Laurel Gourrier, 34, is a doula and one of the women behind the podcast Birth Stories in Color, which she co-hosts with Danielle Jackson. Her first child was delivered in a hospital, an experience she says inspired her to become a birth worker. She chose to give birth to her next two children at home. Gourrier, who is based in Columbus, Ohio, but now temporarily lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, shared her story with TODAY for Black Maternal Health Week.
With my first birth, I will be honest: Black maternal mortality rates weren’t at the forefront of my mind. At that time I wasn’t aware of the statistics — that Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example.
My first child was born in 2015. Hospital births were all I knew. That was what most people in my family and many of my friends had done. I had a hospital birth with midwives. It was everything that I wanted it to be based on what I knew. I wanted an unmedicated birth and a care provider who was going to follow my birth vision, and I got that. Afterward, I was sharing with friends and family about my experience and they said, “Why don’t you become a doula?” That led me on my path in this work.
I started working in hospitals as a birth worker serving other families. With my Black clients in particular, I could see conscious and unconscious biases show up in the way that providers spoke to them. There was pushback to what my clients and families wanted. There was a lot of pressure to follow protocol. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a hospital birth, but as a birth worker, I want to empower Black women, who are already at a disadvantage, to be able to make their own decisions about what they want their childbirth to look like.
I have been very lucky — all of my births have been low-risk and a very beautiful experience. But when I got pregnant with my second child in 2018, everything I had learned as a doula — about the systemic racism that Black women face in the hospital system — was very much a part of my decision to choose a home birth.
When I was with my midwives, we had conversations. There was an understanding of what my life experience was being pregnant. They also spoke to my partner. It was like we were all in this together. I know what happens when you meet certain care providers and how you can be dismissed, how you can be ignored.
If anything was to go wrong, I trusted them to communicate with me. I’m low-risk, but we had a plan in place to transfer to a hospital if necessary, or if I wanted interventions. People think home birth transfers to hospitals are usually emergencies, but you can also transfer to a hospital if halfway through your birth you’re like, “I don’t want this anymore.”
We birthed in my parents’ home. I was able to bring in my family — my brother, one of my sisters and my parents were all present for my son’s birth — and that experience has completely shifted what they understand birth to look like.
I knew my midwives. A friend was my doula. I’ve always wanted an all-Black birth care team, but there aren’t very many Black midwives, especially home birth Black midwives. Funding is one reason why — finding the money to be able to take the courses that you need to and being able to do your apprenticeship can be difficult.
All of my prenatal appointments were done at home. My son’s birth was exactly how I envisioned it. My care team listened to what I wanted.
My third birth earlier this year was also a home birth. It was a fast labor and the midwives made it through the door literally as I was catching my daughter in my arms.
No two bodies or birth experiences are the same, and people will have different preferences. But it’s important to know what’s available to you, what your rights are and to be able to trust yourself. Especially when you’re pregnant and when you’re giving birth, the most important tool you have is yourself, your gut and being in tune with what your body is telling you.
We think doctors know it all — and I’m not in any way saying that they’re not qualified to make those decisions. But a lot of times, they are working within a system that also rushes them. Research shows that birthing people report better communication with midwives than clinicians, and that midwives schedule more time with patients than doctors.
Whatever you choose, if you feel you haven’t been heard, you can leave and find somebody else. Getting an advocate to help support you can be really helpful as well.
It’s important to share Black birth stories because for a long time, we weren’t able to share those stories as widely and as openly as we are now. As I’ve learned doing the podcast, there’s so much value in being able to hear someone share from their perspective what’s happening to them. There’s so much power in that.
Having a time like Black Maternal Health Week that is specifically dedicated to sharing those stories — good, bad, ugly, beautiful — provides an insight into what those experiences are and how we can shift those and make changes.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.