ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) —When Senator Samra Brouk returns to Albany, she will have a special voter in mind. Her name is Lea.
Brouk, the first black woman to represent New York’s 55th district in the Senate, is a new mom. She wants other moms to have access to the positive birth experience she had earlier this year.
“Phyllis is my doula, my birth doula,” the senator smiles, explaining her relationship to the woman sitting next to her during our interview. Senator Brouk explains, “She was there to provide emotional, physical, and informational support through the pre-birth process, planning, birth process, and even postpartum.”
When I asked how they met, they paused and Phyllis Sharp, a certified birth doula and educator, says, “Her husband actually tracked me down.” They both chuckle. Then Brouk adds, “We relied a lot on Phyllis,” she explains. “We had a four hour Zoom class where my husband and I sat on the couch and really listened to Phyllis walk us through all this terminology that most people don’t know in their normal vernacular, like (birth terms) Apgar score or episiotomy. ”
Senator Brouk once said that when she was in Albany and in the final stages of her pregnancy, she called Phyllis at 10 p.m. and told her she was in pain.
“Hearing someone I knew I could trust and hear that you’re fine, just drink some water, relax, you don’t have to go to the hospital, stuff like that for those times, it’s really good to have that support, Brook recalls.
Sharp has helped mothers deliver hundreds of healthy babies in the Rochester area. She is a trusted resource, mentor and advocate for pregnant people and their partners.
“They make their own plan. I call it birth wishes instead of birth planning because we wish for things, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sharp said.
In New York, black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. For that reason, Brouk says she’s one of the biggest proponents of doulas in the state.
“In addition to anecdotal evidence, I have the data that shows that having a doula by your side in this process is one of the best ways to address the discrepancies we see in maternal mortality rates,” Brouk said.
The senator is calling for legislation that would first set up a working group to study the impact of doulas on declining infant and maternal mortality. The end goal, she says, is to establish reimbursement rates for doulas in the state’s Medicaid program so that all women have access to this type of care.
“If we don’t set up a system where finances and paying for a doula are no longer a barrier, we’re never going to reach the people who need it most,” Brouk said.
In New York, doula services can cost between $500 and $5,000.