Among the educational outreach efforts that Parents as Teachers provide is its Show Me Strong Families [SMSF] program, which recently paired a pregnant woman with doula services.
Kaylin Carter, 21, was referred to PAT, a non-profit organization that specializes in early childhood development and parenting education through personal visits, after spending some time in a homeless shelter.
She wanted to take an unconventional path toward prenatal care and delivery of her child. So, she enlisted the services of a doula. She met doula Robin Lloyd, a lead PAT parent educator, during a counseling session and her life was changed.
“I learned about the program during a prenatal visit at the homeless shelter and that’s where I met Ms. Robin. She was the best thing that could’ve happened to me during my pregnancy,” said Carter, mother to now one-year-old daughter Harmony Wims.
“Although my daughter’s dad, Brenyn, was present during her birth, Ms. Robin made me feel peaceful and brought a lot of peace to my heart.
“In fact, she stayed with me the entire time I was in labor, for 14 hours, and I don’t recall her ever leaving to eat or anything. She didn’t leave until my baby was delivered and for that, I am most grateful.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], Black women die from complications related to giving birth at three times the rate of white women. Black women over 30 are four to five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
These numbers prompted Lloyd, who is also African American and a mother, to become a certified doula in 2019. She has worked for PAT for 20 years and said her team is trying to combat “this statistical outrage” by getting involved in the initial stages of Black women’s pregnancy.
“Black women of all backgrounds are facing life or death challenges when pregnant,” said Lloyd.
“The lack of safety in birth affects every Black mother and making doula care readily available may help improve Black maternal health in pregnancy and delivery.”
St. Louis is home to PAT’s national headquarters, and it has 1,301 affiliate partners throughout America.
The St. Louis (SMSF) program has five certified doulas. All are Black and most of the clients they serve are African American. They are trained professionals who provide emotional, physical, and educational support to an expectant mother during pregnancy, labor, and in the weeks following the birth.
SMSF’s doulas help moms design a birth plan and advocate for themselves during pregnancy and the birthing process and have supported 26 families.
The doulas are cross trained as parent educators and can provide an extra level of education to families they already know and support during pregnancy.
They provide culturally competent, comprehensive doula care through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, as well as social, physical, and emotional wellness support so families can thrive, according to PAT President and CEO Constance Gully.
“These trained professionals help new parents build their confidence in their role as the first and most important teacher in their child’s life. Parent educators serve as mentors who offer friendly, reassuring support and expert guidance to new parents,” said Gully, who was a PAT mom during her son’s birth almost 30 years ago.
“They provide parents with information and resources to help them gain a deeper understanding of the emotional, behavioral, and physical developmental stages of their young children. They also help promote parental resilience and connect families to resources if needed.”
Statistics also show that maternal death disparity between Black and white women is not primarily an economic issue. According to the CDC, Black mothers with a college degree remain 5.2 times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts.
Black women are also 36% more likely to have a Cesarean section than women of any other race. Prenatal doula care gives women additional prenatal support, provides a delivery room advocate, and can reduce C-section rates.
SMSF partners with FLOURISH, a St. Louis-based group that works to lower the incidence of prematurity and maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in the area, as hosts of an event to celebrate the first birthday of Black children enrolled in the PAT program.
Donna Givens, PAT manager of Community Partnerships and Groups, said too many babies die before their first birthday. Some St. Louis neighborhoods have rates three times the national average.
“Every year, we host a first birthday party for our families to celebrate them and to educate and encourage them to follow safe sleep recommendations for their infants,” Givens said.
“The kids play games, have their likeness created by a cartoonist, receive Sesame Street themed gifts bags with pajamas, enjoy refreshments, and have their pictures taken. Their parents also receive gifts and kudos for their successful parenting.”
Carter, who now works as a preschool teacher in University City, said PAT will remain a part of her family life.
“I love Parents as Teachers and I’m calling Ms. Robin the next time I get pregnant. She is so nurturing,” she said.