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Milwaukee doula hopes to see more Black mothers, infants thrive

By Shannon Sims,


MILWAUKEE — A new report shows Black women in the U.S. are dying during pregnancy or childbirth at an alarming rate.

One Milwaukee woman is trying to change the outcome to see more Black mothers survive and infants thrive.

As a doula, Vanessa Johnson strives to give expecting mothers the best birthing experience possible.

"The numbers and statistics show that people who have doula birth workers do tend to have more positive birth experiences," said Vanessa Johnson.

Johnson, who also has more than 15 years of experience as an obstetrics nurse, isn't surprised to learn that Black women continue to die during pregnancy or childbirth at an alarming rate.

"Unfortunately, many lives have been lost because of just not being listened to."

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the Black maternal mortality rate doubled from pre-pandemic 2018 to 2021.


Johnson says what is heartbreaking is that many of these deaths are preventable.

"This is something that's been going on for a very long time and the root cause has been identified as racism."

For Johnson, this work is not only a passion, it is personal.

"This is, I believe, one of my first photos. I think it was just like a month or two," said Vanessa Johnson.


Johnson was born prematurely.

"I think I might be in labor, and they kept saying no, no, no."

Last year at the Milwaukee Film's Black Birth Symposium, her mother Yvonne Greer shared how she labored alone in a hospital room while doctors ignored her cries for care.

"It kept getting worse and worse. They took a look. The nurse said 'oh my god, I could see the head,'" said Yvonne Greer.


Johnson's mother never stopped advocating for herself or her child. It is that determination, Johnson says, that fuels her work to see better health outcomes for Black mothers.

"I really feel like she set the tone for this work and if I can be the advocate, be that voice of support and provide informed information so that they can go into spaces and advocate for their babies," said Johnson. "Then I feel like I'm walking in some great footsteps because my mother already kind of showed me the way."

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