Isis Rose came to Champaign-Urbana in 2014 to pursue a PhD in sociocultural anthropology. That pursuit led her to what has now become not only her livelihood, but her passion. Her dissertation focused on birth work professionals in Louisiana; specifically how doulas intervene in the growing maternal health crisis for Black women. As part of her methodology, she actually went through doula training, and decided that was the work she needed to be doing. After working as a community based doula for Children’s Home and Aid, she decided to launch an independent business. On her website, she describes herself as a “full-spectrum doula, virtual doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist, cloth diaper enthusiast, supporter of the midwifery model of care, and a homebirth mama living in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.”
She also has a podcast, Homecoming, which features Black home birth stories, and she’s working towards becoming a home birth midwife.
Smile Politely: How do you train to become a doula?
Isis Rose: There are several doula training organizations. I’ve trained with multiple. I’ve trained with Doulas of North America which is largest organization, I’ve trained with the Matrona School of Midwifery, I’ve trained with Sista Midwife Productions; they all have a slightly different approach to their training. Each organization has its own certification process. Sometimes that looks like reading a handful of books and attending 5-10 births and then you’re a certified doula. It’s not hard to get into the profession. Birth happens every day, so finding participants to let you get your first birth under your belt; people are willing to do that and work with all experiences levels I’ve found.
SP: What do you think is the most important service doulas can provide?
Rose: Because we’re offering non-medical support, the best thing we do is listen to parents and validate their concerns. A lot of folks are recognizing now that those 10-15 minute interactions with their provider isn’t really enough to answer questions they might have about birth, or if they’re seeking alternatives or more natural approaches to birth; those things aren’t usually discussed in clinical settings. I think doulas are really resources to your own understanding about childbirth, and what you actually want for your birth…just being a sounding board for your fears and your concerns, helping you to build your confidence. There’s this saying that “doulas don’t advocate.” I think people have this vision that we’re going to come in and put our arm up when the provided grabs an instrument or something. We actually hold space, we don’t usually intervene on behalf of our client. We give them tools so they can intervene on their own behalf. They can have a set of birth preferences, and they can go in and feel like they can have those conversations with their provider and not shirk or shy away. It’s giving parents the tools that they need to make the best decisions for their family.
SP: What can mothers expect when they enlist your services?
Rose: It really depends on what they’re looking for. The types of services I offer are the standard birth and postpartum doula services which include several prenatal sessions to address your concerns about birth, what you see as your birth preferences, how to realize the vision you have for your birth. I also offer childbirth education, I do placenta encapsulation (you can read more about that here), I offer babywearing and cloth diaper education. Education is very important to me. When it comes to the actual birth; my birth care has to look a little different in light of COVID-19. Hospitals still haven’t changed their visitation policies around who can be in the room. In the past I would’ve accompanied you and your partner to the hospital. Now, if you don’t have a partner I can go with you, but if you have a partner I assist virtually. I’m willing to flexible. I practice good hygiene, I do my PPE…I’m still serving families and will happily take more clients.
SP: I know you’ve done work surrounding Black maternal health. What should we know that maybe we aren’t aware of?
Rose: Around the time I got deeply into my work was the time that disparities in maternal health started to become more widely understood. Most people who are invested in birth in some way know that Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy and birth related causes than white women. My whole thing has been to try to move away from that narrative. I don’t want to contribute to the fear or sense of gloom and doom that new mothers face. That’s why I created the podcast, because I wanted to show people that yes birth is crazy for all people — one in three people experience birth trauma — and that likelihood is going to go up if you’re a Black woman. However there are so many of us that are having beautiful birth stories and those stories don’t get told. Yes, the disparities are real. There are several organizations that are doing really great work to create policies and to get legislators to pass laws to get the government to look into maternal mortality rate (Black Mamas Matter is one). There’s an obstetrician, Joia Creer Perry, who I follow pretty heavily, who considers herself to be a reproductive justice obstetrician. Her whole thing is getting people to understand that these disparities have nothing to do with race; meaning that although Black women across class, across education status are more likely to die from birth and pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s because we are African American. It has nothing to do with our race or ethnicity…it’s not really race, it’s racism that creates these problems and sustains them. I think that’s why so many Black women are turning to home birth, because they know they’re not going to be given the level of care they deserve in the hospital. Some folks say Black women don’t get prenatal care, or we don’t eat well, or we don’t exercise, and in most cases that’s not true, because when we do those things, our mortality rates and morbidity rates are still disproportionately higher.
SP: Anything else you want to make sure people know?
Rose: I invite people to reach out to me. I’ve found that in the birth community here in Champaign-Urbana, it’s kind of difficult to connect with other moms of color, especially Black moms, and so I want to create a sense of community for moms who might be experiencing similar things, or might not feel comfortable or confident moving in spaces where they’re not the majority. I want folks to be open to doula services, and be on the lookout for upcoming online content I’m going to be producing. I hosted an event in the spring called Birthing While Black, so I’m really hoping to create a series of webinars for folks to attend to give out free information.