ENON Tabernacle Baptist Church is huge, and well known in Philly. But what might not be as well known is a specific ministry program, one where they provide birth and postpartum doula support to birthing mothers in the community.
Doulas have become more common in the birthing world, working with midwives and obstetricians to create better and healthier birthing and postpartum outcomes in hospitals, birth centers, and homes.
The training program at the church came together by centering family.
“It’s a beautiful story,” said Melieka Young, the assistant Doula Ministry servant leader, and a labor and delivery nurse herself. “Our Pastor Waller had a vision to provide a doula free of charge to anyone that asked for one.”
Pastor Waller was introduced to doulas after his daughter and her husband used a doula’s services in the birth of their daughter. He was intrigued by how a doula could bring specific support to the birthing parent, and wanted to bring doula services to ENON’s congregation and surrounding community.
Waller put the call out to the church community to form a plan on how to start providing doulas, beginning with the congregation and then branching out. They knew they wanted to provide the services free of charge. Reverend Leroy Miles is the overseer of the ministry programs.
By January 2020 they brought in professional doulas to train their first group from the church. They worked through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic while hospitals weren’t even allowing partners at births, touching on the need for pregnancy and delivery support even more. Alexia Doumboya, now the Doula Ministry’s servant leader, was the first in the ministry to be certified as a postpartum doula. Doumboya also created Cocolife.black, a business and foundation to provide safe space for Black mothers navigating postpartum life and/or life after the loss of a child or significant other.
“It is divine to have a woman and a family invite you into that space, because it is a very sacred time,” said Ashli Stephens, the doula ministry’s first birth doula.
Stephens talked about the experiences of what comes with the services of a birth doula including prenatal discussions on fears, desires, possibilities, and breaking down the medical language of clinicians to make things understandable for the clients.
She shared that each birth and doula plan is custom tailored and unique to each individual. Stephens said families may have experienced in vitro fertilization (IVF) , loss, complications or overall distrust of the medical system, and the doulas take all of this into consideration. And although the collective does not impose any of their beliefs on clients, Stephens said they bring grace and principles of their faith to all of the services they provide.
Doumboya’s own personal experiences with postpartum depression and struggles led her into pursuing the postpartum certification for doulas, to provide the services she knew she could have used so much as a young mother. Doumboya’s experiences aren’t isolated.
According to Kaiser Health News, Black and American Indian and Alaska Native women have higher rates of pregnancy-related death compared to White women and the death rates increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Black women are also twice as likely to have postpartum depression but much less likely to receive mental health treatment.
“This gives us a chance to bring a common goal of service, servitude, and support,”said Doumbouya.
And Melieka Young makes a point that a big part of the Black experience is trust.
“To have someone that looks like you and you can trust is comforting,” Young.
“We can offer prayer, our foundation is love, and the Christ experience,”said Young. “We serve everyone,” said Young, making sure folks know that even if you are not a member of the church, the ministry will be happy to provide doula services. Their first step is providing physical, emotional, and informational support to expectant parents in the communities they serve.
“At the end of the day we function on love.”
ENON Tabernacle Baptist Church and Cocolife.black will be hosting their second annual Black Maternal Health Summit, Expo, and Community Baby Shower on Saturday, March 18, 2023 . You can register here.