August 19, 2021
Guest host Adilia Watson talks with Jazzmine Brooks, known as the “Rural Black Doula.” Brooks talks about becoming a doula, mental health, and advocating for patients.
Jazzmine Brooks (she/they) is the founder, owner, and full-spectrum doula of Jai Olive Wellness in Iowa. Brooks became a doula to promote holistic living for rural women, women of color, queer and trans persons, and diverse families.
All right. Welcome, Jazzmine Brooks, to Everywhere Radio. How are you doing today?
I’m great. How are you?
I’m doing good. I’m holding on by a thread because it is hot where I’m at. Where are you coming from?
I’m coming from Iowa. It is equally hot. Probably as hot as it needs to be, because honestly, any more humidity, I’d probably just leave my stuff here and move.
Here in Sacramento, it’s dry heat, so I don’t know. I think I’d want the humidity more. Well, I’d like to welcome you to talk about your position with Jai Olive Wellness. If you want to tell the viewers what you do, and profession.
Awesome. So, again, Jazzmine Brooks, she/they. I am the founder, owner, and full-spectrum doula of Jai Olive Wellness here in Iowa. I provide doula support services to primarily women of color, that’s women, trans, non-binary, queer individuals and families. So, I think of it as birth to earth, so if you’re wanting to get connected with a mental health provider, to you’re trying to start a family, to you are suffering from reproductive health challenges, to you’ve lost a child, I’m really kind of that advocate.
That’s amazing. I said, “Jie Olive,” earlier. I apologize. So, “Jai Olive.” Can you talk a bit about where that name came from?
So, Jai Olive didn’t come from anything specific. It was looking at my name, my family’s name. So, Olive, Olivia. It’s a family name. It’s my middle name. And then, Jai, it means strength. So, it was already kind of in the stars.
And it’s kind of fun to hear different ways in which they say it because then you can tell where people are from when they say, “Jie,” or “Jai,” which is cool because I also see a value in people using their own language, their lingo, their enunciation is part of what the community is for me, what the network could be, and what I want to grow it into.
Now we’re … I think, what? Six services in. It’s just me right now, but I have a really good vendor pool of folks that have been great to my clients and wanting to continue to grow that. And then, expanded it to being one of the co-founders of Iowa Black Doula Collective. And so, our work is across the state of Iowa, doing similar things, connecting folks, providing care, whether in-person or virtual.
Yeah. There’s some stark stuff about rural maternity loss … mortality rates, and especially with rural black women a Can you talk about the process that you go through when interacting and taking on these clients and the services you offer?
Yeah. Absolutely. So, you talked about health disparities amongst black community and rural environments. And commonly, when people think rural, they think South, which is normal, right? We see a lot of research down there, and so, most of where I focus as a doctoral student at Iowa State is looking at Midwest health.
When we talk about health disparities, it means this branch of things that are happening to a person or family. So, when we think about environment, mental, physical, social, food, all those things are tied together.
Folks really don’t know how doulas can be very integral. Like, research has shown that we lower rates of Caesarian, we increase positive birth outcomes, We see higher rates of maternal mortality and maternal morbidity in rural places for a lot of reasons.
Particularly, my clients, I’m mostly focused in supporting high-risk. So, high-risk can mean a ton of things. You have rare disease. You have been deemed morbidly obese. You are at risk for things like pre-eclampsia or some type of cardiovascular disease. Those types of things, I kind of help folks through in navigating.
Doctors will get in a room and they will decide if they are able to provide this person care in case something happens throughout their labor. And so, they will send them to Iowa City. I’m located in the Des Moines area. That’s two hours away. So, if you could imagine driving for two hours in labor. If you add on the fact that maybe I don’t have adequate transportation, that adds another layer. If you add on the fact that I’m doing this alone, that adds another layer.
So, most folks are really looking at their doctors as their go-to. “You went to school for this. You know what to do. You know what’s best.” But honestly, it should be a collaborative experience. “I’m having a pain. I know where the pain is. I know how long the pain has been lasting,” and the doctor is supposed to help in processing that, but you don’t see that often happening. You see the doctor saying, “Oh, that pain doesn’t exist.” Or, “Oh, it’s just in your head.” Or, “Are you suffering from this instead?” You’re seeing people get misdiagnosed for things.
