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SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — For Keloni Walker, losing her mother during what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life, her pregnancy with her first child, was hard. 

“I wasn’t excited to be a mom anymore because I can’t go through everything with my mom how my sister got to, my brothers, and my mom plays such a big role in our grandkids’ life,” Walker said.

To have extra support through her pregnancy, Walker sought out a doula. 

“I leaned on her a lot through this experience because you know, who else do you turn to? So, it has been very helpful,” she said.

A doula focuses on education and preparation along with emotional and some physical support. 

“With the doula, they’re telling you straight facts, and they’re putting you first,” Walker explained. 

Crystal Thornton, a mother of three, is one of only five Black women who recently completed a 16-week full spectrum doula certification program. 

“They just need extra help. They need extra comfort,” Thornton said. “I felt like I needed to be of service to my community.” 

“The doula program was comprehensive. They were able to get the education to become – to be able to provide prenatal, labor and delivery and postpartum support,” explained Flourishing Families, Inc. co-founder Tamesha Valverde.

Valverde is the only Black lactation consultant in San Joaquin County and is pushing for more Black birth workers.

Valverde said before she and the other women completed the program in 2021, there were no Black doulas in the county.

“Doula support should be a service that families don’t have to pay for,” Valverde said.

The five women now make up the Black Doula Collective with Flourishing Families, Inc., a Stockton nonprofit.

“We like to see people who do the things that we want to do, that look like us, and talk like us, and walk like us, and are shaped like us, and are the same shades as us, and it makes us feel comfortable,” Thornton said. “It makes us feel at home and at ease.”

Thornton said, as a doula, she has seen firsthand the difference in how Black mothers are treated in hospitals compared to others

“The history of implicit bias … it’s still present in the medical field, and they’re still learning that Black people don’t endure pain. Black people’s pain tolerance is extremely high. Black people are really aggressive in the way that they talk and the way that they walk and the way that they look,” Thornton explained.

Black mothers are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white, Hispanic and Asian mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Black babies die at two times the rate of white, Hispanic and Asian babies before they turn 1 year old. 

“There’s this fear like, ‘I might not make it out.’ That’s the first thing if I go into the hospital, to have my child. ‘Am I going to make it home to be able to take care of my child,’” Valverde said.

“Just having that other person there to advocate for them, to make sure that their needs are being addressed … we’re gonna see happier families,” said Ericka Dorsey, Flourishing Families, Inc. co-founder.

Dorsey, a mother of three, said the need is real.

“Every Black birth in San Joaquin County should have a Black doula. That’s how I see it,” Dorsey said.

She said Flourishing Families is working to get more Black doulas and other birth workers in the county, which will lead to more positive birth outcomes. 

“Postpartum depression goes down when you have a doula. Also, we know c-section rates drop when there’s a doula … and we’re going to see a decrease in maternal and infant mortality rates as well as an increase in breastfeeding rates,” Dorsey said. 

These women said the time for awareness campaigns is over. It’s time for action. It’s time for a change. 

“Our babies are dying. Our mothers are dying, and our men are dying in the streets. So yeah, I take it personal because it’s my village. It’s my people, it’s my community, and who else better to take care of them than us? Who else better to take care of them than someone like me,” Valverde said.

Last October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the California Momnibus Act, aiming to close the racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality rates. 

Valverde said their organization needs financial support from state and local policymakers to grow their doula collective, meet the needs of the Black community and save lives. 

“What we need is consistent funding. We need Black lives to actually matter. We need Black mamas to actually matter,” Valverde said.