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Catching Babies with a Go-To Doula for Black Parents

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Sumayyah Monét Franklin (Ajira Darch)

Sumayyah Monét Franklin is a birth rights activist, doula and owner of Sumi’s Touch. 

She gives advice to potential parents on conception, coaches new parents through postpartum and is with parents during the birthing process– she’s attended over 500 births and counting. 

As of late, caution around potentially being exposed to COVID-19 has made many people wary about going to traditional healthcare facilities. Guidelines on how many people can be present for the birthing process have become strict, making more parents hesitant to go to a hospital. This might explain why Sumayyah says she’s seeing an uptick in her business– and she expects that trend to continue.

Sumayyah is also frontline worker in the fight for birthing rights.

One thing she’s fighting against is the historical disparities in black maternal health outcomes. Compared to other demographics, black mothers and children die at a higher rate during childbirth.

And while she welcomes all kinds of clients, most of the folks she serves are African American. And she’s especially concerned about black parents and children during the pandemic, as disparities could be exacerbated.

This week on Rightnowish, we talk to Sumayyah about some of the issues within her industry and the glory of “catching babies.”

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with  Sumayyah Monét.

Pen: I’d imagine that even after [coronavirus] passes, there will be more births as people are shacked up together, right? So are you expecting business to continue to boom?

Sumayyah: We are. You know, it’s so funny that you mention that because a lot of the birth workers that I follow on Instagram have been making jokes about it like, “all right, everybody call me in nine months.” Everybody’s all quarantined and shacked up together. What is there to do but just have more sex?

Pen: You’re busy right now doing a lot more work why? Why right now?

Sumayyah: Because of the coronavirus, many people are not wanting to be in the hospital. So they’re looking towards out-of-hospital practitioners to take care of them.

Pen: And are you seeing any specific demographics racially?

Sumayyah: I am seeing like the biggest surge of black people who are pregnant seeking homebirth services, more than I’ve ever seen personally in my career.

Pen: What are they telling you about right now and how it differs from past experiences?

Sumayyah: They were already on the fence about whether they wanted to have a home birth… And the big thing that got a lot of Black women, honestly, were the policies that said your partner couldn’t be with you and you had to birth alone. Or the policy that said only one person could be with you.

Sumayyah: And it’s like, you know, going through the court system where you want someone to accompany you, like a lawyer to navigate that system so you don’t walk away thinking, “dang it. I wish I would’ve known.”

It was already a system that [black people] had to walk into that wasn’t necessarily favoring who you are. Now, our outcomes within that system, proofs in the pudding, the proofs in the numbers, as I always say, are really adverse and heinous, it’s like a silent genocide honestly.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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