Dionne McDonald is a doula, which is why some know her as Doula Dionne. She’s a birth coach who turned a bad childbirth experience into a passion for assisting other mothers and families through the birthing process.
At 19, Dionne became pregnant with her now-teenage daughter Nadia, an experience that would shape her passion for compassionate and informed caregiving. She said that during her pregnancy she was given so much “misinformation.” I gained like 75 pounds. I had high blood pressure and damned near gestational diabetes,” she said in an interview with WI Bridge.
Like too many Black women, Dionne’s first childbirth experience was not what she had hoped for. She was prematurely induced into labor and rushed into surgery for a Caesarean section, commonly referred to as a C-section, a delivery method used when it appears the mother or baby is at risk. But for Black women, C-sections are disproportionately performed compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
“I remember being spaced out and numb. I felt a lot of tugging on my body,” McDonald shared. “I remember the two white male doctors discussing their ski vacation as they were slicing me open. I had a lot of good energy around me from family and friends, but once again there was an abundance of misinformation.”
Dionne was raised in Newport News, Va., and attended North Carolina A&T University. She didn’t complete her studies, but she established a community that relied on her for mutual support.
“I met a whole bunch of really amazing people, and with that I found myself becoming more of a caretaker. I was cooking for folks. I was hosting circles of conversation. I was meeting people from all across the country. I gained more from those people than I ever had in a classroom,” Dionne said.
Eventually, she moved to D.C. “I wanted to get out of the South. I wanted to leave the countryside,” she said.
Her efforts to find work in D.C. took lots of twists and turns, but she met lots of people and established new relationships. She said she discovered she had an innate ability to connect people.
It was through her experience as a temp worker at Counterpart International that she was inspired to turn her passion into a real occupation. The international non-profit organization works in 20 countries providing support to communities striving for gender equity and social inclusion. Dionne concluded there was a place for similar work in her own community, and that she would target her skills toward expectant mothers.
“Giving birth in most cases is the easiest part. It’s the preparation that matters most,” said Dionne, which is why her priority is holistic care which includes access to healthy food, stable housing, and mental health resources.
“At some point in our relationship, I have clients meet me at a local juice bar where they can experience fresh juices, and then we walk right across the street to a food co-op. Not only does this experience introduce them to fresh food, but it also supports local black-owned businesses,” Dionne explained.
A part of her work is about breaking the abusive cycles, some general and some personal.
“Sometimes it’s hard to give the support I know is needed to break cycles, but I know it’s needed. So, I do it anyway. I push through. Surface level, it seems like a such an easy task, but family-building is hard work.” Harder than supporting a mother through a five-day birth, Dionne’s longest so far, she said.
So, what’s next for Dionne?
“These days I’m finding myself more interested in the social services side of things. I’m really passionate about getting mothers connected to the resources they need and not to make those services a crutch, but a stepping stone.”