The following is an excerpt from an interview with Johari Wisdom, a doula and student midwife who participated in HC One’s Regional Meeting in Tupelo, Mississippi on August 15, 2013:
My name is Johari Wisdom, and I am a doula who works out of the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area.
I am on this group in Facebook called “Doulas of Color,” and Sister Tikvah came on there one day and she posted that there would be a regional meeting, HealthConnect One’s Regional Meeting, in August. Tupelo isn’t really that far. I was like, “This seems like something that I’m interested in, or something that I could at the very least get resources and information and education to bring back to my community.”
It was also an opportunity to go on a road trip ‘cause I like traveling. I like going new places.
I had never been to an intimate type meeting like that. I usually go to big conferences and seminars, so I’ll be honest and say that my expectations were on the conference or seminar level, and when I got there and realized it would be a closer-quarters type meeting and there were maybe a dozen or two women in the room at most, I had to shift my expectations: This isn’t a big huge networking event like I’m used to, but instead a chance to know people by name.
I’m a relatively new doula – I haven’t been doing this for very long. I would be able to meet women who have been doing this for years and years. Even though every birth working culture is different in every city, every state, every community, I feel like there’s always something that can be drawn from other people’s experience. That was my general expectation, that I would meet people from different areas and not just Mississippi.
It was really enlightening to me, because I am the only Black doula in Baton Rouge. I found that it was helpful to meet with other Black women who are doing the same work that I am, trying to go out into the Black community and find and discover ways to bring this information and knowledge to Black women where it’s not readily available to them as it is to White women – and I found that the information and the tips they gave me really, really helped. I have a better understanding about how to approach my sisters in the community instead of just going about it in a way that isn’t – how would they say? – culturally competent, I guess.
DONA International does one type of training that’s totally different from The International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC). It really is a different approach that you have to take. You wouldn’t approach a White woman the same way you would a Black woman or a Latina woman or an Asian woman.
I met some really, really awesome ladies there that have worked with a lot of different women, across all different types of communities and cultures, and I was able to draw from that experience to where I didn’t feel like I was approaching it in a sanitized way of, “I’m a doula” when in my community, women don’t know what a doula is.
You often hear them talking about: “I’m gonna go schedule my induction.” That just drives me crazy as a doula because I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s not how you do things,” with a general mindset that I know better. But I’ll admit I’m kinda young and I’m new to this, so I have to find that bridge between “I know better and I know how you do things” and the way you approach people with, “Let me show you better” without coming off as somebody that’s overbearing or not really having their best interests at heart.
I was able to draw from some of those women in that room because they’ve worked with teenage mothers; they’ve worked with homeless mothers; they’ve worked with all type of women in all type of conditions and settings and communities and it was really helpful to me to pick from the part of their experience that I thought was most relevant to me and just piece it together. So I really liked that. I’m able to go out there with a different mindset that I feel works better than it did before I went to the conference.
What stood out for me was the overall feeling of genuine sisterhood and really wanting to do the jobs that we’re there for, because some women see being a doula as trending or faddish, or they see that as a job in terms of, “I’m gonna do this birth and I’m gonna get five to seven hundred dollars off it. Then I’m gonna go to the next birth.” And it’s not really any connection with the women you’re working with or any type of real attachment to what you’re doing and the people you’re working with. A lot of women don’t really see other women as individuals with their own experiences and their own stories, and their own way of going about things that you don’t necessarily have the right to change or interrupt, but just show them how to do it better or be more of a guide.
Not everybody’s going to think the same; not everybody’s going to do things the same.
I do notice in the doula community, there’s a very big push, and strong push towards, “We should all have our babies at home – we shouldn’t go to the hospital,” and me, personally? That’s not where I’m coming from and that’s not why I’m doing it. I personally feel that wherever a woman feels safest and most comfortable and that she’s in the most control of herself, and her birth and her body, that’s where she should be able to give birth. So if that’s in a birthing center or a hospital or her home or wherever else, that’s where she should be able to give birth.
The women there were like, “I work with teenage moms and this is her second baby and maybe she’s having a c-section but I’m still gonna be her doula.” I found that to be very, very empowering and fascinating – that it wasn’t a narrow-mindedness towards, “You have to have a natural birth” and “You have to have your baby at home or you’re just not birthing right.” I really appreciated that that was the energy in the room: It’s about the mother, about taking care of the mother and her baby, and making sure that mama and baby and the family is healthy – not so much towards what type of birth you’re having.
If the mother is healthy, if the baby is healthy, and she is satisfied with her birth experience, then it’s not my place – or anybody else’s place – to push their own personal views off on her. I wanna have my children at home, completely natural, no nothin’, all of that stuff, but I realize not every woman thinks like that. I really appreciated that it was that energy towards, “We’re going to take care of the mother. We’re going to take care of the baby. We’re going to make sure that she’s happy and comfortable and empowered in her pregnancy and her birthing experience and hope that she carries that over into other parts of her life” – instead of focusing on, “She needs to have a natural birth.”
It’s very hard to break ground because a lot of times, I’m just looked at as Johari the Crazy Doula Lady because they’re like, “What’s a doula? I don’t even know what that is.” They’re not really interested in it because they don’t know anybody who’s ever had that – or – I won’t say that because Tia and Tamera had a doula on their reality show. I’m getting those responses now: “Oh, Tia and Tamera had that!” I can work with that. I don’t want them to have the perception that it’s some glitzy celebrity type thing, but if you feel empowered enough that you’re feeling like a celebrity during your birth or after your birth, then hey – we can go with that. That works.
Every day is an adventure.
Johari Wisdom is a doula, a student midwife and a student herbalist living and working in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area – and surrounding parishes. She’s looking for pregnant women, and clients to work with prenatally. You can reach her on Facebook at “Johari Wisdom” or by email at email@example.com. If you have questions or need somebody to talk something through with you, she offers consultation free of charge.
HealthConnect One hosts another regional meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Thursday, October 17th.
For more information, please click here.