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In a push to reduce maternal mortality, Virginia is expanding access to doulas

Medicaid will cover services for low-income families
The decision makes Virginia one of just a handful of states to implement the policy, which...
The decision makes Virginia one of just a handful of states to implement the policy, which officials hope to have in place by spring of 2022.
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 9:15 AM EST
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Kali King could sense something was wrong during her last pregnancy. She had gone into labor, but when she went into the hospital on a Sunday, her cervix wasn’t dilating. She wanted to see her OB-GYN the next day, but one of the doctors there was insistent she could wait until Thursday for a check-up.

“She dismissed me,” said King, who lives with her family in Northern Virginia. “But I kept telling her something didn’t feel right.” She followed her gut and went to see her regular doctor the very next day. At the appointment, King learned almost all the amniotic fluid around her baby had disappeared.

Her doctor sent her back to the hospital for an induction, and her son, Noah, was born hours later. But for King, it was only the most recent experience of feeling ignored during her pregnancy. Noah was her sixth baby, and she told her husband he was going to be her last. The experience also spurred her to make another big decision — becoming a certified doula to support other mothers through their pregnancies.

“I just didn’t want that to happen to anyone else,” she said. “As a Black woman, when we go into these spaces, we’re always dismissed. There’s always a sense of, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t know your own body.’”

Amid what some public health experts have described as a crisis in maternal mortality, Virginia is leaning on providers like King to reverse a concerning trend. Earlier this year, the General Assembly expanded Medicaid to cover the services of doulas, who provide advice and support to families during pregnancy. The decision makes Virginia one of just a handful of states to implement the policy, which officials hope to have in place by spring of 2022.

Doulas are frequently seen as a frontline defense in the fight to improve outcomes for people who are pregnant. Over the last 25 years, rates of maternal mortality have risen across the U.S., even as medical science continues to advance. In Virginia, rates rose from roughly 7.5 per 100,000 live births in 1982 to 16 per 100,000 in 2018, according to data from the state Department of Health and the March of Dimes. The risk is notably and disproportionately higher for Black individuals, who are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as someone who is White.

For Black mothers, the troubling statistics are all too real. During her final pregnancy, King learned a high school friend and her cousin-in-law had both died during or shortly after childbirth. Dae Adamson, another doula based in Roanoke, miscarried early into her own first pregnancy after multiple doctors refused to give her an ultrasound — even when she told them something felt wrong.

READ MORE ON VIRGINIAMERCURY.COM >>>>

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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