by The People’s Minister of Information JR
As the great depression of the new millennium digs its claws into our pockets even deeper, we have to look at alternative ways to care for ourselves. In reality, we need to return to the ways that have worked for centuries. The human body is a vehicle that must be taken care of and, in order to do that, one must know how it works.
Gingi Allen is a doula in the Bay Area, an expert in the science and art of becoming a mother. For all of the people who want to consider new ways of looking at giving birth other than your ordinary hospital, this is a woman who can help you. I wanted to sit down with her to talk about this very important subject that really doesn’t get enough attention. Check her out in her own words.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell people what a doula is?
Gingi: A doula is an informed, supportive person who acts as a guide and loving force promoting family wellness, informed decision-making and empowerment.
M.O.I. JR: When did you decide that you wanted to become one?
Gingi: After the birth of my first child in 2002, I felt empowered through the act of giving birth with no interventions. I was connected to the power of my body and empowered with information that I wanted to share with other young Black women such as myself.
M.O.I. JR: How long did you have to train and go to school? Where?
Gingi: I began self-study through my own experience as being pregnant and giving birth. About four years later, after the birth of my second child, I completed a series of trainings through the Natural Birth Institute in San Francisco – with a Black doula trainer – who presented evidence-based practices that create healthier outcomes and highlighted the socio-political-historical context of birth in America.
In the trainings, we learned ways to support a calm environment that stimulates the mother’s hormonal blueprint to birth her child as best she can. Various tools are taught to emotionally and physically support a birthing mother, as well as the birthing partner.
Trainings can usually cost about $250- $350, and many trainers give sliding scale or scholarships. I was able to receive some scholarship funds through the Natural Birth Institute to attend their doula training.
M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of doulas and midwifery?
Gingi: Doulas help the birthing family to know they have choices, and we support evidence-based informed decision-making. Doulas are important because we are the bridge between a medical technological model of care and a midwifery natural model of care. Doulas support families with all types of births, from vaginal to cesarean to stillbirth.
Midwives are skilled medical practitioners who follow a pregnant mother throughout her birth into postpartum, and deliver the baby. Midwives are unique in their abilities to use their hearts, hands and knowledge to guide and support a pregnant mother to an optimal state of health. Midwives are the keepers of traditional birthing ways that have worked for centuries.
M.O.I. JR: How do other people who want to become doulas get more info?
Gingi: There are many doulas here in the Bay Area, as well as trainings to become a doula. There are bigger organizations such as DONA (Doulas of North America) that have trainings and certifications. Doulas do not have to be certified, but there is a short process to becoming certified, should one choose.
San Francisco General Hospital and Homeless Prenatal Program both have a volunteer doula program. Birthways in Berkeley has a volunteer doula program, as well for newer doulas starting out and wanting experience. The Black Women’s Birthing Justice in Oakland is an organization that supports birth work and its resources. It’s also great to talk to an experienced doula and find a mentor to support the process of being a doula.
M.O.I. JR: How is the experience of working with a doula different from going to the hospital?
Gingi: Doulas accompany the woman where she has decided to labor and give birth – home, hospital or birth center. Usually, I like to come support a mama at home first and then transfer to the hospital when the mama has been in good strong labor for a while.
M.O.I. JR: What is your opinion of hospitals?
Gingi: Hospitals are great for handling emergent life-threatening situations. And most births do not need to be at a hospital. If we save the hospital for high-risk births, more births could take place at a person’s home or a birth center, where there are less pharmaceutical interventions and machinery interventions. There is a lot of evidence that shows more machinery does not necessarily equal a safer outcome.
I have seen the hospitals force their agenda on families and not give risk and benefit information to patients at decision-making times. Millions of families are feeling disrespected, coerced and bullied into unnecessarily using pharmaceuticals and machinery at their hospital births. Hospitals seem to lack the sensitive and intimate individualized care needed for the medical and miraculous event of birth.
M.O.I. JR: How many births do you do a month? Do you travel? What are the terms?
Gingi: Usually I attend two or three births a month as a doula. I meet with my clients at their home, preferably three times prior to their birth. We do a lot of work on having a healthy pregnancy and how that prepares for an empowered birth and well-supported postpartum. I support clients in their labor and birth. Then afterwards (postpartum), I meet with the family twice to support bonding, breastfeeding and new baby care.
M.O.I. JR: Are there a lot of Black doulas?
Gingi: There are a lot of doulas in this area, but only a handful of Black doulas. We need more Black birthing mamas to be represented and supported by their community.
M.O.I. JR: How can people stay up with you?
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.