Austin is known as a “family-friendly” city--a place where pregnant women enjoy prenatal yoga classes, new moms share nannies, and nursing mothers are supported by employers.
But many Black and Latina women have a different experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery. Statistics show women of color receive less prenatal care, have more premature births and lower infant birth weights, and higher rates of infant and maternal mortality than white women.
Taylor, a mother of two, has seen this difference firsthand. During her first delivery, Taylor felt threatened and dismissed by medical professionals, and often felt there were forced interventions she and her doula did not feel she needed. Then, her family excluded her from social activities when she was breastfeeding her baby. During her next pregnancy, Taylor sought a community of like-minded women who would support her decisions.
“I found Mama Sana when I was pregnant with my second child,” says Taylor.
Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, a local nonprofit created by and for women of color, is dedicated to creating a positive and healthy birth experience for Black and Latina women in Austin. Mama Sana supports women through prenatal classes, one-on-one birth support, home visits by a trained birth companion and ongoing circles of support. All of Mama Sana’s services are free for low-income women.
During the postpartum period, mothers and their babies are vulnerable to medical complications, problems nursing, depression and domestic violence. St. David’s Foundation invested in Mama Sana’s postpartum program as part of the inaugural Focus on the Fourth grants in women’s health. These programs help vulnerable mothers receive the help they need after giving birth.
Just 24 hours after delivery, a Mama Sana birth companion visits the new mother. “We are stepping into an intimate space,” explains Rachel Caballero, Post-Partum Support Program Director and certified doula, or birth companion. “The bond a mother has with her birth companion is powerful and transformative. Through that relationship, we’re able to keep an eye on things and be there to listen for what a mom may not otherwise feel comfortable sharing.”
During the first 45 days postpartum, a birth companion visits the mother at home six times. While birth companions are not medical professionals, their midwife-informed training means they are able to spot something out of the ordinary and provide resources or referrals.
The second element of Mama Sana’s postpartum support is mother-led circles of support. Meetings include supportive conversation, dinner, postpartum yoga and childcare.
Taylor, now a mother of two, is a postpartum support group facilitator. Her groups do yoga, group art projects, and confide in each other. “I know that if I tell someone here my experience, they understand me,” Taylor says. “I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to hear, ‘Oh, Taylor, that’s not a real thing.’”
Mama Sana aims to make the birthing experience for women of color in Austin as positive as possible. With an organization like Mama Sana, Taylor is hopeful. “It’s through conversations like this that change will happen.”