We had the opportunity to speak with Doula and the Founder of Birth Manifesta, LLC, Tanzye Hill, who is a mentoring Doula and holistic educator. Tanzye provided insight into why we need Doulas and the need for advocacy during their pregnancy and shared a piece of her journey into becoming a Doula.
What was your inspiration to become a Doula, and what was the need you wanted to fill?
My sister’s birth seven years ago was pivotal in deciding I wanted to be a Doula.
My mother birthed four children; she had unmedicated births, midwives, and breastfed. So my understanding of birth and motherhood was not restricted and not with many interventions, but more of a natural process of life. There was just this very sacredness of seeing it take place; I remember eating breakfast and watching my little brother being born.
Seeing the journey of my younger sister and the experience with the birth of her first child, my niece was not like I had seen at home. It was the first time I became aware of what a doula was and believed it to be part of the experience, so during her birth; I had an awareness that something was missing. Something wasn’t happening to make the experience what I had envisioned birth to be.
So the day came when I got the call, and I had prepared my boss that when the call came, I was going. I remember her privacy sheet was pulled a little, and the nurses were in the restroom with her. I got there, and I stepped in; I said, how are you? She was having contractions however, she’s stated she felt she was just losing so much fluid.
I said, “Well, did your water break?”
Her response was, “No, I don’t think so.”
So I looked at the nurse and asked, “Did her water break?”
The nurse responds, “Well, the doctor ordered to break her water.”
So she broke her water but didn’t tell her, and my sister wanted things to happen on their own, so she was very disappointed. As she progressed along, I started to advocate for my sister; it became very apparent that the nurses, at one point, didn’t even want to talk to me anymore. The nurses were very hands-off once we decided to be engaged in the process and have a voice in what was going on. After that experience, I felt my sister did not get the support she needed and deserved.
I felt the microaggressions and discrimination in the room; I believe she was being treated a certain way because of how she looked. After that experience, I realized how much birthers don’t understand labor stages, and I wanted to be trained as a doula. I did not want to be in that situation again and not know exactly how to advocate or what birthrights are.
Why do you feel vital health information is not being given during pregnancy and birth stages? Does it seem there’s an endless choice not to provide birthers the information they need?
That question has so many nuanced answers but to break it down into two parts:
Unfortunately, in our country, we have medicalized birth. So instead of home births, birth centers, and care of midwives, we’ve relied heavily on obstetrics and gynecology. In a perfect world, we would have this collaborative care because there are times when the medical system needs to intervene in the birthing process. But that number is low.
But still, we are conditioned and socialized to believe that the expert in the room is the white coat (the doctor), and yes, they bring a lens and knowledge of expertise. However, in the work of a doula and prenatal education, I work around empowering clients and birthing people. I empower clients and birthing people to see that they are the expert on their bodies so that it’s more of a conversation. Which would lead to the second point.
You have been in your body all of these years, and that is valuable knowledge, information, and experience that needs to be brought to the table. Generally, as Black women, whether in the medical system, corporate, or the political system, our voices are often silenced. They are usually not honored as valuable. So that conditioning carries over, and those biases come into play when we get into birthing in the medical system. So, unfortunately, that’s a systemic institutionalized problem that we have around the voices and the bodies of, Black women, especially Black birthing people and Black womb holders, in this country.
So we are not given information because we are not seen as the ones who are knowledgeable in this area, yet historically, we birthed this country. Yes, Historically, we were responsible for our babies and those of White families in America. So when it benefited them, we were the experts, but with our bodies, we needed regulation.
How do you empower Black Women to advocate for their needs and bodies?
It starts by planting the seeds, even before signing a contract. Even when I’m talking contracts and making things accessible for people, like creating payment plans, I empower them to tell me what they need. I find out how they feel or the relationship with their provider, if they’ve been able to speak up as an advocate, or if they felt silenced. I ask a lot about what they know about their birth.
Just going through the stages of birth and even talking about the body’s anatomy are also in those conversations. It gives me so much information about what type of agency they feel within their body. I also do not respond with emotion to someone stating they’re pregnant; I give space for them to express how they feel about their pregnancy.
How do you feel having a doula helps in the journey of mental health and mental wellness?
I’ve done a lot of community organizing advocacy, specifically trauma-informed care, which I would like to call a healing center. But trauma-informed work centers a lot around grief. So on my team, I have a licensed therapist because, as a doula, you need to have counseling techniques to hold space for all of these emotions. However, I need to have a resource when it goes beyond my scope of practice.
But experiencing emotions is also expected, and a big thing for me in this work is protecting the maternal memory. I don’t want you to survive birth. I want you to thrive; I want birthers to come out with no trauma added. Because in this country, we know that Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth or childbirth-related complications. So we have stood still in this place where we want them to live, and I don’t want them to live. I want them not to incur more trauma and be happy with their birth journey.
Do you feel Black women are returning to a more holistic approach to birth?
Yes! I believe we are reclaiming our holistic practices, and I know I am on the journey of remembering. Remembering ourselves back to our community, back to our heritage, our practices, our culture, we are putting it back together. Birth is another component of remembering our ancestral roots and recognizing that this White American way of birthing is not part of our practices. That’s why we have Doulas! We are the bridge or the translator advocating and taking the time to understand the language to ensure that Black births in our community are thriving and not resulting in tragedy.
What is something you learned when becoming a Doula?
The need for self-reflection within this work! Even though I may not be experiencing pregnancy, everything I ask a client to do, I need to be doing as well. If it’s journaling or doing an activity on the ground, I need to make sure I participate. I also like to “nest” as someone gets closer to their birth. I am also more protective of my time and energy for preparation.
What does the future of Black births look like for you?
I think what it looks like is rewriting our narrative. I want us to start reclaiming our voice as the authors of our birth stories. I want us to switch from trauma to healing. Your maternal health begins before you even conceive. So it starts with our health!
Step one of addressing this is conversations with the children we are raising. As we step into womanhood, taking our health and making it a priority, choosing providers that are having a conversation with us, and listening to us. It looks like us remembering who we are on a spiritual level and having the space to use our voice and to thrive truly.
For more information about Tanzye Hill: visit birthmanifesta.com