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Pregnancy can be a wonderful time, but it can also be fraught with uncertainty and anxiety – especially for black women, who have three times the maternal mortality rate of white women.

For more support, a growing number of black mothers-to-be are recruiting birth guides – a type of professional labor assistant who supports birthing parents and their partners throughout the pregnancy and birth process.

For the birth guide and mom of six Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of Gusong Guide Services in New York City, discovering a guide and using one during her first pregnancy 13 years ago changed the trajectory of her life forever.

“Coming from a place where I lost my mom when I was 14, I didn’t have anyone to ask any questions to,” Porchia-Albert tells Yahoo Life. Fortunately, she happened to attend a natural birth expo and “found a black midwife and conductor there” when they were shocked to even exist.

“Everything I saw was from a historical perspective,” she recalls. “Black midwives have been centered on black births and their experiences while being enslaved by the plantation and really supporting families. I don’t know that we still do that, and [midwives] are like, ‘We’re still here.'”

After her successful birth, Porchia-Albert was inspired to learn more about guided births and how they can enhance the birth experience for others. Then, on the advice of her own birth team, Porchia-Albert attended a doula training session, which she says completely changed her perspective on birthing methods.

“It wasn’t just that I was being trained. I was sitting in a moment of remembrance of who I am and what it means to have a supportive community – and that training was completely transformative,” she says.

Back in 2008, Porchia-Albert founded Ancient Song Doula Services, an international doula certification organization dedicated to reducing infant mortality and maternal morbidity by helping families make informed care decisions. In addition to training doulas, the organization provides support to expectant parents during pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period, and even provides aftercare for families who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth.

During this week – Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17) – it’s important to remember that even high-profile black women like Serena Williams have had near-death experiences during childbirth because doctors often ignore their concerns.

Porcia-Albert says, “The system has never really been there for us to support us.” He points out that one only has to look at the history of inequality in the health care system to understand why some black women must take extra steps to feel safe. “Before, we couldn’t even get into the hospital. So we’re thinking about desegregation, and you say now you can get into these spaces, but the people there have never really been taught to care about what it means to be a black body.”

“I began to see the treatment of black births and black women in the birth process. The way racism plays a role in our birth outcomes. The way our bodies don’t focus or our voices aren’t heard. I want to create the same energy, warmth and joy that I felt when I experienced it. I think a lot of times we are looking for our purpose in life. That’s my purpose,” says Porchia-Albert, who remembers how her own guide music listened to her concerns and was innately aligned with the cultural dynamics and experiences that came with her birth experience as a black woman.

Now, when she receives her own new clients, she makes sure to listen to them – taking into account their histories, including possible substance abuse issues and past sexual trauma – so she can provide support tailored specifically to the birthing person. Her mission is to create a safer, more equitable birthing experience for the people she works with, as well as for her own family.

Porcia-Albert says, “I want my children to grow up in a space where they feel they have the tools necessary to make their own reproductive choices.” For me, it just comes from ancestry and from the highest place.”


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