A Germantown doula collective is helping dispel fears surrounding childbirth for people of color

Founded by a Philadelphia mom, Womb-ish has been so successful it’s expanded to other states.

Doula and CEO Christine Ely at Womb-ish, Womb Intensive Systematic Holistic Care, in Philadelphia

Doula and CEO Christine Ely at Womb-ish, Womb Intensive Systematic Holistic Care, in Philadelphia

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

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Christine Eley became a certified doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding counselor in 2019. Within minutes of posting her accomplishments on social media, she received her first client: a mom with just a month left until her due date.

That last-minute request helped spur Eley to found Womb Intensive Systematic Holistic Care, a Germantown-based doula collective better known as Womb•ish.

Since that first client, the Womb•ish team has helped guide more than 40 births. Their mission, 33-year-old Eley said, is to cultivate a community where people feel they can ask for help at any stage of the pregnancy journey.

“Pregnancy is a process, not a procedure,” Eley, 33, told Billy Penn, stressing that pregnant people need “constant care and education.’

Her knowledge is personal. When pregnant with her third child, doctors predicted an 8-pound baby, and strongly recommended a Cesarean delivery. With two successful natural births under her belt, Eley was not a fan (she said the idea actually made her shudder), and she declined.

After another successful natural birth — the boy turned out even larger, at 9 pounds, 12 ounces — Eley knew she’d found a calling. “The experience confirmed that there was a need for my role,” she said.

Womb•ish seeks to address well-founded medical distrust among the community, and work to overturn longstanding health care disparities.

“A major concern for most women is the fear of dying during pregnancy,” Eley said, “and the negative connotation surrounding childbirth for women of color.”

In Philadelphia, non-Hispanic Black women contribute 43% of the city’s births, yet make up 73% of the city’s pregnancy-related deaths. Strikingly, Philly sees an average of 4 to 5 pregnancy-related deaths each year. For Eley, education and advocacy are the first steps to undoing these statistics. And her clients are thankful to have her as a resource.

“She looks like me, talks like me. She is a minority like me and from the same area I am from. [That] gave me comfort,” said Alantae Andrews, who booked a consultation with the collective hours after finding out she was pregnant in May 2021.

Andrews described Eley’s knowledge as reassuring, and said Womb•ish helped her create a birthing plan that ensured she could deliver her child naturally. The new mom ended up delivering in 6 minutes, no anesthesia necessary.

Instead of just one or two appointments with a focus only on birthing, which Eley said is common, Womb•ish’s prenatal coaching appointments have doulas meeting with mothers monthly.

The collective also offers classes that cover the journey to giving birth and what comes after, with offerings ranging from prenatal fitness and labor prep to infant safety, breastfeeding, and CPR.

It’s been quite a journey since the first location opened in early March 2020.

“I signed the lease, got my keys, rolled in a couple of birthing balls,” Eley recalled, “and a couple of weeks later the world was shut down.”

Soon Eley realized that pandemic-era restrictions that limited visitors for hospital births created even more of a need. “Many moms want to create a birthing experience on their own terms,” she said.

There’s now a second Philadelphia location, and the collective has expanded to Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey, with plans to add Delaware and New York. In the future, Eley hopes to incorporate her catering background with baby food-making classes and cooking classes focused on postpartum health.

Womb•ish packages with multiple sessions and services can range from $1,500 to $4,000, but the business is flexible.

“Every woman deserves quality service,” Eley said. “We never turn a client away, regardless of finances.”

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