The first World Doula Day took place in Israel on March 22, 2011. Ruti Karni Horowitz, a leading birth activist, suggested that CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association) join the project. The celebratory week intends to empower contemporary doulas worldwide who improve the overall wellbeing of women, newborns and families in the birth and postpartum period. World Doula Week is a seven day celebration taking place between March 22nd-28th. Spring (Vernal) Equinox falls on March 19th this year. The Spring Equinox represents fertility in countless cultures. It is the New Year holiday in the Assyrian, Indian, and Persian calendars.
Fertility is not solely related to the womb space and parenthood. We are all Creators. Celebration of growth, healing, or Rebirth can be experienced globally in all forms. Holi, or the Festival of Colors, is an ancient Hindu festival, originating in India and Nepal. The end of winter represents the victory of good over evil. Participants begin with a bonfire the night before and wake up to dance in the streets; tossing vibrant powders into the sky. The Festival of Isis was held in Ancient Egypt as a celebration of rebirth. The story of Isis’ rising the Nile River with her grieving tears ultimately features the resurrection of her lover, Osiris. In Iran, the celebration of No Ruz begins with lots of cleaning, repairing old broken items, repainting homes, and planting fresh flowers. The phrase “No Ruz,” means “New Day.” Each of these traditions honor a common theme of revitalization and overcoming challenging seasons.
Birthwork history in America
The word doula is of Greek origin and translates to handmaiden or servant. The term has evolved to include midwives, lactation consultants, childbirth educators and full-spectrum birthworkers. A doula is a non-medical assistant experienced with and knowledgeable about childbirth. They provide holistic physical, emotional, and informational support to birthing people, parents and family members during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. During American chattel slavery, African midwives were the primary source of care for other African mothers and white mothers alike.
“One of the darkest moments in US history was the systematic eradication of the African American midwife from her community, resulting in a legacy of birth injustices.”–Shafia M. Monroe, DEM, CDT, MPH
In the mid to late 1700s, obstetrics and gynecology was violently introduced by James Marion Sims who performed public operations on enslaved women without anesthesia. These nonconsensual experiments named Sims “the father of gynecology.” By the early 1800s, Black midwives were eventually replaced by white male physicians. There has been a recent resurgence in Black Birthwork as statistics reveal disproportionate mortality rates of Black parents and infants during labor and delivery. Black mothers in the U.S. are dying at three to four times the rate of white mothers with the same conditions. It is the mission of the modern birthworker to provide improved awareness to families in an effort to reduce these alarming disparities.
“The terms midwife, granny-midwife, and granny were used to describe traditional Black midwives, who were well respected by their community and who still attended up to 75% of births in the 1940s in the Southeastern United States.”– Cara Terreri CD (DONA), LCCE
Organizations have planted seeds and sprouted globally in solidarity for inclusively accessible childbirth care that individually prioritize reproductive justice. These include, but are not limited to: Ububele Educational & Psychotherapy Trust, DONA International, Mama Sana Vibrant Woman ATX, Re+Birth Equity Alliance, BORN INTO THIS, Sista Midwife Productions, National Black Doula Association, Birth Advocacy Doula Training, MamaGlow, Sister Song, National Association to Advance Black Birth and Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
Recent studies unveil that continuous support during labor and childbirth improve outcomes with, “labor 25% shorter, the use of analgesia and epidural pain relief 60% less, and the Caesarean section rate reduced by half.” Doula support can increase breastfeeding initiation and continuation, reduce the incidence of postpartum mood disorders and increase new parents’ confidence in newborn care. Doulas encourage deep-rooted family foundation with non-judgmental advocacy and patient-centered involvement throughout the birthing process. Pregnancy and parenthood can be a grueling experience without accessible agency, local mutual aid, and trusted village members to share the responsibility of raising the child(ren). World Doula Week reminds us to accept solidarity with women, parents, and children by honoring their power and creating safe spaces for diverse birthing instances.