LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — A Lancaster County organization is celebrating two years of helping pregnant women of color. Since its start during the pandemic, the group has helped over 200 women.

This year marks the second anniversary of the Diversifying Doulas Initiative, which aims to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women of color. Doctors, community members, and doulas came together in Lancaster Saturday to celebrate families, kids, infants — and the work the community has done over the last two years to tackle maternal mortality.

The Diversifying Doulas Initiative, or DDI, was started by Patients R Waiting, an organization that is trying to end health disparities for people of color, in part by making the health care industry more diverse.

“The healthcare community must look like the community it’s serving,” Patients R Waiting founding board member Dr. Sharee Livingston said. “Why? Because we have evidence to show that there are improved outcomes.”

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Livingston is also an OB-GYN in Lancaster County and co-founded DDI. She helped start DDI to tackle the higher rates of maternal mortality in black women.

According to a Pennsylvania Department of Health report, Black women are more than two times as likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.

DDI trains doulas, people who help guide and support women and families during and after pregnancy. The initiative has trained 28 doulas who serve Lancaster and the Midstate community.

“The evidence shows that if you have a doula, you’re less likely to end up with a C-section,” Livingston said. “If you have a doula, you’re more likely to breastfeed, you’re more likely to have excellent birth outcomes. You’re less likely to have low birth weight infants.”

DDI is especially focused on training doulas who are also women of color. Dr. Livingston said just as in healthcare, diversity in doulas is equally important.

“Lancaster had one African American doula, who is and was amazing, but we wanted to increase that number,” she said.

Ashlee Heyward officially received her doula certification in January and now serves Lancaster.

“I just have really loved getting to serve women that look like me. It’s such a beautiful thing and I’m just grateful to be in the room,” she said.

On top of training, DDI also connects doulas with expectant mothers and subsidizes the cost. Livingston said the average cost of a doula is $1,000, which many families cannot afford. DDI wants to make sure those families still have access to the care doulas can provide.

“I had a family say to me, ‘I never thought I could have a doula until I learned about the Diversifying Doula Initiative,’ and that was the moment I learned that our work is making a difference,” Livingston said. “We want Lancaster to be the safest place to give birth to Black and Brown babies.”