In Conversation With Kalifa Doucet, Birth, Postpartum Doula and Midwife Assistant

From a pandemic to protesting justice…How have you been feeling?

Every day my emotions change, but mostly I’m overwhelmed. I recently moved to Australia about six months ago, a few months before the lockdown occurred. Being away from my family and friends during this time has definitely caused me to feel isolated. It hasn’t been easy, but as I listen to how each country is handling the pandemic, I’m grateful to be in a country like Australia that is quick to take proper measures and secure the safety of its citizens.

Tell us about your background, and what inspired you to become a doula?

“Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right”. — Jane Goodall

While this refers to many aspects of my life, in regards to my career as a doula, I believe there are negative connotations attributed to childbirth and that they should no longer exist. I hear a lot of fear-based languages that dictate women’s ideas of birth physically. I feel by providing knowledge and creating confidence within women, we can shift the conversation and hopefully remove these negative connotations.

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Throughout my journey of self-education and awareness, I discovered the many hurdles women face, from pre-birth to postpartum stages in the birthing process. I want to utilize my voice and experience to change the way mothers not only experience the birthing process, but how they associate with it. I believe we can achieve this if we provide knowledge to women of colour – women who may be marginalized and at times misinformed – about the benefits of having a doula during their pregnancy journey.

Through my practice, I strive to inform women that there is an alternative; methods that doulas use can minimize the pain and the need to use medical procedures. Linda Wooten said, “Being a mother is learning about the strength you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed”. I strongly believe that a doula’s support can ultimately enhance a family experience by making it comfortable, peaceful, and beautiful. I believe that this particular field is extremely sensitive to women by allotting the necessary time to reach a natural birth. I think on a personal level, my own mother has had a major impact on me becoming a doula.

My Mother is a woman that has gone through six childbirths in which she had beautiful and positive experiences. Being a single, young, Black mother, she held so much power in being and becoming a young mother. The strength that my mother showed me inspired me to want to become a doula and do the work that I do. From her, I’ve also learned the power of emotional support and have been able to give this to so many people in my life, as well as my clients. Through this support, I have discovered from women, first-hand, why they fear pregnancy, and most have expressed the excruciating pain they may have heard or experienced that comes along with childbirth. They just want to get the birthing experience over with instead of embracing what can be a beautiful and life-changing experience.

I have become passionate about becoming a doula because I want to bring the doula practice into my community and all communities, starting with those less fortunate – this should be accessible to everyone! Oftentimes, women in impoverished neighbourhoods go through birthing without an advocate or proper support. If we can break the cycle of suffering that sometimes occurs through hospital birth and instead incorporate other approaches – for example, utilizing the squatting position to enable delivery versus that of an epidural – we can set more positive foundations for the child’s life as well as the mother’s.

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In your opinion, how could hospitals improve the care they provide to Black birthing people?

I think the hospital system needs cultural training as well as education on bedside manner and compassion. I think hospitals need to collaborate with black doulas and POC organizations that support minorities and their voices. I think the voices of POC need to be amplified, as they’re getting ignored and dismissed constantly in situations that are highly culturally sensitive, and, often, at times, situations that are life-or-death. We want Black doulas to be at the forefront of understanding how to emotionally support women. Even outside of the hospital system, there needs to be more support and opportunities for POC to support other POCs. Society as a whole needs to generate funding for Black midwife students, Black doulas, and workshops for families to care for their wives, mothers, and sisters.

Can you tell us the importance of Black Maternal Health Week, in your opinion?

The importance of Black Maternal Health Week is educating women about the healthcare system and telling them the truth about their risks and empowering themselves. I believe knowledge is the key to avoiding potential trauma, making better decisions, picking the right care provider, and choosing a place to birth that will support them. We have major problems in the healthcare system, beginning with a vast majority of labour protocols that are counterproductive. These protocols are causing women and babies harm and/or death, and often result in a high, and unnecessary, cesarean rate, usually against the behest of doulas.

