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Black Maternal Health Week Interview with Kadjah Torian


For Black Maternal Health Week, Action for Children was joined by Kadijah Torian, a certified doula and Ohio-based health advocate who currently serves as the Senior Manager of Pregnancy and Perinatal Supports at Celebrate One. In this conversation, Kadijah shares her insights into the role of doulas in the birthing process for Black women, the significance of Black maternal health from an advocacy perspective, as well as successes and areas of opportunity in Ohio regarding Black maternal health.

Watch the interview here or read along below!

Christiana: Thank you so much for joining us for our conversation on Black Maternal Health Week. I’m Christiana Sallard and I’m the Marketing and Communications Manager for Action for Children. Today we’re joined by a very special guest, Khadijah Torian. Khadijah is a certified doula and Ohio based health advocate and she currently serves as the Senior Manager of Pregnancy and Perinatal Supports at Celebrate One.

Khadijah, welcome.

Kadijah: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Christiana: Awesome. I’m excited to have you too. And so for those of you who may not be familiar with Black Maternal Health Week, this is a week long campaign and it’s founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The goal of this week is to really build awareness and activism, community building to amplify the voices, perspectives, and lived experiences of Black mamas and birthing people.

So throughout this week, we really take the time to highlight the issue of Black maternal and infant mortality, which is really disproportionately higher for Black moms and babies in Ohio. So we want to talk about that, what we’re doing to address it, and how we can move forward. And Khadijah, this is a really important conversation and I’m excited to be getting your perspective on it.

Kadijah: Thank you.

Christiana: Okay, so my first question for you is what does Black maternal health mean to you as a Black doula?

Kadijah: Black maternal health to me as a Black doula, is reproductive justice. It’s the centering of our Black mothers, our Black fathers, our families and stakeholders’ experiences inside and outside of health care systems.

It’s the collaboration and conversations, honestly, at the national level, all the way down to the county level, ensuring the quality of care for our Black birthing families.

Christiana: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic answer, and the quality of Black birthing care is so, so important. As a doula, can you tell me a little bit about what roles doulas play in the birthing process for Black women?

Kadijah: Yes. So a doula’s role is much more before the birthing process. They can serve a birthing person at the beginning as soon as they know that they are pregnant. They offer that continuous emotional, informational, physical, and advocacy care. So doulas offer a very proactive care to families versus the reactive at the end.

So that could be their birth date, plan, their postpartum plan, lactation education, and kind of the concerns and signs to look for during not only the birthing process, but the postpartum process in caring for their baby. With a doula, it has been shown, studies have shown that they are less, less likely to need or request any pain medication, have any interventions that aren’t medically necessary, or the need for Pitocin to jumpstart labor and delivery, and are highly, highly satisfied with their, their birthing experience overall.

Christiana: That’s amazing. And that’s a huge deal when it comes to the Black birthing process. I think there’s so much distrust in the medical field. And there’s so many experiences that Black women have had.

Kadijah: Yes, absolutely. And I say that all the time, like every, every person who wants a doula should be able to get one.

It’s like much more than, you know, just the fun stuff. Like let’s do a birth plan or what do you want in the birthing room? It’s like, what do you want to feel? You know, what does that look like? What does that feel like? When you’re feeling like this, you know, what is the way you cope with that?

And just giving them their options. There’s not just one way to give birth. And I don’t think a lot of families know that, especially not Black mothers and birthing people. So just having a doula laying out all their options with the pros and cons is helpful.

Christiana: That’s amazing. It’s such an important role.

So along with doulas, I wanted to hear from you, what are two wins that you are aware of in Ohio in regards to Black maternal health?

Kadijah: So the first win that I will mention for Ohio would be the Medicaid reimbursement for doulas. This is a huge win, honestly, because our underserved populations now get a chance to experience this. And there’s a like a myth that goes along with doulas where they think it’s a rich person thing, and doulas are not a rich person thing. It’s for everyone. Anyone can use one. The Medicaid reimbursement will allow doulas to begin to serve the underserved population and be reimbursed for serving these families at no cost to them. So that is a huge win.

Another one I would like to mention is Mama Certified. They help provide information to Black moms to make informed decisions about their birthing hospitals. And right now, Cincinnati has now gotten that certification as a Mama Certified. So I’m really excited about that.

It’s like the accountability measurement to how their staff is recruited and trained and what work they are doing with their community to sustain the increased maternal equity. And then also how are mom and baby treated pre- and post- birth. I think that’s really amazing.

And I know you said two wins, but I just wanted to mention our community based organizations who have home visiting programs or work with them. For instance, you guys at Action for Children’s home visiting program, ROOTT who is amazing and phenomenal with help serving, not only offering doulas to the community, but they also have a home visiting program.

And then there’s us at Celebrate One. We prioritize equity with our partners, ensuring that no matter the race, education, or income, each family deserves to celebrate their baby to the age of one. So connecting them to a home visiting programs just ensures the information that families get at the pregnancy level, because sometimes you think “home visiting doesn’t have to be at my home”, and it doesn’t. It’s very flexible and unique to the comfort level of the family. But also, you don’t have to have a baby to go through home visiting. No one knows that you can actually get served while you are pregnant there. And a lot of times these home visitors are actual social workers or nurses to come in and help parents’ concerns and hear them out and support them with additional resources.

Christiana: I am very passionate about the home visiting program at Action for Children as well, because like you said, it can start even when you’re pregnant and it goes through the baby’s first few years of life. And that’s so important to have that continuum, and a voice, and somebody who is listening to you and hearing your concerns and is able to help you through even after you have the baby — I think that can be some of the hardest times!

Kadijah: It is! As a mom of four, trust me, it’s hard. They’re eliminating those barriers, like you said, and hearing their voices. And it’s kind of like that middle ground where you’re not at their office, you know, they come to you. So it’s that option of having that that makes you comfortable.

Like, okay, you can come to me judgment free and you can help eliminate barriers or connect me to prenatal care, even if that’s something that I need. It’s really nice.

Christiana: Yeah, that space is so important too. I think being in a place that you feel is safe and not being asked to go to somebody’s office all the time… That, I think, makes a difference.

Kadijah: Huge, yeah, huge difference.

Christiana: So Khadijah, what is one thing, we’ve talked about two different wins in Ohio what is one thing that you think we should still be working towards or can still be working towards?

Kadijah: I think we could still work towards like integrating doulas and community health workers into the health care system.

We have began to do that. I know Nationwide Children’s Hospital now has community health workers during the prenatal care visits. So does OSU, but it’s still very new. We have many hospitals and I only named two of them! Getting having access to these important community members like doulas and community health workers will allow access to care early.

If they see that they’re part of the team, there isn’t a division. I think a lot of times it’s almost like, “Well, if I have a doula, do I still need to go to my prenatal care business with my OB or my midwife?” But doulas are complementing the healthcare system, not competing with them. So we have to get away from racism being embedded into healthcare systems by just offering all the options. It always goes back to informed decisions and informed refusals, giving families their choices — who can help and what is the help that each person offers. So just being better at adding the community to healthcare systems.

Christiana: I think it’s also really important for all of us to know that information. As advocates and allies, it’s important for us to know that and be able to share that message, too.

Thank you so much again for joining me for this really important conversation. I appreciate you being here today!

Action for Children is the local child care resource and referral agency for central Ohio, and is committed to assuring quality early learning experiences for all children. Our services focus on transforming the lives of children by supporting the everyday heroes who most influence our children’s early growth; care givers, educators, parents, and guardians. Learn More.

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