When she was 10 years old, Ste’Keira Shepperson saw her 16-year-old sister give birth at a hospital. It was her mother’s way of scaring her away from becoming a young mother.
But Shepperson wasn’t afraid. Instead, she was excited by the birth process. During her sister’s pregnancy, the pair would sit on the floor of a bedroom in their home in Roanoke, Virginia, and look through textbooks on fetal development.
Shepperson eventually got trained as a doula — someone who provides emotional and physical support for mothers during their pregnancy, birth or postpartum experiences. The DONA International doula training Shepperson attended was specifically for doulas of color.
But during her own pregnancy in 2016, she had trouble finding a Black doula. When she worked as a birthing assistant, then as a doula herself, she knew only two other doulas who were Black.
Seeing a need for support among mothers of color, Shepperson started her company, Triangle Doulas of Color, in 2018. The company provides support for women in the Triangle area during pregnancy, labor and postpartum periods with both birth doulas and postpartum doulas. Triangle Doulas of Color also provides scholarships for families with financial hardship to receive doula support.
Through Triangle Doulas of Color, Shepperson is trying to build a community of support, especially for Black mothers.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control between 2007 and 2016 showed that Black women were two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
“The racial isolation when you’re away from your village can be tough, especially when you’re already navigating an isolating experience like new motherhood and postpartum,” Shepperson said.
Briana Smith has been working as a doula for Triangle Doulas of Color for about one year. She wanted to work as a doula to increase positive birth outcomes for families of color.
“It’s been very fulfilling and very rewarding,” Smith said. “My only hope is that we can expand and continue to serve more families as we grow.”
Triangle Doulas of Color also hosts a Facebook group for mothers to find community and share their experiences. Krisna Guyton joined the group, called Triangle Mamas of Color, in 2019.
Guyton was pregnant with her third child when she met Shepperson while looking for a place to give birth. Guyton said though her two previous pregnancies had not been great experiences, Shepperson made her feel comfortable during her third pregnancy.
And when Shepperson mentioned how close-knit the members of Triangles Mamas of Color were, Guyton immediately wanted to join.
“Just coming to a group with people who look like you, who have similar experiences as a Black woman, it made things a lot more comfortable,” Guyton said.
The inspiration for Triangle Mamas of Color came after Shepperson participated in a postpartum moms group when she was a new mother. Shepperson was the only Black mom of the group, and she didn’t make any lasting friendships with the other mothers.
“I wanted to make something different so that Black moms could have some similarity and don’t feel like they need to explain themselves or fit into a mold or conform to a group,” Shepperson said. “I wanted them to be able to feel very at home.”
Ultimately, Shepperson hopes to provide resources and foster a community so that mothers of color don’t have to go through their experiences feeling alone like she did years ago.
“It really motivated and inspired me,” she said. “I knew I had to do it.”
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