For example, endometriosis and PCOS is a common reproductive challenge that happens within women, particularly black women, we get diagnosed too late, which often results in us getting surgeries to remove our uterus. And so, we’re having to make decisions about, “Are we going to be able to carry a child?” At a still very young age. You’re pretty much in your late-20s, early-30s. So, that shouldn’t be something you have to decide. Right?
But this is kind of what I’m having to walk folks through is where have they been landing? Who has been supporting them? Teaching them on how to ask questions, how to seek providers. It shouldn’t be this thing of, “My body is a car and I’m just here for regular maintenance.” It should never be like that.
Commonly, my clients, they’re like, “My doctor told me to take this.” And I say, “Well, why?” And they’re like, “I don’t know.”
So, my role as a doula is to just look at the periphery and internally and say, “What exactly is going on and how much are we perceiving those things?”
Yeah. And that makes me think of how much autonomy is just stripped from the person giving birth because you’re just succumbing to circumstances, the only doctor that’s here, and they’re here just for the present. And I can see how disheartening it could be when you finally get to the doctor’s office, when you finally have that meeting that there’s a lot more going on with you before and after.
And it’s very profound to think about that. Like, me as a black woman, with the things that I have to face when I eventually have children. And the aspect of it being holistic really gives more autonomy to the person who’s seeking a doula. The work you just described, it’s amazing.
Can you talk more about the benefits that you’re seeing as Jai Olive starts to grow?
Absolutely. What I’m seeing is folks are … Like you mentioned, the word, “Autonomy.” Doulas do not and should never speak for their clients. Our role is advocacy. Our role is support. So, we are the in-between of anytime you’re going to the hospital, the emergency room, to you are going to the birth space, to you just going to your regular appointments, that you feel very much that you know what’s going on and that you could feel encouraged and empowered in that space, to tell someone to stop touching you, to tell someone this is how you want to push, to tell someone that this does not feel right, and to be heard and believed.
But there’s a big benefit to having a doula throughout your process. There’s a lot of unsurety. Deliveries, labor, pregnancy are all different, whether you have more than one child. I always come in this space of, you just never know.
I had one client. She was on her fifth, and she had had smooth labors on all her pregnancies. But this was the first time, and I was there, where she had a very hard labor.
And so, you just never know.
And I see that growth, right? People seeing more of a value, getting to know what is it that I do. That’s why I try and have fun on my social media, try and engage with people in different ways, do things like this so that people understand you can reach out, you can ask for help. And you’re seeing folks being a little bit more open about their experiences.
I get a lot of folks that talk to me about, “I had the hardest birth experience,” and that was the first time they’ve ever processed it. And so, unfortunately, I end up in this counselor role that’s not my role. But I end up in this counselor role to help them in processing their birth and the trauma that they’ve experienced.
This reminds me of my mother was describing giving birth and she was talking about how, when she was pushing, she was laughing because my grandmother was telling her, “Just do it, just do it!” And it made her laugh. And I can’t imagine what that would say to a doctor, just hearing a black woman laughing, and then there comes that stereotype about, “Black women don’t feel pain.”
So, that just makes me really think about, no, birth can present itself in more than just feelings of pain. There’s a lot of things going through it. And I think that speaks a lot to what the expansion on what people’s perceptions of birth can be.
I really appreciate you sharing more about your process and the benefits of your work to people.
So, I’d like to hear a little bit more about how you got here. How’d you end up in Iowa?
So, I’m the daughter of an educator, so we moved to Vegas. My parents were trying to get us out of Chicago. A lot of things were changing and happening. We were living in the suburbs and we moved back to the city. And if you’re not familiar with Chicago, a lot of things have changed significantly about the place. And so, Vegas ended up being home. Stayed there for my undergrad and my grad school, so went to Reno for undergrad.
And just fell into higher ed. My partner and I were long-distance. And ended up in Iowa. I was their violence p revention coordinator.
