Women Working It: Doula Kaila Matthews helps expectant parents get what they want

[Women Working It is an ongoing series hyping women entrepreneurs and business owners in Memphis.]
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After teaching kids for eight years, Kaila Matthews shifted her lessons from the classroom to the delivery room.

“What I love about being a doula is I'm still educating people,” she said.

A birth doula educates and supports a pregnant person before, during, and following labor and advocates for their choices throughout.

“I offer birth, postpartum and lactation services for families,” said Matthews. “All things informational, all things physical, spiritual, holistic, and healing. I always tell people I'm a nonstop resource center.”

In addition to running her own doula business, Matthews is a community doula at Birth Strides. The nonprofit provides free childbirth services to Black pregnant people in Hickory Hill, Binghampton, Orange Mound, South Memphis, Frayser, and North Memphis.

“One of my goals as a birthworker is to ensure I can decrease the number of unnecessary interventions utilized in births across the city, especially for women of color,” she said.

“Black women are often disregarded in the maternal healthcare arena when they complain of pain or are thought to have higher pain tolerance levels.”

Matthews’ transition from teaching middle and high school students to teaching expectant parents began with her own experience with a doula in 2013. 

“[Having a doula] just opened my eyes to all of the different opportunities and areas to do something outside of what was told to me,” she said.

The Memphis native learned she was pregnant soon after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She planned to give birth in Chattanooga with the help of a midwife.

In her third trimester, 22-year-old Matthews accepted a teaching fellowship in Georgia. At 33 weeks pregnant, she moved to Augusta where her now-husband was living. The couple found an obstetrician and added a doula after the doctor discouraged some of their birthing decisions.

Matthews said her doula “definitely changed the game” by providing constant family support and research that could inform her pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum choices.

Her experience with a doula also sparked a dream to pursue a birthwork career, but the decision to stop teaching full-time took some time. The family moved back to Memphis in 2015, and after about five more years of teaching, “it was time for a change,” Matthews said.

She announced her career transition in December 2019 via Facebook. Throughout 2020, she trained for certification with the National Black Doula Association, Embodied Doula Trainings,
and the Healthy Children Project.

Expectant moms expressed interest in her services right away.

“I got clients immediately. I [attended] a birth within a month of that post, and it's just been nonstop ever since," she said.

Matthews worked with 20 families in 2020. Most of the nine current clients live in Memphis. When COVID-19 hit, she shifted her business model to include virtual consultations and started working with clients in other cities and states, including Nashville, Chattanooga, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Matthews talked to High Ground about her first year of business for WhatTheDoula and how her own doula changed the course of her life.Kaila Matthews, pictured here in her company shirt, is a doula with a focus on helping expectant Black parents through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. (Submitted)

THE Q & A

Why did you want a doula when you were pregnant with your daughter?
I was very late in my pregnancy, about 33 weeks, when I moved to Augusta. I’d had a midwife in Chattanooga, so my journey was a little different than seeing the traditional [obstetrician]. I told [the obstetrician in Chattanooga] I didn’t want the epidural. I wanted a natural birth, and he told me, ‘You’re one of those granola moms. You’re going to feel this pain.’

I didn’t want to be induced, and as I approached my due date, I remember them repeatedly telling me to set the induction date. We needed somebody on the team that could help me feel a lot more confident about what it is I know I want to do in this situation.

How do you think having a doula changed your own pregnancy and labor experience?
It changed my pregnancy experience in the way that it included my village. My grandmother is a large part of my life. Her birthing experience was very different and the things that she would suggest to do for my newborn or just for labor in general — it was cool to hear my doula bring some research to the conversation and challenge these things and unlearn us all.

My doula was really dope about including my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, in the prenatal visits and showing us how he could show up for me in labor and delivery. I remember in one of the prenatal sessions my doula practicing with my husband and saying, “There's going to be a point where she's not going to be able to talk or speak or do anything, and you're going to have to advocate for your wishes.” And he did that in the moment.

How did your experience with a doula lead you to pursue a birthwork career?
It just opened my eyes to all of the different opportunities and areas to do something outside of what was told to me. Specifically, for me those things were natural birth and breastfeeding. I was really interested in both of them and wanting to learn a lot more about them and my doula helped me do that. And [I was] looking for a career change for myself, to connect with something that really spoke to me.

Then I watched a documentary, Ricki Lake’s “The Business of Being Born.” It makes you ask so many questions about why things are the way they are in the maternal health care system.

What is involved in the certification process for doulas?
There are certified and trained doulas. Certified means you're backed by some organization. Because we're not a highly regulated profession, there is no one organization that is the boss. There are the ones that have been around longer and the ones that offer different things.

Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi Hunter is a native Memphian and freelance content creator. She writes and podcasts about Memphis, faith and entrepreneurship for local and national publications, and leads a creative media assistance studio based in Memphis.
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