The Buncombe County section in the May Urban News has a story written by Lisa Eby and myself about an inspiring group of African American women who are becoming neighborhood-based doulas. It was such a treat to get to meet Nikita Smart, Asheville is lucky to have her. Here’s the text:

A new initiative is tipping the scales in a positive direction for babies in Buncombe County.

Last fall, a group of six women, all residents of either Pisgah View Apartments (PVA) or Hillcrest Apartments, began the process to become certified as doulas. A doula is trained professional who provides support to a mother before, during, and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve a healthy and positive birth experience. Some of the things a doula may do are:

 check in with you after your medical appointment to see how things went
 answer your call when you are worried about something
 troubleshoot with you on ways you can get more comfortable sleep at the end of pregnancy.
 talk to you on the phone when you start feeling contractions to help you figure out if this is labor
 suggest different ideas throughout your labor to help you get more comfortable

Nikita Smart took the lead in bringing together women in her community to become trained as doulas after Homegrown Babies came to PVA to talk about ways to improve childbirth. She explored what it meant to be a doula and returned to Homegrown Babies to start the training process. She saw it as a strategy to address infant mortality rates for African Americans. In Buncombe County, African American babies die at three times the rate of white babies. “I realized that a doula can help you when you’re missing something, to kind of give you that extra ‘Hey you can do this, I’m here to help, we can do this natural and safe and everybody’s gonna be ok.’”

Doula Training

Pictured L-R: Melissa Baker, Nikita Smart, Cindy Smart, Wakina Norris, Chelsea Norris, Melissa Harris, Opelou Mustakem, Chama Woydak. Photo by Destinee Blau.

Other leaders at the center of this effort of the BCBSBF Community Centered Home Health ‘Mother to Mother’ Team are: Cindy Smart, Wakina Norris, Chelsea Norris, and Opelou Mustakem.

The doula training began with a baby class, followed by three-day intensive training in the PVA Community Center. “Everything since then has been hands on in the delivery room,” Nikita says. “We have to attend three births from beginning until end before we can become certified and one of them has to be a C-section.” The certification process also includes a final paper about what they have learned. Members of the group are currently working with expectant mothers from the YWCA MotherLove Program and MAHEC. Before long they will be assisting their neighbors and others in the community.

Having doulas that are a part of the community is important. “I know the stories, because they’re my community,” Nikita states. I tell my neighbors, “I’m here to help. I’m here to do something with your story, to help make your story different, whatever that looks like for you.”

“We’ve also done a breastfeeding peer counseling class,” Nikita adds. “There are five of us that are breastfeeding peer counselors now. Now with my neighbors I’m like, ‘I won’t tell you that you can’t bottle feed, but if you let me show you the differences, I promise you you’ll breast feed.’”

Another positive outcome of the training is the bonds that have formed. “We support each other. People that didn’t know each other before have become friends, because we’ve shared that classroom space and now you’re sharing this experience of going through the training. You grow friends and family from it.”

Neighborhood-based doulas are a critical link in the resource grid. “What you have to realize is that with these communities, there are resources outside, but if there’s nobody inside to tell you where and what they are, then a lot of people have no clue that they even exist.” Of our group of doulas-in-training Nikita says, “I want people in the community to know that we’re here, that we are a resource. We’re here and we’re here to stay and to help.”

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The Asheville Citizen-Times also ran a nice story about this initiative. Click here to read.