Barbara Verneus is the founder of Tiny & Brave Holistic Services based in Austin, Texas. She holds a Graduate certificate from Boston University in Maternal and Infant Care in Public Health and a Master’s in Counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family. Barbara is a student midwife, blogger, maternal life coach, and single mother of one. Barbara has been a trained Birth Companion (doula) since 2004 and is the the recipient of our Maternal Health Micro Grant. She will be using the funds to provide a person of color who resides in Austin with doula services at a reduced price.
What drove you to pursue a career in the field of maternal health?
To be honest a movie brought me to the path. The movie was called “Losing Isaiah” starring Halle Berry and Jessica Lange. From there a few days later during my time in community college I met a woman who was in a nursing program who was studying to become a midwife. I never heard of a midwife until I met her but she planted the seed. To this day, I can’t remember her name but if I could, I would say thank you.
In 2006, you went overseas with the African Birth Collective to Senegal, West Africa assisting midwives in labor and delivery—can you tell us more about that experience?
It was an amazing experience where I assisted midwives in two different birth centers which were completely different worlds. But I learned so much about myself and my vision. It was there that I confirmed I wanted to do birth both in the States as well as overseas. I want to help maternal and infant mortality in the homeland of my parents which is Haiti/Hisponal. Senegal was also the place I experienced my first infant death. For some reason, even through that traumatizing experience, it propelled me more towards becoming a midwife.
You’ve conducted workshops at Juneteenth Health Summit (Austin, Texas), Yoni Poppin-Bellies Edition (Miami, Florida) and Decolonize Birth (Brooklyn, New York) and even facilitated the first Black Breastfeeding gathering in Dallas, Texas in 2016. Do you hope to continue to make workshops and public speaking a part of your work?
I hope to continue to do more workshop. Recently, I curated an event led by Sister Divine who taught about Grandma's Hands, a 1 Day Intensive Workshop in Austin, Texas. In October, I conducted a workshop in Louisiana where I spoke on motherhood, entrepreneurship, and depression at the Black Birth Matters Conference.
On the intersection between birth work and activism—
I am a strong advocate in being an instrument of healing to women, mothers and mothers-to-be who have experienced trauma; while inspiring more Black and Brown women to enter the birth work field. I am also an advocate and activist on the issue of the infant and maternal disparities happening within Black communities. When I become a midwife I desire to serve those of the African-diaspora in the urban community and overseas in Haiti.
Can you speak on racial disparities within midwifery and death rates amongst black mothers and infants in America?
Also, Haiti has a high maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rate and a lack of professionally trained midwives. Yet midwives are in short supply in many developing countries. And the deficits are highest in the areas where needs are greatest. Currently, there is only one midwifery education program in all of Haiti. Haiti has never had enough midwives to meet the needs of the population. After the earthquake of 2010, the gap widened.
An estimated 303,000 women and about 3 million newborn babies died in Haiti in 2015 alone. The vast majority lost their lives to complications and illnesses that could have been prevented with proper prenatal and delivery care—services provided by midwives.
A lot of women in the black community are unable to have a doula at their birth due to cost. With a black mom having a doula it will help decrease the use of pitocin, c-section, medication, and the chances of her newborn being admitted to a special care nursery. Doula services support successful breastfeeding. Doula services save lives. There needs to be more opportunities for women of color to gain more support in the birth world as the consumer and as the provider.
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