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INDIANAPOLIS — A new scholarship fund is working to address disparities in infant and maternal care in Indiana.

Thanks to the CareSource Foundation, $15,000 will support The Little Timmy Project, which is dedicated to encouraging positive birthing outcomes in the state. Organizers plan to utilize the money in its Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Doula Scholarship, specifically aimed at recruiting and training Black and Brown birth workers.

Numbers show about 60 percent of pregnancy related deaths are preventable, but the risks remain high especially among Black and Brown women.

“Black and Brown women are, nationally and in Indiana, are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications anywhere from birth to up to a year after,” said Steffany Stoeffler, vice president and co-founder of The Little Timmy Project.

Stoeffler says it’s an opportunity to address representation when it comes to infant and maternal care.

“We know that that’s a huge factor. A lot of times Black and Brown women are not listened to. Historically, their pain is not considered credible, and that’s a huge problem,” Stoeffler said. “It’s really about putting people who look like you, and know your interactions in the healthcare system and maybe had those experiences that they can help you feel more comfortable about.”

Doulas often serve as physical and emotional support during and after the birthing journey. They also serve as an advocate, helping women make the best birthing decisions for themselves and their baby.

“Statistically, women, or birthing persons, that are supported by doulas, we see better and more positive birthing outcomes,” she said. “We see less cesarean births, we see less pre-term birth. We see better outcomes when it comes to breastfeeding and just kind of all encompassing post-partum, perinatal mood disorders, all of that.”

“We believe in the advocacy part of that and just think that it’s so important to have that kind of objective voice for you and advocating with you,” she added. “You know, not making decisions for you, but really helping that experience be more of a conversation than a doctor telling you what they think you should be doing based off of their own biases or experiences.”

The scholarship pays for a series of training courses. Prior experience or training is not required, and you don’t have to be a nurse.

The main requirement, Stoeffler says, is having a passion to address the racial disparities that impact Black and Brown communities and their birthing experiences.

“We think that these programs are important. They’re all encompassing. They address those racial issues and disparities that we’re talking about, and we truly believe that they are doing good work,” said Stoeffler. “Right now, there’s no particular state certification that you are required to have, but we totally believe that people should be educated and trained properly. So we would like to push to see more of that in our state as we continue to grow the population of doulas that are in the medical community.”

The next round of applications are expected to open at the beginning of 2022 with awards being offered sometime in the spring. Stoeffler says it’s a thorough process, which also includes input from a review committee.

Within the next two years, Stoeffler says the scholarship program will bring in 10 to 15 Black and Brown doulas in the state. Prior to the extra funding from CareSource, TLTP only had the capacity to support four.

“I think sometimes people look at doulas and they think, ‘Oh that’s the work of someone’s mom. That’s the work of someone’s grandma’ and really, historically, that is a role that people have played,” said Stoeffler. “What we intend to do with this scholarship is really help people understand and really support the work of doulas. Because while it’s nice to have that support within your family system, not everyone has that and everyone deserves that.”