In Western Healthcare systems, Black women are less likely to have their pain taken seriously. Potentially life-threatening symptoms that a Black woman reports are more likely to be ignored. Black women birthing are 4-5 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. This shows that racism exists in modern healthcare systems and that racism increases your medical risk as a Black woman. It also shows that Black birthing people are not treated with any respect or humanity. Black Maternal Health Week brings up serious issues that stem from a history of racism, which needs to be addressed and acted upon as a deeply rooted issue in this society. As a Black woman, I feel like, while Black Maternal Health Week highlights these issues, it is every week that we need to demand more education and social change.

What have you heard from Black birthing people about their experiences birthing in hospitals?

It’s not what I’ve heard, it’s what I’ve seen. There have been multiple instances where Black women have been mistreated, disrespected, and ignored, and emotionally, verbally, or even physically abused when they have entered hospitals. Their power was being undermined in maternity care, which has caused them to have a traumatic birth. OB mistreatment causes 40% of women with birth trauma and 14% with postpartum PTSD. Many women that I’ve spoken to, or been present at their birth, have a difficult time recognizing and processing their traumas. For some women, it can take days, or even years, to understand their traumatic birth experiences. Many women experience the thoughts of “that didn’t feel right”, “I’m not sure what happened”, “I don’t want to go back to that memory”, “I regret going to the hospital”, “I wished I hadn’t gone with the flow”. Often a traumatic birth can present itself as depression, anxiety, resentment, fears, flashbacks, parent challenges, and much more. This causes Black birthing people to feel unsafe, angry, frustrated, sad, and often scared to have another baby.

What do you do in every labour with your clients?

Every birth that I attend is unique and individual, so my role as a doula is to tune into my clients’ needs and discuss with them what they need. But I have a diverse tool kit that I have collected over the years from my experiences and my mentors’ that I use in labour. The most important element of how I prepare my clients is to create a safe and nurturing environment. I intuitively create these spaces by touching into the six senses – hearing, taste, sight, smell, touch, and extrasensory perception.

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Lastly, who is your Mother Muse?

My Mother Muse is my own mother, Lisa Doucet, a powerful, Black, single mother of six.

Kalifa provides a calm, perceptive and grounding presence in her work as a birth and postpartum doula. She values personal connection and takes the time to learn about her clients’ individual needs so she can help them feel prepared and informed as they explore new spaces around birth and parenting. Kalifa is committed to helping her clients find clarity amongst the abundance of choices that are available to them. She understands the challenge of navigating new experiences and reminds her clients to be gentle with the process of finding comfort in change.

Throughout Kalifa’s journey of self-education, health, and awareness where she discovered the many hurdles women face from pre-birth to postpartum stages in the birthing process. This journey shaped her belief in the importance of building a community where all people are valued for their choices and are given access to the type of support they need. Kalifa works with women in her Brooklyn community as a volunteer midwife assistant at Brooklyn Birthing Center (BBC). She also travels once a year to Bali to volunteer at Ubud Birthing Center Bumi Sehat. She fully believes in all of her clients and encourages them to trust themselves, connect to their bodies and use their breath as they make the transformation to becoming a parent.

On her spare time, she enjoys gardening at her community garden in Brooklyn, preparing plant-based meals that fully support the mind, body, soul and the planet, traveling the world to enhance her knowledge, riding around NYC on her motor scooter, and living a low-waste lifestyle.

Kalifa now lives in Melbourne, Australia to practice her Doula work and contribute to the community. For the passed few months Kalifa’s doula sister, Womb House have been talking about how we can best support this community, how they as doulas can instill confidence in the people they work with. They decided to put together a dinner offering, the ethos to build confidence and encourage birth people to trust themselves, connect to their bodies and use their breathing as they make the transformation to becoming a parent. This dinner is also a way in which they can start the process of initiating the village and connecting others in the community. They will be cooking a delicious nourishing 3 course plant based meal whilst having open discussion about birth and pregnancy, parenthood and confidence. They invite pregnant people to ‘Come Together Now’ and join them at the table. 


More details to come.

Contact Kalifa at The Earth Doula Here

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