Here’s How New Resource ‘Overdue’ Is Addressing Black Maternal Mortality Through a Virtual Doula

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The moment an expectant parent, particularly a first-time birthing person, finds out they’re with child, their mind starts flooding with questions. How do you find the right prenatal care practitioner? What pregnancy symptoms should you expect? What should you eat and forgo eating? The questioning is natural, however, Black expectant mothers have to navigate another unnerving one: Will they give birth and survive?

While maternal mortality affects women and birthing parents of all backgrounds, the rate is disheartening when it comes to Black women. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With data confirming that the pandemic has only worsened the maternal mortality rate for Black women, the root of the issue remains the same: racism and implicit racial bias. Though hard to prove, implicit racial bias — an unconscious attitude or assumption rooted in racial stereotypes — allows health care providers to dismiss any discomfort Black women encounter when laboring or assert dominance over them at their most vulnerable state, among other harmful acts. And this treatment leads to a number of childbirth issues, namely cesarean birth risks, like anesthesia complications, infection and hemorrhaging —all of which can have fatal results.

Abigail and Antonia Opiah, co-founders of Un-ruly, a hair-care site for Black women, decided to work on a solution. The sisters, both in their late 30s, partnered with Tomi Akitunde, founder ofmater mea, a premier destination for Black motherhood, and well-known children’s nutrition brand Gerber to createOverdue. Launched in September 2022, the online pregnancy and postpartum education platform for Black moms-to-be offers video and written content with Ebony Harvey, RN and birth doula.

Studies show that a doula, a trained professional who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to an expectant mother throughout the pregnancy, during labor, and after child birth, improves birth outcomes for pregnant and birthing people and their babies. According to a 2019 report by reproductive justice organization Village Birth International and Ancient Song Doula Services, in collaboration with Every Mother Counts, doula care for pregnant women means they are less likely to require a cesarean birth or use pain medication, and more likely to have a shorter labor and give birth spontaneously.

Providing expectant mothers with accessible information is key to tackling the maternal health crisis, says Antonia. "Overdue was built on the goal of giving women the insights that a doula would provide, in terms of how to navigate their pregnancy, and also how to navigate being in a hospital, if you choose a hospital birth," she says.

Harvey, who refers to herself as “your pregnancy bestie,” agrees, acknowledging that Black women can have a voice in how they decide to handle their birthing experience. “Overdue addresses Black maternal mortality by providing mothers and expecting mothers a place to gather information that they would have otherwise not been provided,” says the holistic fertility and birth doula. “The platform provides a space of joy, of peace, of calmness, while at the same time giving you education and information that can guide you through this journey."

Overdue provides content that speaks to each part of a birthing person’s journey—pregnancy, birth, and postpartum—so they have the tools and resources to have a safe and fulfilling experience at each milestone. In the opening video, moms-to-be meet Harvey, their virtual doula, who encourages them to be informed and empowered as they move through each trimester. The warm brown, cream, and green tones in the videos are mirrored throughout Overdue's platform, creating an aesthetically-pleasing and comfortable environment to learn at one’s own pace. Addressing topics like mind-body connection and self caredeveloping a birthing plan and teamstrategies to effectively advocate for yourself during labor, and postpartum healing, the platform leaves no birth topic untouched. In addition to the comfort and thorough information provided, another similarity to the support of an in-person doula is emotional reassurance. For instance, in the “Using Comfort Measures During Labor” video, Harvey walks expectant mother, Jeneize, and the viewer through several support and breathing techniques that can be used during labor and checks in with Jeneize by asking, “do those positions feel good for you?” and “you ready?” What’s missing in terms of the physical presence is accounted for in Harvey’s overall delivery, as well as Overdue’s extensive articles and guides.

This free, comprehensive resource fills an existing void in access to doula services. The price of doula services largely depends on a person’s location, but in big cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, it’ll cost families up to $2,500. In smaller locales, doulas charge around $800. Most insurance companies don’t cover the costs of doula services, leading moms-to-be to opt-out of exploring doula care altogether. However, eight states—Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia—and Washington, D.C provide Medicaid coverage for doula care. Six more states are expected to follow suit, but an accessible resource, like Overdue, means expectant parents don’t have to wait to make the best decision for the birthing parent and baby.

In its current state, Overdue has shown that Black birthing people have the agency to shape their pregnancy and childbirth, by giving tips (with no judgment) centering birth plans, comfort measures, and how to advocate for their own well-being. And the platform will continue to find ways to offer accessible material to guide them via both written and video content, as well as Instagram Live and Zoom conversations discussing all things prenatal and postpartum. Last year, they gifted doula services, totaling $4,000, to two women, allowing the women to select a doula in their area and choose the type of care that best fit their needs. Overdue plans to do the same in 2023.

“[Black people are] looking at their birth in a new way as a result of this content,” shares Antonia on the feedback Overdue has received via social media. “This project can give women an idea of birthing experiences that aren't traumatic; that are more than traumatic, they're enjoyable and positively memorable.”

This story is a part of Black [Well] Being, examining the state of Black health and well-being in the U.S.—and those working to change outcomes for the better. Click here to read more.

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