While growing up in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, it was Christin Farmer’s dream to be a midwife. As a junior majoring in nursing at Kent State University, Farmer would come to need the services of a birth worker, or doula, when she became pregnant.
“It was very overwhelming,” says Farmer. “I was deadly afraid. I thought, ‘Oh my God, my life is over.’ I couldn’t tell my parents, and I didn’t know how I would be able to finish school. I went through every emotion.”
What Farmer discovered when she sought the services of a doula was demoralizing.
“It was really important for me to find a doula,” says Farmer. “But I couldn’t just look them up in the white pages. My other thought was how I would pay for one. My third thought was how could I find someone who understood my culture?”
Thanks to the help of six childhood friends who were fellow students and her neighbors at KSU, Farmer was able to push through her initial fears. “I went right back to school 11 days after my son was born,” she says. “I was able to finish with a college education, and that would have been impossible to do without my friends.”
Farmer’s experiences planted the seed for what would become Birthing Beautiful Communities in 2015. The nonprofit, which received an initial grant of $125,000 through the Cleveland Foundation, trains and offers the services of a doula at no cost to those in need in addition to hosting workshops and classes for everything from co-parenting to healthy eating.
The year prior to founding her nonprofit, Farmer’s experiences with two women from Collinwood opened her eyes as to just how vital a doula’s services could be. “One client was a 15-year-old with PTSD,” she says. “I went to her home and found out that her mother and grandmother also had PTSD.
I knew that baby was going to have the same fate. The second client had postpartum depression. I knew I needed more support to do this.”
After posting a PSA on Facebook asking about doulas of color, Farmer was amazed when five women responded.
“I thought I was the only black doula in Cleveland,” she says.
Today, Birthing Beautiful Communities has a staff of 24, a second location in Akron and plans to expand in 2021 with an administration campus, short-term housing and a birthing center in the Hough neighborhood. With African American women seven times more likely to give birth to preterm babies that account for more than 60 percent of infant deaths, Farmer’s work is daunting, but essential.
“If our babies aren’t doing well, our communities aren’t doing well,” she says. “The reason we have these infant mortality rates is 20 percent clinical and 80 percent social. Problems with employment, housing and education build up internalized stress. If we can intervene, we can lessen those stressors.”Farmer has also testified before the Ohio senate judiciary committee regarding the treatment of pregnant women in jail who are shackled even as they give birth. “I do a lot of advocacy in the political space,” she says. “This is my passion…this is what I was put on earth to do.”