This St. Louis doula is on a mission for her fellow moms
Eboni Hooper-Boateng has long had a passion for babies, pregnancy and biology. But it was her own birthing experiences that set her on the path where she finds herself today.
Hooper-Boateng, now the mother of a 3-year-old and nearly 2-year-old, remembers those experiences as empowering. She felt like she had support during her pregnancies. But as she talked with her peers, especially her fellow Black women, she sensed that her journey was something of an outlier.
“I quickly realized that my experience was rather different than a lot of people,” she told St. Louis on the Air. “And people kept saying, ‘What? I didn’t know about that,’ [or] ‘I could have done that? I didn’t know that was an option.’”
The St. Louis native wanted to help others access the same customized care that she’d received. In 2018, Hooper-Boateng underwent training to become a doula, someone who offers women emotional, informational and physical support throughout their reproductive journey.
She then founded Birthing You Doula Services, providing traditional, personalized support to local families — whether that’s during pregnancy and birth, or dealing with loss, or helping with lactation and postpartum care.
Hooper-Boateng, who is being honored Thursday evening with Generate Health’s 2021 Judy Wilson Griffin Maternal Health Equity Champion Award, said she feels like she’s been able to be a real source of help and advocacy for her clients.
“It makes a big difference to have that support person present to keep you encouraged, to help [keep them] or even their support people, whether it’s a partner or family member in the room, up to speed with the lingo that the staff is saying — what that means, what’s going on,” she explained. “And just having that person that’s by your side that whole time, and also to postpartum. I follow up routinely — people may not see their [medical] provider again until six weeks [after giving birth], but a lot can happen within those first six weeks.”
Last year, Hooper-Boateng started the Ruth Wilson Birth Fund in honor of her late grandmother, who was a labor and delivery nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The fund helps her provide lower-cost, and in some cases free, services to people of color and teens in need.
“I never want finances to be the barrier between having such needed support, and sometimes the folk who may not be able to pay for it out of pocket may be the ones that need you the most,” Hooper-Boateng said.
She described her grandmother, who died in March 2020, as “radiant,” even during a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Even with that loss of her memory, to see her interact with a child or a baby, she never lost that touch,” Hooper-Boateng said of her grandmother. “And so, it definitely is something that runs in the family, being able to have that connection.”
During Thursday’s talk show, as Hooper-Boateng shared her journey with host Sarah Fenske, the doula noted that she provides bereavement care through her practice as well.
“When we think about this work, we think about the joy that may come … when the reality is that loss happens. And there’s this overwhelming silence sometimes, when people experience a loss, no matter at what point in the pregnancy or sometimes even in the infancy of their child,” she explained. “And so I think it’s very important to know that you can have a doula no matter what, and I always let clients know that I’m your doula no matter what twist or turn happens along the way, that you will not lose me as a support person.”
Generate Health’s virtual “Standing Up for Black Mothers and Babies” event celebrates four local champions in the spotlight for contributions to the field of maternal and infant health, including Hooper-Boateng. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is speaking at the event.
Hooper-Boateng said she’s still processing the award, even though she’s known about it for several months. She added that she hopes the recognition raises awareness for the important role doulas can play in maternal and infant outcomes.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.