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Working as a Rainbow Doula Lets Me Be Myself

history of NyShayla Williams

As Diana Whitney tells

Before I became a birthing doula, I worked as a middle school teacher. I’m a strange woman, and I’ve seen that my students who identified as part of the LGTBQ + community didn’t necessarily have adults they could trust or turn to for support. When I decided to leave the classroom and become a doula, that stayed with me. There are people in the world who don’t have access to the support they need, and that’s what I wanted to offer.

When I discovered Rainbow Doula DC, it seemed to suit me well, a place where I could be expressive and be myself. Traditional doula training doesn’t always involve gender-specific language or recognition from LGBTQ families. Before joining Rainbow Doula DC, I had shadowed other doulas and realized that they may not be able to create a safe space or advocate for a queer client.

One of the greatest things I love about a birthing doula is the ability to empower my clients – before, after, and during the birth.

I trained at a doula agency in Brooklyn, NY, which has an incredibly high maternal mortality rate. Because of this experience, I tend towards natural, holistic practices that I can embed in my clients in some way. I can use different essential oils and affirmations depending on what works for them. I love decorating the birthing room and creating a space that feels safe and right.

I haven’t seen many black queer doulas in the black community here in DC. Again, the maternal mortality crisis is enormous and I take the time to educate my clients as best I can. I develop a close relationship with them so that when we are in the hospital – if they choose to have a hospital birth – we can be in sync and have a family-oriented groove.

When a partner is present, I make sure the partner is as involved as they feel comfortable, especially during childbirth. I have learned that many partners are not included because no one really sees them – often the providers only see the person wearing them.

So I’m going to suggest, “Hey, would you like to try this comfort measure with your partner?” It can be a massage, a hot shower, a different positioning, or a deep stretch to open the pelvis. I want to empower both people to be part of the birthing process.

I encourage parents to work at home as long as possible. Many bodies become tense when they come to the hospital because it is not the most comfortable environment. When my clients want a natural birth, I have many tools in my tool box that we can use – yoga balls, peanut balls that move around as much as possible. Using a rebozo (a traditional Mexican towel) during labor for pain relief is really effective.

Standing up for my clients is one of the most important things I do, especially in a hospital. I speak to the nurses and make sure they don’t slam the door when they walk in and out, for example, which could trigger someone with strong contractions. I constantly support the person giving birth so that they can get everything they want and need.

I’ve had clients who were born without a doula before and then they worked with me and were able to tell the difference. They felt able to do this powerful thing because someone told them they could. I use a trauma-informed approach and talk to my clients about losses. Everyone comes in with their own experience. People may have trauma that they don’t want to share with their families. When a doula acknowledges this loss – be it grief, abuse, a car accident, or other trauma – they feel even more supported.

In hospitals in particular, providers may not have a queer-friendly manner. I saw a doctor go into the birthing room and immediately said, “Oh, where is the husband?”

The other partner literally stood there wiping her partner’s face. Fortunately, my customers found it humorous. You were gracious and ready to educate the doctor at the moment that I found so powerful and generous. As a doula, I can be a leveling agent. I talked to my clients about this interaction and asked if there was anything I could do to support them and then unpack them.

Other doulas describe similar experiences in dealing with bias. Some providers may never have seen a same-sex couple or had a patient using alternative pronouns. Once I pulled the nurse aside and said, “Hey, my client is using her / her pronouns.”

Immediately she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She just didn’t notice. Sometimes you have to give people grace and teach them.

When I was a teacher, one of the best things to do was serve the church.

I am also a jewelry designer and donate 15% of my profits to Mama Magic DC, who provides financial support to people with color. There are so many black women who have had bad experiences in the hospital. I know that access to doulas is not possible for many women with color and I want to postpone that as much as possible because people who use doulas report less stress during labor and greater satisfaction with their overall birthing experience.

The maternal mortality crisis among black workers is insane. Across the country, black women are three times more likely to die from birth-related deaths than white women. And the statistics get worse with age: Black women over 30 are four to five times more likely to die in childbirth. Because of this, I was afraid of having children myself. But the more I learn about doula-assisted births, the more confident I will be to take this step when I’m ready.

Being a doula is more than just physical work, it is heart work. Childbirth is such a beautiful experience. Whenever I get the call, the thrill is so fresh to me every time.

NyShayla Williams’ life’s work is to unlock the magic in everyone. She is a Mama Glow trained birthing doula and accompanies Rainbow Doula DC on its way to support all birthing people. NyShayla also owns and operates Abcrete & Co, a company whose mission is to reduce the maternal death rate of black women in DC. https://www.rainbowdouladc.com

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