Topeka Sam and her nonprofit The Ladies of Hope Ministries (the LOHM), together with top maternity lifestyle brand Mama Glow, has launched an international doula training program for women and non-binary individuals impacted by the criminal legal system.

The online virtual doula training program will focus on reproductive justice and birth equity. This collaboration between the LOHM and Mama Glow aims to provide the individuals impacted by the criminal legal system with the necessary skills to offer peer support along the perinatal continuum - bringing the skill to incarcerated women, non-binary individuals, and other community members. The program also aims to educate attendees on establishing, operating and marketing a successful doula business.

The Cut's How I Get It Done
(Photo : Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for New York Magazine)
BROOKLYN, NY - MARCH 04: Keynote speaker, New Yorkers United For Justice, Sr. Advisor and The Ladies Of Hope Ministries, Founder Topeka K. Sam speaks onstage during The Cut's How I Get It Done at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on March 4, 2019 in Brooklyn, New York.

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Opening at the start of August 2021, the four-week program is expected to be a pathway toward industry-recognized doula certification. It began with fifty participants, all directly affected by the criminal legal system, who were awarded scholarships for the program. After their training, the new doulas are expected to support pregnant women in and out of incarceration.

"It's an honor to work alongside The Ladies of Hope Ministries, another Black female-led organization, to address the health, financial and policy gaps that impact our communities," said master doula and Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas. She adds that aside from demanding systemic change, there's a need to empower the new generation of birth workers through education that includes their experience, resources, guidance, and advocacy tools that support the community.

"We have the opportunity to work together to restore safety, dignity and strive towards equity in birth," Thomas concluded.

The doula training program should help the nation, especially since the United States posted the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, according to a study in The Lancet. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth compared to white women. An additional study published last October suggests that when a pregnant individual, or their partner, is incarcerated in the year leading to birth, they are more likely to receive sufficient prenatal care, leading to lower birth weight, preterm birth, or even infant mortality. All this adds stacks on the fact that imprisonment rates for women of color are higher than white women.

Optum, a leading health services company under the larger UnitedHealth Group, awarded $200,000 and pro bono services to the LOHM to support the doula training program. The move is a part of the health services leader to team up with community organizations and address the maternal health crisis.

"We're grateful for the support of Optum and their belief in our bold vision to provide necessary high quality, culturally competent support to birthing people who are impacted by the legal system," said the LOHM founder and executive director Topeka Sam. She adds that by working with Mama Glow and Optum, they can address the inequities in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care and restore dignity across the community members.

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