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Orion is a big brother now. Two weeks earlier, Peace Jackson — just over 6 pounds the last time his mother checked — was born at home. Then she checked on how mother and baby were sleeping. The day before, West had assisted with another delivery.

Florida mothers of color, seeking better care, turn to midwives and doulas

She assists with home births and hospital deliveries, offering additional comfort and expertise for families. The vast majority of the mothers she cares for are women of color. They had induced her, and she felt forced into using formula instead of breastfeeding. This time, she sought the care of a Black midwife and a Black doula. This time, she wanted more support.

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She receives a handful of calls every week from women of color who are scared, determined to avoid traditional health systems that have discriminated against them. Black women once dominated the field of midwifery in southern states. Their enslaved forbears had passed down West African childbirth techniques through generations. From the s to the s, the Florida Department of Health recruited midwives for women who seeking tampa and caring woman no access to medical care due to poverty and segregation, according to Sharon Hamilton, former president of the Midwives Association of Florida.

Back then, Black people were often not allowed in hospitals. And the rates of maternal mortality and preterm births have increased in the U. Black women face death rates related to pregnancy that are over three times those for white women.

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For American Indian and Alaska Native women, pregnancy-related death rates are more than twice as high as white counterparts. The rate for Hispanic women was similar to white women, the Kaiser analysis found. The outlook is somewhat brighter in Florida, which has seen a ificant drop in the rate of maternal mortality over the last 10 years, particularly among Black and Hispanic women, said Dr. Throughout her pregnancy, Delaine Williams mastered the art of dropping hints in conversations with nurses and doctors.

After the birth of her daughter, an awful headache took hold, a side effect of her C-section.

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Williams could hardly walk, her vision blurred, she could barely hold her baby, she said. At the hospital, attendants assumed she was on welfare. After her mother called demanding to speak with the administrator on duty, the head of the emergency team came to her room.

Deeply apologetic, the doctor explained his wife had experienced the same issue and offered medication to ease the pain. Since then, Williams has steered clear of the hospital and used a doula for postpartum care.

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West, the doula, says she cares for many second-time moms afraid of hospitals after their first experiences: women stitched up wrong after surgery, or consistently talked down to. A mother of 10 who said she sought her help after bad experiences during every pregnancy, finally hoping to have a good birth. When her blood pressure increased throughout her pregnancy, doctors threw medication at her, she said. And when her baby was delivered, no one checked on her. Then came severe postpartum depression and sleep deprivation.

During that period, West was offered a copper intrauterine device for birth control and an allergic reaction left her sterilized.

When Ciara Tucker of St. Petersburg started having chest pain, she went to a community health clinic. After four visits, a multitude of tests and repeated radiation, doctors took a urine specimen. Tucker, 38, was pregnant. A complication with her twins was causing her heart problems.

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At 17 weeks, she lost one of the babies due to causes she says were unrelated to the radiation. Another St. Petersburg resident, registered nurse Briana Hickman, was aware of the disparities facing mothers of color when she got pregnant with her son.

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So she recruited West as her doula for additional support. Having West as her advocate allowed Hickman to ask doctors more questions and push back when she felt pressured into taking certain medications.

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As doctors become more aware of the discrimination and communication barriers permeating maternal health care, some hospital systems are looking to bridge the gap by incorporating midwives and doulas into their operations. While obstetrics and gynecology specialists are experts in the management of medical complications and surgery, midwives are experts on the physiology of pregnancy and birth.

They complement one another, she said. Hospital midwives traditionally treat high-risk patients who may have multiple conditions, she said.

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The personalized care families may find with d midwives who work outside hospitals is difficult to recreate in a facility because of the sheer volume of patients. So, to ease the concerns of women who are high-risk but do not feel safe in hospitals, some hospitals offer team-based care that includes nurse midwives.

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As the disparities persist, advocates are pushing for structural change and — in some cases — starting to make them on the grassroots level. The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.

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Florida mothers of color, seeking better care, turn to midwives and doulas After years of feeling dismissed in hospitals, many Black and Hispanic women are working to find prenatal caregivers who listen to their concerns.

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By Margo Snipe. Published Feb. Up next: Pinellas changes process to score coronavirus vaccine appointments. Margo Snipe Health Equity Reporter. New rules boost health for transgender patients. Structural racism in St.