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How Somali Doulas promotes positive birthing experience through education, respect, and empowerment

Representatives from Somali Doulas with RVC’s Capacity Building Director April Nishimura. L to R: Fatuma Mohamud, Somali Doulas Executive Director Faisa Farole, April Nishimura,  and Zuleka Ali.

By Rainier Valley Corps

When a young Gambian couple learned that they were pregnant and expecting their first child, they were elated. They met Somali Doulas and connected with their doula, Faisa Farole, a person who would help them from their second trimester of pregnancy to their child’s first birthday.

Unfortunately, things did not always go according to plan during labor. The mother experienced an unusually high level of pain, and Faisa was also concerned that the labor was progressing unusually fast.

“There is normal birth pain, and then there is suffering,” said Faisa. “I know what suffering looks like and unfortunately, the woman was suffering. And with each birth, we want it to be a happy, joyful experience, because how a birth goes, especially the first birth, will affect the mother and child for the rest of their lives.”

When Faisa suggested pain medication to the young mother, she refused — which initially confused Faisa.

A Partnership

Supporting a woman’s birth process can be complicated when unexpected issues arise. An experienced doula can be a pivotal and positive force in a woman’s birth though.

Somali Doulas (SD), a community-based organization, provides high quality doula services, focusing on emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. Simply put, the goal of a doula is to help in experiencing the healthiest, most satisfying birth experience possible.   

SD is an Operations Support Program partner of Rainier Valley Corps. This means we provide back office and administrative support to smaller community-based and grassroots organizations, in order to free up some of their bandwidth so that they can focus more on their mission-oriented work uplifting communities of color. Some of the operations that RVC provide relief for include payroll, HR, legal compliance, insurance, and financial management.

Somali Doulas

Somali Doulas Executive Director Faisa Farole

Faisa is the executive director at Somali Doulas, and she wants the organization to “educate, respect, and empower low-income, refugee, and immigrant women, and their families during pregnancy, birth, and into early parenting.”

Their vision: To give women the choice to birth intuitively.

Somali Doulas takes great pride in caring for their clients through community-based doulas services. Not only are they advocates for low-income, refugee, and immigrant women, but they use culturally-sensitive programs to remove barriers by providing culturally competent links from community to the health care system. This welcoming and thoughtful approach has shown to improve observed parental sensitivity, parent’s knowledge of the child’s social and emotional needs, and child welfare outcomes, such as lowering the number of foster care placements.

Somali Doulas strives to provide a multitude of services. The two major programs that the organization offers include the Community-based Doula Program and the Birth Doula Program. The former offers evidence-based perinatal education and support services to low-income women from second trimester of pregnancy to the baby’s first birthday, while the latter program is offered to any women seeking short-term doulas services, from the third trimester of pregnancy to three months postpartum.

What’s great is that both programs are eligible for free social services. Faisa adds that in addition to Somali Doulas’ two programs, services also include “lactation support, childbirth education classes, parenting classes, and conscious fathering classes.” With these offerings, Somali Doulas wants to create a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of new mothers and their families, which ultimately will lower the risk of infant mortality and early childhood abuse and neglect.

The organization also strives to limit medical interventions and the costs of perinatal care, provide educational support surrounding pregnancy, birth options, and positive early parenting, and increase personal advocacy skills, helping new mothers to be confident advocates for their children and families.

This is what Faisa provided to the young Gambian couple. She sensed a lot of fear and apprehension coming from the mother who was in labor. Faisa then took the time to talk with the mother to understand where the fear was coming from.

Faisa learned that the mom was afraid because she was misinformed. A well-meaning relative had told her that getting an epidural could potentially cripple her.

Once Faisa understood the obstacle, she gave the young mother a clear and informative explanation of the benefits of pain management during birth and also on how safe the process and procedure is.

Following the discussion, the mother agreed to an epidural without hesitation — and she gave birth to her baby a few hours later. To this day, the mom gives credit to Faisa and Somali Doulas for her successful birth!

An Advocate for Mothers

Doulas Zuleka Ali and Fatuma Mohamud

Somali Doulas is part of a coalition called “All Doulas of Washington,” and are pushing to have Medicaid cover the services that organizations like Somali Doulas provide.

“We lobbied this legislative session because the governor had included in his proposed budget doula services this year,” said Faisa.

We asked why this was particularly important to Faisa and the organization, and she said, “This is especially important for our clientele as they can’t afford out of pocket doula services and yet they need these services the most.”

Faisa is happy to announce that about a month ago, she learned that the budget has passed and it’s currently waiting for the signature of the governor.

In response to RVC’s role in Somali Doulas’ mission to reach out to underserved communities, she states, “It’s going well. [RVC] has freed me up to do other work for the organization, such as managing and supervising, doing outreach, and searching and applying for grants.”

In order to donate and support Somali Doulas, please visit somalidoulas.org/donations. For volunteering opportunities, make sure to check out somalidoulas.org/volunteer.