Former state Rep. Cora Faith Walker speaking on the Missouri House floor in 2018. Walker, who became a top aide to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, died March 11, 2022 (Tim Bommel photo courtesy of Missouri House of Representatives).

After 28 hours of labor, Adrianne Blakemore remembers the incredible joy she felt when her first son came into the world in 2017. 

But she also felt completely exhausted. She wished she would’ve had a doula – someone dedicated to caring for the mother during and after pregnancy.

Last year, Blakemore decided to take doula training at Jamaa Birthing Village in St. Louis County, so she could become that coach for families through challenging birthing experiences like the one she had. 

At Jamaa Birthing Village, she learned about ancient and modern cultural traditions created to uplift the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of an expectant mother and family.

“To be that sacred gatekeeper of a birth room is a wonderful experience,” said Blakemore, who offers her doula services through her own education consulting business. 

Jamaa Birthing Village is one of the few places in the state that offers doula training. And if the state legislators approve $500,000 in funding for statewide doula training program, the center and others could see an increase in enrollment.

The additional funding was part of the $46.5 billion state budget plan that the House sent to the Senate last week. 

The funding was proposed by state Reps. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, and LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, to honor former state representative Cora Faith Walker — a fervent advocate for quality maternal health who died on March 11 at the age of 37.

News of Walker’s passing sent shockwaves through the St. Louis community, where she was seen as a champion of health equity, reproductive rights and social justice. She was a health care attorney and worked on issues such as Medicaid expansion and public health reform. 

During her time in the legislature, she often offered bills and budgetary amendments to improve the health and well-being of mothers and infants, the sponsors said. 

“Cora Faith Walker devoted so much of her life to helping keep moms and kids happy and healthy, and naming this fund in her honor continues her legacy,” Bosley said.

Jamaa Birthing Village in Ferguson — the area Walker represented as a state representative — was one of the programs she strongly supported to ensure that particularly women of color had access to healthy maternal care, Bosley said. 

“Doulas perform essential work for new and expecting mothers, helping them through some of the most difficult steps of parenthood,” Bland Manlove said. “I cannot think of a better use of these funds, nor a better way to honor the late Cora Faith Walker.” 

The Department of Health and Senior Services will oversee the doula training program, and details on how the funding will be dispersed is still being “ironed out,” Bosley said. 

Blakemore said she was thrilled to hear the funding has advanced to honor Walker, particularly on the eve of Black Maternal Health Week. 

In 2018, Missouri ranked 42nd in maternal mortality in the nation. Between 2010 and 2017, the maternal mortality rate among Black mothers was nearly 2.5 times higher than for White mothers.

“Black women do have more complications and die at a faster rate than other women,” she said. 

Yet, doulas can be a powerful partner for the family in preparing for a healthy birth and advocating for what the woman wants, Blakemore said. 

And it’s those racial inequities in maternal health care that led the sponsors to push for the doula training. They cited a 2013 study from the Journal of Perinatal Health that noted children of doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low birth weight and half as likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby.

“I’m afraid to have children in Missouri because of the practices, because of the myth that Black women don’t feel pain or we feel pain at a higher threshold,” Bosley said. “Doula training was one of the ways that we knew could increase healthy birthing outcomes.”

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