And there was some type of thing that happened. I wanted to call it the Big Bang, right? Some explosion happened for me to be like, “I need to get into healthcare.” It was something I wanted to do early on, but was steered away from. And so, it was like I think it’s time.
Opted to go into nursing, and sat in orientation and was like, “This is not it.” And so, I found doula work as a really great opportunity for me to not feel confined to systems
And so, I ended up going to Atlanta to be trained by a former midwife through the National Black Doula Association, and applied for my doctoral program that November.
So, it’s just been … Part of my life is being a scholar, a researcher, trying to publish as well as practice this work in real-time. So, I get no breaks.
That’s very beautiful. I echo you not wanting to be kind of tied down to something very niche like nursing, and there’s a lot more to healthcare than just being in one, solid profession and your thing.
And I’d like to tap into the fact that you don’t take any breaks.
Oh, I do now.
Switching that up. You got to switch it up because breaks are necessary. I feel that. But also, the fact that you’re like, “I take no breaks,” is associated with how grave this work can be.
How do you spend your time when you’re not offering all of this support, and working with clients, and educating
Yeah. So, I’m a huge traveler. I love exploring. And so, what’s nice about living in Iowa is that I’m less than five hours from anything, particularly land. My family originated from Belize, my mother’s side. And so, being by water, being by the earth is super important to me. So, taking care of my plants, being outside with my dog and my partner has been huge. We talked about wanting to kayak a little bit more.
I’ve been trying to explore food. I am a foodie. I love mom and pop spots. I love diners.
It’s amazing because when you’re talking about all the care that you have to give in support, it’s important to care for yourself and that gets lost, especially when you’re dealing with other people. It still takes a lot out of the person offering the care.
I think there’s some mirroring going on with how you take care of yourself and how that informs your work. So, that’s beautiful.
If you could say anything to anyone that’s considering getting a doula, and they live in rural Iowa, rural Wisconsin, rural Alabama? What would you say to them?
Yeah. I would say, “Your intuition is real. And so, if this is something that you consider, I think you should listen.” I think we are taught to not listen to our intuition because it could be based off fear or being irrational.
Second, you can do your research. A lot of doulas are offering virtual support. So, if someone can’t get to you, don’t deny that to yourself because virtual support is harder and if not more important than in-person.
And I think the third is doulas do different works at different points of time. And so, if you are looking at fertility, birth, postpartum. All those things are important.
I’ve been in birth spaces with Mom, Grandma, Father … I’ve been in birth spaces with everybody, right? We literally in there like sardines. And I make sure that they are a part of it, that they feel bonded and included.
Commonly, I hear partners not seeing a value with doulas because they’re like, “Well, I can do it.” I’ve seen a lot of people freeze up because their partners are in so much pain that their brain can’t even reconcile how to step in. And so, a doula helps prepare the partner to understand how to step in, how to process, how to understand pain.
Lastly, doulas help you with deciding what type of birth that you want. There’s unassisted births, there’s at-home births, there’s midwife births, there’s in-hospital births. There’s midwife hospital births. Some people don’t realize, particularly in …
But midwives are a great alternative that you can still have a hospital experience if you want, or you can look into something else, and doulas can help you with that decision.
Mental health is a huge thing, drug use is a huge thing. A doula can help you in navigating that. So, if you are on any mental health medication, or struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar, those types of things, a doula can help you navigate it, particularly throughout your pregnancy. And so, don’t feel like, “A doula wouldn’t understand. Doulas don’t know.” Our role is to understand. Our role is to uplift. Our role is to empower you.
You’re going to feel counted out in all types of places. A doula is going to make sure that you feel counted in. And so, if you’re in a rural place, you have an option of having someone at your clinic.
Doulas are not expensive. We have scholarships. We have discounts. We have payment plans. I tell people, “ Put a doula on your registry.” People love paying for doulas.
Thank you so much for sharing that. And it’s so valid, all the work that you’re doing, and the fact that you’re willing to share that with so many people is amazing.
That’ll conclude our episode of Everywhere Radio, and I’d like to thank you again, Jazzmine, for joining us.