Providing doula services for communities that cannot afford them
Ancient Song Doula Services is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that was created by Chanel Porchia, a mother of four, who wanted to provide positive and individualistic maternity and infant support services to women in Brooklyn who might not be able to afford them.
With her first pregnancy, Chanel Porchia's private insurance through her job in corporate America covered her home birth expenses, and while she was thankful that her insurance covered her home birth she also realized that not all women in her community have the same access to the services private insurance allow. "Many women in my community have to go to free clinics to get care which isn't always personalized and customized to their experiences and needs." And thus, Ancient Song Doula Services was created in the living room of her home in 2008.
Ancient Song Doula Services' (ASDS) mission is: "To offer quality doula services to women of color and low income families who otherwise would not be able to afford doula care." ASDS believes in this so much they do not turn down anyone who seeks out their services but does not have the financial means to pay for them. In the seven years that they have been in business, they have not turned anyone away.
The thing that intrigued me the most about ASDS was that they offer so much more than just doula services. "We really believe in meeting people where they are at and helping women and their families in any way that we can. I realize that not all of the women we work with have the same background. Some have private insurance, some have public insurances, some are living in shelters, are experiencing domestic violence and/or still dealing with past traumas in their lives which affect them throughout their pregnancy and delivery. To help them have the best pregnancy and birthing experiences, we acknowledge the past trauma and help them work through it."
One way ASDS accomplishes this is by hosting weekly meetings and open houses for the community to come in to learn about the services and discuss different things they are experiencing and dealing with in life. All of the weekly meetings and workshops that ASD offers have a very strict, judgment-free approach and environment. "I'm not here to judge women who have different lives than I do. My goal is to present them with different information and a wide range of information so that they can make the best and most informed decision for themselves."
Community sustainability is also a very important part of ASDS. "We offer advocacy and workshops for people who are interested in becoming certified doulas or midwifes, and offer infant feeding support groups. We know the statistics about black women and breastfeeding and want to offer safe environments where black women can come and discuss their experiences, ask questions and gain support when it comes to breastfeeding. I also make it a point to call those get-togethers 'infant feeding groups' so as to not exclude women who may choose not to breastfeed or are unable to do so for a number of reasons but still need a space to come together with other mothers and women in the community.
ASDS offices are also a very welcoming space for families. "Sometimes I bring my children to work with me and many of the other women who work here are able to bring their children into work when they need to. We are a family business in every sense. I started ASDS in my living room cooking for women who wanted to know more about the services." Although ASDA has grown tremendously since 2008, the family environment is still very much a part of the organizational climate. "I made it a point to set up play areas for children when we expanded into an office space. Some of the women who work here breastfeed and pump their breast milk and providing a space that is bright and welcoming is necessary."
I asked Porchia how being a mother of four, including a set of twins, influences the work she does and if her children know what she does for a living. "Being that my motivation to start ASDS was because of my positive home birth, they are very much a part of the work I do. I think having them around [the office space] when women come in helps them relax and see the normalization of being a mother, working and breastfeeding, and [to see that] being able to be a complex mother and woman is possible for them and a beautiful thing. In addition, my children are learning this too. They are learning that moms work sometimes and they're learning the beauty of entrepreneurship."
Another valuable lesson I think Chanel's children are learning is the beauty of the many different ways families can look and that community work can be a mutually beneficial exchange.