Chanel Porchia-Albert is a mother of six, a doula, and an advocate for the Black maternal health space. She made it her life’s mission to help create a safer space for Black and brown women and babies. In 2008, she started Ancient Song in her Brooklyn home. Ancient Song is a national birth justice organization that works to eliminate maternal and infant mortality and morbidity among Black and Latinx people. They provide doula training and services, community education, and advocate for policy change to support reproductive and birth justice.
When she sat down with us, Porchia-Albert’s passion was evident. Even a fun question about what animal she would choose displayed her desire to help her community. “[I would be] a lioness because they’re strong yet loving. They have to meet the demands of the pride.”
Serving as a change agent for a subject that has sparked nationwide controversy is no easy feat. Porchia-Albert credits motherhood as her “why.” “I am a mom of six…and being a mom was a catalyst to what I do,” she explained. “It was the intro to maternal health work.” When Porchia-Albert became pregnant, she wasn’t happy with the level of care her OB-GYN provided. “I wanted a more personable approach where I didn’t feel like a number. Then I remembered I had all this information and started to see the midwife. I had a wonderful experience with this midwife and a doula at home.” Thus, starting Porchia-Albert’s desire to bridge the gap in maternal health.
“Having a doula is really important, I believe, because when you’re in that space of giving birth when you’re in the process of labor, you want to be able to just focus on that. And having that doula there really offers that additional support and that guidance and that advocacy and that information because you know oftentimes, you’re necessarily in that head space to think about things even if you’re well versed in that information.”
A Doula’s Duty
Doula – A woman, typically without formal obstetric training, is employed to guide and support a pregnant woman during labor.
Unfortunately, the media often gets the depictions of doulas wrong. Movies would show a doula as a woman who comes, talks to the mom/family, and is present for some form of a water birth (i.e., The Rugrats Movie). And many first-time parents may not be fully aware of why having a doula is essential and how their job scope goes deeper – before, during, and after birth. Doulas are community leaders; they give back to the community, not just to the parents. “Social media will make you think it is about crystals…and aromatherapy and that kind of thing,” and that is further from the truth. Doulas advocate for their families by reaffirming the mother’s voice.
“It goes way deeper, especially if you’re working as a community-based doula, which means you’re somebody who works in your community, providing the services. You see these people every single day, right? So you understand what it means to censor the interception of care,” she states.
“You may be working with someone who has inadequate housing, maybe they have food insecurity, or maybe they’re going through a financial crisis…or you know maybe intimate partner violence or sexual abuse. What you’re doing is censoring an intersectional framework of understanding how I assist someone during their birthing experience – during their pregnancy, during the actual childbirth, but also during the postpartum period is essential because that offers a connection of feeling like ‘I can do this as a new parent or even as an experienced parent.’ Even though we might’ve gone through different iterations of pregnancy and birth, it doesn’t remove us from the fact of us needing help.”
Postpartum is Forever…
Porchia-Albert explains the postpartum period as longer than just “six weeks.” “Postpartum is forever…I say that to people all the time,” she expressed. “As your child grows, you grow. You’re going through these different milestones and going to continue to need community resources, and being able to tap onto them and having a doula to help you to access that is beneficial, especially within our community.”
Being a Doula During the Pandemic
The rate at which Black moms die in childbirth compared to white mothers is alarming. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic only intensified the issues already occurring within the Black maternal health space. When the pandemic hit, Porchia-Albert shifted into high gear.
“Prior to the pandemic, all these things were already happening. We already had high infant mortality rates. When I got into this work in 2008, that was the topic of discussion. And that’s when I first learned about infant mortality. One, I knew that if Black women’s voices weren’t being heard prior to…what does that mean if you have a global pandemic? And resources are limited, and you don’t even have access to be able to speak to someone or for someone to be in the room. We immediately shifted to a virtual platform and offered virtual doula services. I co-created with other organizations JustBirth Space which is a perinatal support line where people can text in between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. and ask any kinds of questions.”
Porchia-Albert further explains how doulas immediately shifted to mutual aid and what that meant on a larger scale. “Even to this day, we pass out about 75 bags of groceries to individuals as well as essentials. Wipes, diapers, strollers, car seats, etc.” Helping the community is vital while the country attempts to transition to the post-pandemic period, all while experiencing inflation.
Chanel Porchia-Albert’s Best Experiences
A doula’s work is endless yet so rewarding. Porchia-Albert touches on her best experiences in this line of work. “The best experience is when I go to the birth, and I’m there, and I see that someone finds their voice. And I can see the children later on and see the way in which they’re growing. And parents are firm and talk to children. Yeah, that’s a different type of fun. [I] walk in the neighborhood and see how I helped this person.”
She continues, “It offered me the opportunity to go to places and be in spaces I never would’ve thought I would be in. Most recently, I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where I was able to speak at the U.N. High Commission on racial disparities and maternal health. And really give testimony to the ways in which racial discrimination has impacted access to maternal health services for Black and Indigenous birthing people within the U.S.” She recalled the experience as humbling and affirming that people are taking notice. She hopes to see policy shift and institutional reform. And on a community level, people will start to honor the sacredness of birth and the birthing person.”
Chanel Porchia-Albert’s Upcoming Project
Porchia-Albert partnered with Baby Dove and the #DearDoula Series, where people can come in and ask their maternal health-related questions. This series is intended to reach a broader spectrum of individuals and promote the Black Birth Equity Fund. The Black Birth Equity Fund allows people a grant of $1,300, and it covers doula services. “[The grant] because a two-way streak because you’re offered financial resources, and you’re paying a doula an equitable wage for them to provide the services.” Baby Dove offered $500K for the Black Birth Equity Fund, and Porchia is excited for the fund to kick off.
In addition, she is a key speaker for the Black Maternal Health Conference. It takes place in person and virtually on September 17th and 18th and is hosted by Baby Dove partner and Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA). The conference addresses the conversation of the maternal health gap. It is a space open to everyone – parents, advocates, future parents, etc. You can receive resources and network with others. As one of the sponsors, Baby Dove will host a breakout session titled “On the Front Lines,” focusing on the benefits of doula care. More information and virtual registration are available at https://blackmamasmatter.org/bmhc22/.