We have a huge problem in Cleveland, and to me, the problem is unreal. It’s something I’ve associated with third world countries and not our city. It makes me think of late-night infomercials and their pleas for help.
Too many black babies are dying — three times the rate of white babies in Ohio and six times the rate of white babies in Cuyahoga County.
Christin Farmer and her organization, Birthing Beautiful Communities (BBC), answered the call to save our babies four years ago. The organization provides educational, emotional and physical support to expectant mothers and their families to alleviate maternal stress, a contributor to prematurity and low birth weight, which are precursors of infant mortality. By circulating doulas, trained professionals who provide support to mothers before, during and after birth, BBC is making strides to improve poor birth outcomes in these communities.
While doulas help make birth and postpartum experiences better for mothers, what about fathers? Does paternal stress contribute to poor birth outcomes? With most of the attention focused on mothers, BBC understands they can’t ignore fathers. In response, BBC created a solution specifically for them called Dude’la, a playful spin on doula.
Not only is it a support group, where guys break bread and talk about what matters to them, Dude’la also provides services to address their unique needs, including workforce training, life planning, childbirth, contraceptive education, parenting workshops and more. Neal Hodges, Dude’la founder, says black men need to see how their social habits also can affect birth outcomes.These habits include eating healthier, limiting stress, smoking and mental/physical/emotional challenges.
Although Gary Galbreath’s son was 4 when he joined Dude’la in October 2018, he saw value in the program because the mental stressors he faced as an expectant and new father were never discussed. He also experienced how often black fathers are ignored in the doctor’s office and at teacher conferences when both parents are present. Hodges also made this observation – the devaluing of black men by the system has resulted in them believing the hype of their so-called nonexistence in the black household. Dude’la is helping fathers like Galbreath change this narrative.
“I’ve never felt this way about another person before,” Galbreath says about his son. He is currently working as a CARE Teaching Artist, helping elementary school children in Cleveland learn social-emotional skills. Since participating in Dude’la, Galbreath has discovered a passion for working with young black boys, recognizing how his presence in the schools makes a difference in their behavior and attentiveness.
Galbreath stressed that he does not want to take anything away from black mothers. He knows pregnancy and motherhood are difficult, but expectant and new fathers have their own difficulties that need attention so they can be fully present in the lives of their children.
Spending time with his son is essential to expressing his love, whether it’s at an Indians game or skipping rocks at the lagoon in University Circle. Dude’la is showing Galbreath how much his presence means to his son and the other black boys he is educating.
Infant mortality is heartbreaking, no matter where you live. Every baby born deserves a chance to live and should not become vulnerable to a statistic by dying before their first birthday. But in our most affected neighborhoods – Hough, Fairfax, Buckeye-Shaker, East Cleveland, Glenville, Kinsman, Lee-Havard, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, Warrensville Heights and Ohio City – systemic poor birth outcomes exist.
Imagine being pregnant and not knowing how you’re going to eat, sleep or get to your next prenatal appointment. You work two jobs while mothering three other children. Your husband or partner also is underemployed. Your life is full of stress that potentially can disturb the growth and development of your unborn child.
As a perinatal workforce development agency, Birthing Beautiful Communities is addressing black infant mortality holistically. By training and employing individuals to become perinatal support workers and doulas to work in Ohio, they provide a service many in the black community are unaware of and cannot afford (a doula’s fees range from $800 to $2,500, and on average $1,200). They are raising awareness of the social determinants contributing to high rates of black infant mortality, such as poverty, incarceration, poor education and underemployment. And they are promoting, not ignoring the importance of black fathers.
More of us need to be aware of the problem of infant mortality in our communities and do our part to promote the well-being of families. Visit Birthing Beautiful Communities online to learn more about their services: labor support, life and goal planning, childbirth and parenting classes, and support groups. Share this information with new and expecting mothers and fathers you know. Sign up to be a trained doula.
Farmer’s team of trained doulas have served 500 families since 2015. They currently have a caseload of 350 women with a growing wait list and plans to expand into Summit County soon.
Black fathers are welcome to join the Dude’la support group for the current sessions from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through April 20 at the BBC office, 1921 E. 66th St. Visit the Dude’la Facebook page or Birthing Beautiful Communities online to learn more.