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Palm Beach County doula program supporting mothers during, after pregnancy

'The fact that our doulas stick with moms 3 months postpartum, I think that's having a larger impact,' Michelle Gonzalez of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies says
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Palm Beach County June 21 2023.jpg
Posted at 12:30 PM, Jun 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-22 10:22:06-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — It is a tough pill to swallow. The latest data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows expecting mothers are dying during and after childbirth at rates not seen since the 1960s.

In Palm Beach County, an old school practice is taking root to stop many of what medical professionals agree can be preventable deaths, especially for women of color.

Rachel Bellrice will never forget her experience 10 years ago. She said seconds after her scheduled c-section, something went terribly wrong. She started feeling heavy pains in her chest. Bellrice said when she told the nurses, they shrugged it off.

"I fought. I was fighting for my life and any chord I could find, I yanked it," she said. "I yanked my IV. I yanked my oxygen chord. Anything I could pull, I just started panicking."

In Palm Beach County, data from the State Department of Health shows the number of maternal deaths is higher than the national average. For Black women, the outcome is worse.

"When they do tell me things like, oh, I told my doctor this and he said oh, it's fine, I'm like no, we can't let that happen," Bree Spence said.

Spence is a licensed doula. She was a part of the first cohort to graduate from a program through Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Palm Beach County. The program was specifically designed to drive down death rates for Black mothers.

Spence believes historical biases and stereotypes that Black women can handle more pain than White women is one of the reasons why the data reflects more maternal deaths for women of color.

The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies doula program not only focuses heavily on prenatal care but what is known as the fourth trimester.

"You know, once we have the babies, everybody is focused on the infant, but are we really paying attention to mom once the baby is born?" Michelle Gonzalez of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Palm Beach County said. "So, the fact that our doulas stick with moms three months postpartum, I think that's having a larger impact than we ever anticipated."

Courtney Williams said her own bad experience of doctors dismissing her concerns during pregnancy motivated her to sign up for the doula program. When she accompanies her clients to the hospital, she considers herself a watchman on the wall.

"If anything is off, we may step out into the nursing station," Williams said. "I've had to do that, and say hey, we've been asking for help for maybe 30 minutes can someone come in."

Williams said it's about forming a partnership with the medical staff to protect the well being of the mother.

The fledgling doula program recently received a health infusion of support from Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in the way of funding.