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Addressing Racial Inequities in Doula Care: An Interview with Joyce Clark

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

June 16, 2023

By Corin Bauman, Network Equity Coordinator, Vital Village Networks

Contributions and edits by Diana Rivera, Program Manager, Vital Village Networks


In 1998, Joyce Clark became a doula because she knew that there had to be a better and different way to birth than the one she experienced first-hand. Since then, she has been supporting, leading and advocating for more joyful and just birthing experiences for her clients and the broader Massachusetts community. In addition to serving birthing persons as a doula, and as a lactation educator since 2017, Clark has also held many leadership roles: the Massachusetts Birth Ambassador for Doulas of North America (DONA) International from 2020-2022, co-leader for the Massachusetts Doula Coalition, and founder of The Birthingheirs Project, among others.


Clark’s commitment to racial justice and equity in the maternal health space solidified after she became a doula. “I was starting to hear and see the difference between Black and brown birthing experiences and other experiences. Nobody was really talking about it at the time…The importance of being a doula became so much more important.” She started to ask questions about how many Black and brown doulas were in Massachusetts. She sought to deepen her understanding of the complex healthcare system through her Masters of Science in Healthcare Management, and shared her experience and knowledge directly with her clients and their families to uplift their autonomy and self-advocacy in their birthing journeys.


The Birthingheirs Project is another example of Clark’s commitment to racial equity in the maternal health space. Founded in 2019, Birhtingheirs is a grassroots organization which received a grant from the Boston Public Health Commission to start a free resource library for doulas, lactation subject matter experts, and birthing persons in the city of Boston. Clark explains that Birthingheirs “exists to reduce the financial barriers for Black and brown aspiring doulas and lactation consultants…We mentor, support and sometimes provide additional training that doulas and lactation consultants need moving through their journey to the completion of their certification.” With over 20 years of experience, Clark shared that part of her motivation has been to “have as many doulas trained as possible” and that her work continues to find innovative and sustainable ways to support that goal. In its fourth year as an organization, Clark is looking to grow the Birthingheirs Project and its reach as she considers potential collaborations and partnerships within her community for co-hosting the resource library. Strengthening the sustainability and legacy of Birthingheirs aligns with Clark’s reflection that removing silos and working collaboratively ensures “great opportunities for change aren’t missed.”


Clark has used her lived experience, her passion, and her strategic vision to encourage and support a new generation of doulas. When asked what advice she might share with others looking to get involved in the maternal health space, Clark was enthusiastic that people remember that there is no one way to be involved. “Maternal health doesn’t mean you have to be a doula, a nurse, a midwife; it just means you have some interest in having and helping in an impactful way…Everyone brings a gift, and when you share that and start to show people and use it, that’s where you see the impact.” She shared that being informed and learning about the issues in the field is critical, especially learning from those with lived experience. Additionally, Clark emphasized that continuing to find ways to advocate for doula care through collective action like legislation and policy change is another way for everyone to support birthing justice. For example, Clark shared that bill (H.1139), currently introduced in the Massachusetts legislature by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and Sen. Liz Miranda, D-Boston, and supported by the Mass Doula Coalition, looks to address medicaid coverage for doula services. Such legislative policies have the potential to increase access to doula care and contribute to addressing maternal health disparities. Clark encourages those interested in maternal health to research, understand, and advocate for legislative change both locally and nationally. Clark embodies a leadership that is empathetic, learning-centered, and generous.


You can connect with her and the Birthingheirs Project through social media, email, or the linked websites:


Learn how you can get involved by checking out these additional resources for Birthing Justice and Maternal Health, shared by Clark:


MORE ABOUT JOYCE CLARK

The Birthingheirs Project founder, Joyce Clark, MS, has over twenty years of experience as a Doula and has been a lactation educator since 2017. She has a demonstrated history of excellence and leadership in the field of maternal health and served as the Massachusetts Birth Ambassador for DONA International from 2020-2022. She has her Master of Science in Healthcare Management, and her degree has given her the knowledge and insight to help Doulas navigate complicated healthcare systems and advocate for birthing persons. Considering the Black maternal health crisis faced by the United States, we believe that it is essential to provide resources to reduce these disparities and support maternal health. We hope to play a role in combating this maternal health crisis by providing resources and support to Black and Brown Doulas in our community, thereby encouraging a new generation of Doulas to advocate for birthing persons and support maternal health. The Birthing Heirs Project recognizes that many Black and Brown aspiring Doulas face systemic barriers to complete their certification; we aim to reduce these barriers by providing various resources to help Black and Brown Doulas succeed.

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