How a Founder of a Doula Company Is Empowering Black Women to Stand Up For Themselves
"We cannot talk about changing systems...without changing the medical system as well."
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
Long before Tracie Collins became the CEO and founder of the National Black Doulas Association, an organization helping connect Black birthing families with Black doulas around the country, she was a 9-year-old in San Francisco taking acting lessons. “That was my first introduction into the arts and it forever changed me,” the now-45-year-old tells HelloGiggles.
Later, as she worked in the media and film industry producing shows and other projects, she also became a trained doula. Eventually, she transitioned into homebirth midwifery and became one of the only two Black doulas and homebirth midwives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then in 2017, she retired from helping with homebirths and founded the National Black Doulas Association to help combat America’s Black maternal death rate by ensuring Black women knew their birthing options, whether that meant the comfort of their home or the hospital.
Looking back, Collins says that switching gears in her career was fueled by her desire to help other Black women feel empowered; according to her, there’s never been a fair representation of Black women in leadership roles in the birthing world.
“America, and in the birth world, has been the foundation of showing Black women in death and despair,” Collins says. “And as a result, we have been dying. I want to not only change the color of birth in the birth industry but also be among the Black women that help to change the world for the better overall through my gifts and talents. I try to do that with the utmost integrity, honesty, respect, and by giving us the deserving opportunity to shine.”
This means Collins shows up every, day regardless of how she feels. “It’s not about me. It’s way bigger [than me],” Collins explains. “I know my purpose here on Earth is to empower all women, but first and foremost, Black women because I am one.”
For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Collins to learn more about her journey with midwifery, her go-to self-care rituals, and how she suggests Black women advocate for themselves in medical centers.
HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with midwifery impacted your mental health?
Tracie Collins (TC): I would like to say it’s been wonderful, but the truth of the matter, it has been the absolute most draining work outside of motherhood. But I have been blessed to meet amazing people along the way.
HG: What are some practices or regimens you’d suggest Black women do if they feel like their pregnancies are becoming overwhelming?
TC: Breathe deep and breathe often. Black women overall statistically have been proven to not stop and breathe. Give your body the deep oxygenated blood that it so deeply needs and desires. It helps to reduce stress and we know that the way stress shows up in Black bodies is way different than in other races, especially living here in America. We live in a constant state of being hypervigilant. Stress shows up in weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, hypertension, and so on and so forth.
Also, seek therapy even when you “feel” okay. A check-up from the neck up is imperative to healthy living.
Also, the access to nutritious foods. That is a proven fact that in our communities, access to this basic human right can be a challenge. If so, find a community farm in your area. [Look for] local food banks or local colleges that help support the community through nutrition. There are community resources out there and there is absolutely no shame in seeking the right help to sustain and feed your family.
HG: What do you wish people understood about the Black maternal mortality rate in America, especially when it comes to the disparity compared to other races, classes, and income levels?
TC: Western medicine, speaking strictly about the beginnings of obstetrics in the country, was stolen from Black midwives and the capitalization of the white patriarchy that we still experience today in this society. Case in point, Dr. James Marion Sims was considered the father of modern-day obstetrics who practiced his techniques on enslaved women without anesthetics because he said that Black women don’t feel pain. This psychology still exists.
Western medicine has literally made millions off the cells of Black women, like Henrietta Lacks. Americans need to do their research to understand why iatrophobia [the fear of going to the doctor] is so prevalent among Black people when it comes to Western medicine. There is no good history there. We cannot talk about changing systems, such as redlining, education, policing, the prison and judicial system, and banking without changing the medical system as well. That goes from medical teaching and training institutions to hospital policy and procedures.
Black people do feel pain and feel it just as intense as any other person experiencing any form of discomfort. Our voices need to be heard and respected. We’ve lived in our bodies our entire lives just as you have. The medical system, just like many infrastructures of the country, is still steeped heavily in the psychology of slavery.
In Western medicine, one’s class and status does not matter. When you’re Black, that’s all they see.
HG: As a midwife and doula, how do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies to feel more connected to themselves, especially during pregnancy?
TC: Connect to the elements, like taking walks barefoot in the grass. Get outside and get some vitamin D. Turn off the TV. It’s called programming for a reason. Do things that bring you joy. Things that make you laugh. Try to reduce your overhead. We spend too much money on “things” we don’t need. Invest that into your wellness and you will find that oftentimes, those are free or low-cost.
Journal writing is so important and healing. The more you write, the more you will realize what you have to say.
If you have a partner, hopefully, there is great love and respect there, as well as trust and intimacy. If so, have great, mind-blowing sex. If not, self-pleasure helps to reduce stress just as well.
Get near water if you can. And say “no” to the things that do not serve you or your ultimate goal and purpose in life.
HG: What form of community care do you suggest Black pregnant women to gravitate toward?
TC: Try to find others who are going through the same thing that you are at the same time. One of the blogs that I love, created by Shanicia Boswell, Black Mom’s Blog, is a great way to connect to other Black birthing and parenting women. Create your own meet-up. I know in today’s time, due to COVID-19, socializing can be difficult, so get creative and make it fun.
HG: As the CEO and founder of NBDA, how have you been trying to support the community during this time?
TC: By continuing to educate and empower more and more people, regardless of skin color. Yet, still by shining the light on us. If each one teaches one, the better off we’ll be for it. Considering that the information shared isn’t harmful or disparaging, people need to stop being selfish with information. It’s meant to be shared. Information is not ours to keep. It does no one any good that way.
HG: How do you encourage Black women advocate for themselves when dealing with the medical system?
TC: Get a doula. Go to doctors or practitioners that listen to you and respect your voice. Have someone with you that can help you advocate, like your partner. Do not be afraid to ask questions and as many as you need to until you understand what is being recommended.
Just because they suggest something doesn’t always mean it is the right thing for you. Know your rights as a patient. Connect with the patient’s advocate department in the hospitals. They all have them. Use them. They are there for you. Also, ask for documentation. If you make a request and it is being ignored and or not acknowledged, have them write your request down in front of you with their name, role/position, with the date and time, [and] also, that they are denying your request.
This creates a paper trail. Once they realize what you are doing, you’ll see action. Repeat this process if necessary. And do not be afraid to ask for their superior or someone until you get someone who will listen.
We have to stop being afraid of the white coats, like doctors. They are there to work and support you. Not the other way around. The right practitioner will know and understand that this is a team effort and they will work as such.
HG: Are there any products you’ve been gravitating toward lately for your self-care routine?
TC: I don’t really use products. I drink a lot of water, all day every day. I put things on my skin that can be used in the kitchen. I get a sufficient amount of sleep every night.
I say “no” to the things that don’t serve me. And I try to spend time doing nothing. We have glorified that busy work is being productive. But rest is where the real productivity lays. Through proper rest, you think clearly. You breathe better. You can hear your spirit guide more clearly. It’s not in the busy work. That is yet another lie this society sold us.
HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you joy?
TC: Drinking my morning cup of coffee. Playing with my turtle. Laughing and spending quality time with my honey. Having great relationships with each of my children. Getting in my new garden and planting my food. And when we resume some sense of normalcy, travel! Oh, and great sex! Can’t forget that!