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caption: Full spectrum doula Davinah Simmons.
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Full spectrum doula Davinah Simmons.
Credit: Courtesy Davinah Simmons.

Out of a summer of Black grief, insisting on Black joy

As a full spectrum doula, Davinah Simmons holds space for both life and death. 2020 saw disproportionate levels of Black death, from the novel coronavirus and from ongoing police brutality.

My name is Davinah Simmons, and I am a full spectrum doula, a childbirth educator, a lactation educator, and a facilitator.

COVID-19 has changed this work for me, and that there have been births that I've missed because I can't go into the hospitals. And so my clients have had their babies alone. And there's been, there's been loss there. So I think that the pandemic has also changed my work and that there's a lot of grief and a lot of loss felt, on both ends for my clients and for myself.

A lot of birth support is given through touch, and having to wear masks in the homes of people who are having their babies or in the hospital has, has really kind of changed the way that you interact with each other.

And so there've been times where, you know, before I step over the threshold of someone's door, I say, “I want you to see my face before I come in, because I just want you to remember that it's me. This is me.”

My work in working with Black clients is different in the sense that typically when we're meeting prenatally, we're talking about understanding the landscape of the systems in which they will be having their baby. And a lot of our conversations revolve around understanding what their rights are, understanding how to communicate with their care providers to ensure that they're being listened to.

There's a term called weathering that I often introduced to my clients if they're not familiar with it, which basically encompasses what happens to the nervous system of a Black person who has undergone or experienced systemic racism in this country. And what it does to the nervous system and what it does to their biological mechanisms. And oftentimes this is why African-American babies and African-American birthing people have a higher death rate compared to white clients.

Seeing images of, you know, people being killed in the streets by police officers, seeing images of people being mistreated, and then going into the homes of people who need me to hold energetic space for them has meant that I've really needed to be in integrity with how I'm cared for, and with what my boundaries are.

Um, because birth work and death work is, is spiritual work. Whether you want to acknowledge that or not. There is so much that happens in the birth or the death of someone. And it's really important as a person who is holding that space and creating that container that you know how to regulate yourself in the moment, but also that you know how to deeply care for yourself after.

My mind has had to be ramped up. I feel like a thousand percent more, as I am kind of also in my own Black body hypervigilant of, you know, traveling late at night to a birth and, um, making sure that I'm going to get home safe and hoping that I get home safe, as I'm holding space for other people.

The ability to receive from others has been a huge test for me of understanding and remembering that my Black body deserves to receive, in a world that socializes and conditions us to believe that we accept the bare minimum and we accept what we get and we don't ask for more. Because that understanding and belief is ancestral. That belief is tied up with generational trauma.

And, it's really – it’s forced me to reframe. Knowing and understanding that I deserve what is coming my way, and that that abundance is for me. But also recognizing that just because I'm receiving from people does not mean that I need to give more to them.

It does not mean that they're entitled to my energy. It does not mean that they're entitled to my time. And it doesn't even mean that they're entitled to my gratitude.

And I think that is something, as a birth and death worker, gratitude is the center of the work. It's the center of, of who I am. And the initial, like, muscle reflex to send a thank you card or make a phone call or send an email to thank people. I've had to really allow myself to just rest.

Right now to cultivate joy, I am watching videos of Black people laughing because I'll tell you what. There's no – yeah, there's no better medicine out there than seeing my people laugh and let all of that abounding joy, like reverberate through their bodies and come out through laughter. There is a known language in Black laughter and we know it.

We know it well. And it is so infectious. And so, um, it's so rich and juicy. And so, I have been just celebrating what it means to be Black while just connecting every tendril and fiber of my soul to pleasure, because that's been my lifeline during this time. My hope for Black people is that we return to remembering the ways in which we are truly magical and that we continue to press into the spaces where there is joy, where there is freedom and where there's abundance. That: that is my hope for Black people.