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DES MOINES, Iowa — A call to action for Iowa’s under-represented birthing community is sparking a conversation for change.

Last Fall, Channel 13 highlighted the maternal health crisis women of color are facing in the state. Stillbirths among black mothers in Iowa are twice as likely than any other race although stillbirths overall are on the decline. Some medical experts blame a lack of collective interest from the medical field to help improve the disparity but two women from Des Moines are taking matters into their own hands.

“The reason I started to do doula work was  specifically  around the maternal health crisis. Having other black women in my life to talk about that with is amazing,” says Olivia Samples, a doula in training.

Following the Channel 13 report, the story also hit close to home for Kanika Mayes, who says she was persuaded into having a surgery she was uncomfortable with. “I had uterine fibroids and because of that I was having chemical miscarriages and I did not feel like I really had any other options,” she says. That’s why Mayes and Samples says they  want to be part of the solution; diversifying Iowa’s birthing community. The two women are in the early stages of becoming certified doulas or pregnancy coaches.  Their mission is to be an advocate for mothers who look like them, something they say is missing in Iowa. They say equal representation is a small but critical piece to improving maternal care.

“Stepping into the legacy of birth work is what a lot of black women have had. I learned that a lot of black women delivered babies during slavery,” Samples says. “It’s kind of a legacy that`s always been meant for women of color so I’m excited to step into that.”

Their goal is to help improve the quality and support when it comes to mothers of color and their babies.

“My goal is that it becomes less uncommon, less unheard of that there are  African-American women that are available to be the voice for someone who like myself was in a situation who felt like they weren`t heard and didn`t know what their choices were. I hope that we can create more choices for women of color,” says Mayes.

Most doula training programs take anywhere from a year to two years to complete.