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Black maternal health week advocates pregnancy equality

Funding announced for programs aimed at preventing deaths of Black women during pregnancy 02:25

NEW YORK - Black Maternal Health Week is a time to acknowledge the disparities Black women face giving birth, even today.

A report published by the New York State Department of Health this week found Black, non-Hispanic women were five times more likely to die during pregnancy than white, non-Hispanic women.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced $30 million in funding to support programs trying to change that, bolstering doula and midwife services along with improving birth centers across the city.

CBS2's Jessi Mitchell met Lismergi Bouret halfway through her first pregnancy as she practiced birthing exercises with her doula Miranda Padilla.

Padilla created The Mothership NYC, a doula collective in Harlem, to help expectant mothers navigate the complicated process of giving birth. She knows what it is like to feel alone, after being single during her first pregnancy and having her second child at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The city shut down in March for the pandemic, 2020, and I gave birth in May," Padilla said. "I think the worst thing was the isolation so I know that the mothers really do need the help, so we're here to provide it."

The city's contribution will help her meet an increasing demand for a holistic approach.

"Doulas and midwives have been essential to birth since the beginning of time," said Padilla. "Before there were doctors and hospitals, women were giving birth at home."

Today, doulas and midwives work in hospitals, also, to advocate for the mother's health.

"The cascade of interventions," Padilla said of a medicine-first approach, "usually ends up in a C-section. And then it's the complications from these C-sections which are killing us."

In fact, key findings from the state health department's report show that in addition to the stark disparity in death rates among Black women, most of the deaths were preventable. In nearly half the cases, discrimination was a factor.

"I honestly don't see many people that look like me in hospitals," Bouret said, "at least here in New York City."

She is planning her own home birth for baby Julian, with a hand-picked care team and without a doubt in her mind.

"My grandmother had ten kids in the Dominican Republic," Bouret said, "and there was no technology back in the '40s and '60s and '50s … My mother had very traumatic experiences in hospitals as well … You can have all that technology but only you know your body."

Bouret knows her body and her baby will be surrounded by love.

The expanded Citywide Doula Initiative will provide free access to doulas for families living in 33 neighborhoods with the highest need, including Harlem. The Midwifery Initiative is also expanding to all 38 birthing centers across New York City, along with other upgrades to the facilities.

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