While most of America was facing the pandemic and social unrest in 2020, New Orleans was dealt another hit at the end of the summer – Hurricane Laura. Laura was the strongest hurricane on record to hit Southeastern Louisiana, before Hurricane Ida matched her strength in 2021.
With six months experience supporting new parents virtually, the Birthmark Doula Collective set up an emergency, 24-hour parent-infant hotline.
Malaika Ludman, a program coordinator, birth doula and certified lactation consultant, vividly remembers a mother with a physical disability, who called the hotline in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. The mother had evacuated from Lake Charles, Louisiana to an area hotel, set-up as a state-run shelter. Neither she, nor her young child, had eaten in two days. At one point, the mother was scolded by hotel staff for taking a banana, intended to feed her child, from the hotel’s lobby.
“She said ‘no one’s helping me and I’m getting yelled at for taking a banana,’” recalls Ludman. “Thing upon thing upon thing happened to her during evacuation. Her belongings were stolen. She wasn’t breastfeeding – so she needed formula, diapers, a stroller.
“When she called our hotline, she said it was the first time in days that someone listened to her, cared and wanted to know what she had to say.”
While a resource center was available during the evacuation, there wasn’t one located near the caller’s hotel and it would be days before shuttles could run. Ludman took it upon herself to arrange to have formula and other needed items delivered to the mother.
After activating the hotline for Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, and after the unease of hurricane season had calmed, the service transitioned to an evening textline. The textline was available to parents every night between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., including weekends. Conversations are underway with the City of New Orleans to establish the service as a non-emergency municipal line, similar to 311 service lines available in many cities.
Birthmark Doula Collective knows breastfeeding is the safest way to feed a child during any kind of emergency – and in New Orleans, hurricane season often brings emergency situations. But, they also acknowledge that adoption rates are slow, putting an even finer focus on the need for their overall, ongoing services to support families before, during and after they bring new life into the world.