Before becoming a doula herself in 2006, Marna Armstead experienced firsthand the dangers of not only being pregnant and Black, but not having anyone to advocate on your behalf before an unforgiving—and anti-Black—healthcare system.
Indeed, 18-years-ago, Armstead dealt with everything including bleeding during a high-risk pregnancy, being diagnosed with preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and spiraling into postpartum depression soon after. But at the height of this madness, Armstead consulted her longtime ob-gyn for assistance and was merely instructed to get an abortion, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Shocked that she declined to present any other options, she and Armstead eventually parted ways.
The entire ordeal opened her eyes to the lack of support Black women receive while pregnant and so Armstead created SisterWeb, a nonprofit doula network designed to connect expecting Black mothers and doulas in ways not previously possible. The network includes educating people on what doulas do, like figuring out breast pumps, cutting down on medical interventions and finding easier positions for the mother to be in labor in. And this month, she and SisterWeb are establishing a partnership with Expecting Justice, which is a public health initiative launched by the city.
Organizations like San Francisco Health Plan and San Francisco Foundation’s Community Health Innovation Fund have donated money in order to assist SisterWeb in achieving their goals—and assist specifically those who identify as Black or Pacific Islander.
This targeted focus comes from these groups abnormally high rates of infant and maternal deaths in the city of San Francisco. For Black women and Black families in particular, though Black infants only comprised around 4% of births in San Francisco from 2007 and 2016, they made up over 15% of infant deaths. And the odds are even bleaker if you are a Black mother. For every ten maternal deaths that occur in the city of San Francisco, Black mothers accounted for at least half in the last decade.
Of course, while it is safe to assume that Armstead knows that the rates of infant and maternal mortality won’t decrease overnight, one can only hope that Armstead and SisterWeb can be the solution to a problem that is quickly becoming a national crisis.