I’m often asked if there are doulas in Uganda. The answer has always been, of course. The truth is in my eight years with our NGO Village Birth International, I never saw a woman that was specifically hired to be a labor support “coach.” I saw family. I saw sisterhood. I saw communities coming together in support of mothers. I witnessed how integral women were to the village and, in turn, how the village surrounded and supported the life of a new mother. What I witnessed was what I believe has always been there: women supporting women during birth. Yes, doulas. Our iteration of a doula in the US, I believe, is something we’ve had to recreate in modern society in response to the medicalization and management of birth. We are needed more than ever, but in order to understand our role here, we must also understand and connect back to women’s history, where we come from, and the role we’ve always had as women — the keepers of birth.
In a few days, I will be returning to Gulu, Uganda to meet with our Ugandan team of midwives and take the next steps toward Village Birth International’s Mobile Midwifery Clinic. We have been dedicated to working alongside our sister-midwives to improve birth outcomes in their community and create greater access to midwifery care through long term partnerships. As I reflect on the years and the steadfast work that have led up to this trip, my heart is deeply grateful for how much I’ve learned from my partner, Florence Ochitti.
Time and time again I am brought back to the truth that unconditional support is a universal need. As I explore my own role as a doula and as an activist in the American maternity system, I feel strongly that unconditional support is also at the root of humanizing birth. We must have the ability to see and hear each other. Really see and hear each other. The act of humanizing birth opens up endless possibilities for an individual’s capacity to be present and bear witness to birth. To humanize birth means to dissolve the perception of separation between each human being present at a birth. One of the greatest gifts that I have learned from my work with Ugandan midwives and women is the power of functioning as a collective whole. While we focus so intently on serving each individual need here in the US, that focus can sometimes move us away from considering our personal relationship to the health of the larger community. This singular focus can, perhaps, even take us away from recognizing that in order to thrive as individuals, we must first return to thriving as community.
I move forward in this work with a deep sense of gratitude for my own village, the mothers and families I’ve been blessed to support, as well as the global village of sisterhood that I have learned from and been inspired by over the years. I am honored to be traveling with our family’s midwife and my teacher, Memaniye Cinque of Dyekora Sumda Midwifery, and Chanel Porchia of Ancient Song Doula Services. Together we will listen to the women in Gulu and the surrounding villages, solidify our team, and take the next steps toward developing our mobile midwifery clinic.
Every donation has brought us closer to our goal and we are so thankful. Please join our global initiative for humane birth and consider a donation today. We leave tomorrow! Our campaign will run through the end of September.
Please click here to learn more about Village Birth International’s campaign.
Founder, Village Birth International