often hear from the actual doulas about their experiences serving their communities. In this three-part series, we are introduced to three Houston area doulas. We discuss their respective journeys to birthwork and the experiences they’ve had along the way as they dedicate their time, energy and effort to bring equal opportunity and education for reproductive justice to their communities. Most importantly, we learn, in their own words, how we can best support them as they support all of us.

First we speak with Chaka Parker of Doula With a Purpose. Chaka is a doula, maternal reiki practitioner, self-care advocate, mother and two-time surrogate mother who has been a doula for 3 years. She is 100% focused and dedicated to birthwork and constantly striving to better her skills in order to better her community.

DESIREÉ: What is your how and why of birth work (how did you get here and why do you do it)?

CHAKA: “My ‘why’ is for people like myself to never go through what I went through. Because  I have girls, I want to let them know they have a voice. If I can help a mother feel supported or informed and comfortable…that is my ‘why.’ I can’t save the world but I can go out there and do my part. When I first started, I realized a lot of people who give birth, period, no matter what their color is, have faced some form of birth trauma. Unfortunately, being a Black woman, when we feel like we’re not heard or somebody tells us that our pain doesn’t matter like ‘Oh, you’re just making that up…you’re not really going through that…you’ll be fine…’. When you’re overlooking what we’re telling you, then you start making us question like ‘…maybe I’m not in that much pain…maybe it wasn’t that bad, the doctor said it’ll be fine…’. But you knew, your intuition in your body told you something was wrong, so we have to listen to that. That’s always my ‘why’, when I go into a birth, my ‘why’ is if I’m gonna go into this birth with somebody, we are walking out of this together. I am not leaving you behind and we are walking out of here.

My ‘how’ is that I took a birth course one time and she beautifully said to always go into a birth with the ‘Three H’s,’ which is your head, your heart, and your hands. Sometimes we can have so many other skills but if we just use the ‘Three H’s’ we can make a big difference. So, my ‘how’ is just the ‘Three H’s’. I go into it first and foremost with my heart and my heart is filled with compassion. I always try to go into it with understanding and I know it is not my birth but the birth of the mother, the child, and the father or however their union looks. They need to understand what’s going on so they can be informed. I go into it with my head, with the knowledge I do know to help them make informed decisions or where to direct them to get the information from. And I go into it with my hands because as a woman helping another, I’m gonna get you through! I’m gonna get you through with these hands! With the comfort of touch and just knowing you’re gonna be okay, with guidance and relaxation, that’s my ‘how.’ My ‘how’ is the ‘Three H’s.’

DESIREÉ: What is something you have learned (about yourself, your clients, birthwork, etc.) in being a doula?

CHAKA: With every birth I have been at or every client I have assisted, in one way or another there is a different part of me that is either born or that evolves. I learn something different with each birth. I’ll give two examples. I had a young lady who I had never been in labor with for so long before. I think she was overall in labor for 49 hours but I was only with her for 38 of those hours. What she showed me is resiliency and strength. She had a birth center birth, it became questionable if she would need to be transferred or not and I looked at her as her doula to say we needed to have a talk. I had to let her know to be open minded as she had been laboring for a long time. Sometimes as a doula you have to have conversations that you don’t want to have. Well, she looked at me and she said: ‘I don’t want to, Chaka, I’m gonna have my baby this way.’ I said, whatever you decide I’m gonna support you.’  She had her baby and what that taught me is we can do hard things. She did something that probably seemed like one of the hardest things she’d ever done in her life, but she did it. So we can do hard things even when we think we can’t. Another story is I got to visit with a client of mine who had just had her baby. The baby is just a little kind soul, he taught me to be present in my peace. He’s just calm and quiet and he was just always present in his peace. I had to learn that, there’s so many things that are chaotic in the world. Sometimes, we have to be reminded no matter what we are facing to be present in our peace.

DESIREÉ: What do you want the community to know about you or how we can best support you and your work?

CHAKA: What I want the community to know about Chaka, or Doula With a Purpose, is that I don’t want no mama to be left behind. I don’t want a mother to feel like ‘I can’t afford a doula so I’m not going to reach out.’ Especially if they don’t have any kind of support system. We are out here, even if I’m not the doula for you, we are out here and we want to help. As a doula, I can say we are passionate and we are all in. Being a doula is not for the faint of heart. But for me, no mom is left unsupported or left behind…unless her circumstances are detrimental to me or to herself. Other than that, what can I do to support you? Another thing I would have to say is that I believe in the power of birthing people. I believe all births are valid. No matter what type of birth you’re seeking you should feel informed and confident in your choices. I don’t think we should take away the power of the body, we should help people tap back into the power of who they are. Our bodies are not broken, there were no mistakes made with our bodies. Some of our bodies function differently and we have to take that for what it is and work with it. Most of our bodies are doing what they are supposed to do. No matter what it is, we can work with it. My thing is giving back to our community and letting them know that they are powerful.

Chaka’s mission and presence is palpable. It is through fierce, purpose-driven people like her that birth workers are able to make such a difference in our communities. Her commitment to continuous learning and evolution in her skills is a demonstration of her commitment to her work and her clients. To learn more about Chaka or to just show her some love, you can visit her website doulawithapurpose.com, or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @doulawithapurpose.

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