‘I don’t have to have a traumatic birth experience’: How Philly’s Womb-ish doula services empowered this Black mother

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This story is part of “Making Space for Black Health,” a new WHYY series featuring people and places that promote Black health and well-being in our region.

Amirah Morris’ first pregnancy journey was an uncertain and daunting process. Her experiences reflect a number of concerns that many soon-to-be Black mothers have — mistreatment, overly aggressive medical providers, feeling uncared for, and even forms of racism.

One day, Morris was scrolling through Instagram, searching the hashtag “Black doula,” and found Womb-ish, a woman-owned, Black doula collective in North Philadelphia. She quickly signed up for birthing classes, along with her boyfriend, Khalif Wyatt, both of whom were expecting their second child, a daughter.

Morris wanted a different experience for her second pregnancy. She wanted to hire a Black doula to help her birth naturally, while teaching herself to feel empowered, as a Black woman, about her body and resiliency.

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WHYY recently sat down with Morris and Wyatt to discuss their experiences with birthing naturally.

What went through your decision to seek doula services during your second pregnancy? 

Morris: Outside of the fact that Khalif really encouraged me, I knew that I wanted to have a Black doula. But he was a supportive partner. I feel like that helped a lot. I started watching YouTube videos of people with birthing experiences with Black doulas, and it allowed them to just feel so safe, protected, and having somebody to advocate for them. I felt like that was the kind of experience I’d like. I didn’t want to be in the hospital this time feeling pressure to do anything. So I feel like having somebody that understands me and looks like me was really important.

What was your first experience like giving birth to your first son at a hospital? 

Morris: The doctors said I had high blood pressure, but I didn’t think I did because I never had any symptoms. I was told I would have to be induced, and with me being younger, I was like, ‘Okay, well, I’m just going to do it.’ And when they induced me, it took a while for my water to break. So they broke it for me, which was even more painful. They gave me Pitocin because the baby wasn’t ready to come. Everything was just forced. It was painful even with pushing.

Khalif: I can remember her telling me that maybe when going through her first pregnancy, maybe she didn’t need an epidural or an induction. She felt like maybe she was pressured into doing it. I remember hearing it and I was a little frustrated, and thinking if we had the proper education, we wouldn’t have allowed it to happen like that. A lot of times doctors can pressure you into making decisions that might not be what’s best for you or the baby. So our main thing was just to do everything at home, all of the pre labor. And then when we felt like it was time to push to get to the hospital.

A boy plays with his little sister, who is sitting in a high chair.
Amirah Morris and Khalif Wyatt’s son and daughter play together. (Photo courtesy of Amirah Morris)

What stands out to you about the classes you took at Womb-ish?  

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Morris: Something that we talked about in the class is how Black women are portrayed giving birth on television – it’s always a traumatic birth experience where the father isn’t present, stuff like that. Going to the classes, it made me realize that I don’t have to have a traumatic birth experience. I can have one that’s calm and filled with love. I can trust my body to do what it was made to do. And I feel like that was the main thing that I learned in a class. I knew that even if for whatever reason, my birth took a turn, or I wasn’t able to give a natural birth, that I was still going to be able to trust my body and still be able to have a birth that I wanted.

After going through the child birthing experience, how has your outlook about being a parent changed? 

Khalif: It’s been a fun learning experience, something that you’re trying to get better every day. One of my favorite stories about my daughter is after she was born, and we had to go to the hospital, I remember driving at like, 12 miles per hour. I’m usually like a pretty on edge driver, I would say. But, I think instinct took over knowing she was in that back seat.

Morris: I tell people all the time, me being a mom is me living my purpose. I love doing this. I love my nephews. I love my son having slumber parties at the house. Me being able to be there every step of the way with my kids and watching them learn or having movie dates with them or reading them books, I’m able to do exactly what I love to do. Watching my family all together, loving each other every day is a great experience for me.

A boy smiles next to his baby sister, who is also smiling.
Amirah Morris and Khalif Wyatt’s son and daughter pose together. (Photo courtesy of Amirah Morris)

Support for WHYY’s coverage of health equity issues comes from the Commonwealth Fund.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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