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Doctors, doulas work to address disparities in birth outcomes for mothers, babies

Nonprofit offers scholarship to reach more women
Posted at 11:43 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 17:53:42-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The disparities in birth outcomes among races continue in the U.S.

However, professionals in prenatal, birth and postpartum care are working on ways to lower maternal mortality and poor fetal outcomes.

Harysha Thompson said she knew who she wanted to become.

"It's a part of my calling," she said. "Becoming a doula was something that was extremely important, but not feasible at the time because we are working, right?"

Thompson is a nurse by trade and had hoped to become a doula as well.

"I know without a shadow of a doubt I can help people who are not being helped right now," she said.

Harysha Thompson, doula
Harysha Thompson outlines why becoming a doula was important to her.

Thompson's passion stems from a deep place, one that doula Ruth Kraft recognized. She gave Thompson a scholarship to become a doula.

"I have been a doula for 20 years now," said Kraft. "I wanted people from the community in it."

She said her nonprofit, Community Calling, gave 20 scholarships last year to train 20 doulas.

"With the goal of reducing the infant and maternal mortality rate, especially in the people of color communities," said Kraft, who provides funding to become a doula to those chosen. "It is pretty clear it has mostly been white women in this profession."

Kraft said the hope is to also provide funding to pay them to work in underserved communities.

Ruth Kraft, doula
Ruth Kraft's nonprofit offers scholarships to women so they can become doulas.

"It's not just, 'Oh, we need to have diversity because of people in lower incomes,'" said Thompson. "It's the comfort level, the cultural sensitivity part of it. I know what your grandma said, and what our grandma's grandmas said about what to do when the baby comes, how to take care of yourself and what tea to drink."

"It makes more sense that if we had more of a diverse doula population, the people who are then seeking out those services would be able to relate more to those doulas," said Kraft.

It's all part of an effort to change disparities in birth outcomes.

"It's not just, 'Hey, it was great to have someone who rubbed your back during labor, right?'" said Kraft. "We have really good outcomes with doulas just in general."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Also, Black mothers are more than twice as likely to experience stillbirth compared to Hispanic and white moms.

Dr. Ruel Stoessel speaks about doulas
Dr. Ruel Stoessel talks about the need for improved prenatal care for underserved communities.

"The premature rate is high among African American women," said Dr. Ruel Stoessel, who specializes in high-risk pregnancy.

He works with the T. Leroy Medical Society, a group of health care professionals that focus on underserved communities.

"I think what makes a difference is by having top-level providers, that are driven by empathy, that recognize the patient as a person and not a disease or number," he said.

Stoessel, driven to create change, stressed the need for quality prenatal and postpartum care. He opened family-centered offices in St. Lucie County, Lake Worth, Belle Glade and other areas to address patients in need.

"Staff members that want to be out there, want to take care of the patient," he said.

He's aimed to reach more women to make a difference.

"All the various ills that we have seen over the years, we have culled that down," Stoessel said. "Premature birth, the number of C-sections being performed on patients, the complication rate for delivery and postpartum and maternal mortality, which is a huge problem going on around that country that we have addressed significantly here over the past 20 years in Palm Beach County."

Doulas and doctors said they are working in their own ways in our area to hit cultural barriers along the way.

"I know this is a systemic problem," Thompson said. "I know that me doing my part as a doula to serve these communities will definitely move the barometer a little bit, and that's all we can do. If each person is steady moving that barometer, then the change will happen."