How Native doulas bring a sense of home to their clients

Seattle can be a lonely place, so Native doulas work to make their clients feel like family.

A woman wearing a face mask and feathered earrings picks up plastic grocery bags

Cassandra Miles (Ojibwe) packs bags of groceries for her clients before hand-delivering them. Part of Miles' work is to deliver groceries, including culturally appropriate foods and Native medicines, to clients weekly, as well as visiting families before and after birth. Advocacy during birth is also a big part of her job. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

If your cultural home is far from Seattle, maybe you do what I do: You look for reminders. 

That can look like many things. For me, it’s sometimes going to King’s Hardware, a bar in Ballard and one of the first local places I found where I could order a Famosa, a Guatemalan beer originally called Gallo that had its name changed in the United States.

Despite the name change, it tastes similar enough to feel a little like home. It’s the same beer I drink with my relatives whenever I visit them in Guatemala City. It’s hard to find it here, but once I discovered a place that served Gallo, it became my go-to for whenever I miss my family. 

You’ll find similar stories all around Seattle, especially among people of color searching for a home away from home. It’s a narrative I often heard while reporting my story about a group of Native doulas in Seattle. The doulas told me that the people they serve are often ancestrally connected to lands far beyond the city. Some clients don’t have family in Seattle at all. These parents-to-be often seek the doulas’ services to get the help they need, but also to find community. 

Because of this, the doulas take it upon themselves to be more than caretakers. They become family. Each of the doulas I spoke with talked about this relationship, one built on solidarity where each person deeply understands what it’s like to feel you’re on your own. 

Doula Kristin Maury (Comanche) described it as an instant ease that she feels between herself and her clients. 

“There's that mutual understanding with our traditions, our cultures — and then the strong sense of resiliency that we have within our community,” she told me. “It's just like that unspoken vibe or connection that you have when you’re within your community.”

The Native doulas I focused on became their clients’ family in all kinds of ways. They prepped clients throughout pregnancy, sang cultural songs, offered Native medicines or, sometimes, were just present in the delivery room with their clients. 

Vanessa Lovejoy-Guron, a doula who is Filipina, told me about one instance where she was helping a woman give birth. Everyone in the room who assisted with the birth, from herself to the midwife to the assistants, was a person of color. 

“She looked at me and was like, ‘Vanessa, the only white person in this room is my husband,’ and she had tears in her eyes,” Lovejoy-Guron says. “It was just beautiful.” 

Finding that kind of support can be rare for mothers, but it’s desperately needed. As I learned throughout my reporting, doulas can provide key emotional support when a person might have none otherwise. 

So whether it’s having a drink that reminds you of family or being taken care of by someone who truly understands you, there are a million ways to feel connected to home. Building a healthy community also means building something as simple as that: connection.

This story was first published in Crosscut's Weekly newsletter. Want to hear more from reporters like Manola Secaira? Sign up for the newsletter, below.

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