Kansas City Dad Doula Says It’s Time for Fathers to 'Step Up and Be Present' During Childbirth

James Hogue trained to be a doula after watching his wife deal with their son's complicated delivery, and now teaches expectant dads how to prepare for their child's birth

<p>Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue</p> James and Shunquita Hogue prior to their son

Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue

James and Shunquita Hogue prior to their son's arrival on July 18, 2020

James Hogue was in the ninth grade when he witnessed his mother deliver his niece in his Detroit bedroom — although it was not supposed to work out that way.

“My brother’s wife went into labor in my room while we were waiting on the EMS,” James, 35, tells PEOPLE. “I was like, 'Women are amazing. Birth is amazing.' ”

The Kansas City, Missouri, educator says his father, a pastor, and his wife of 55 years are parents to 12 children and 22 nieces and nephews, so birth was a part of his upbringing.

But it wasn’t until his wife Shunquita went through a complicated pregnancy and delivery last July that he realized all the emotional and physical complications for women, especially Black women.

“I felt super loved and secure with him there by my side,” Shunquita, 36, tells PEOPLE of her husband's support. “Whatever needs I had — words, lights, music — were met. And he was my advocate in the hospital.”

Shunquita is a nurse in the mental health field, but knew she could not concentrate on giving birth while also managing her own medical care.

“In that moment, things get hard and you need somebody to advocate for you, somebody there who's going to be walking beside you,” Shunquita says.

<p>Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue</p> James Hogue with son James II

Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue

James Hogue with son James II

Almost four years ago, while James and Shunquita were expecting their son James II, the couple decided on an at-home childbirth. However, she began experiencing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, both common conditions in Black mothers, and ultimately the decision was made to have Shunquita deliver at a hospital.

Related: Tori Bowie's Death During Childbirth Spotlights High Maternal Mortality Rate Among Black Women

“Our original plan was a completely natural home birth, but her blood pressure was extremely high and her amniotic fluid was extremely low,” James recalls. “Our midwife told us we needed to be checked out by an obstetrician. We went in and didn’t leave.”

It was a complete 180 from what they had thought the birth experience would be. Suddenly, they were thrust into full medical mode. And James was grateful for the training he had received through the work of their doula, his lifelong friend Brandie Bishop Stacker of National Black Doulas Association, and his own life experiences.

“I was able to be the advocate for my wife because of the education I had received, so I wanted to make sure no father or young man I knew would walk through that experience uninformed,” James says.

It was that experience that sparked James’ desire to become a doula. Less than 6% of the certified doulas in the United States are men, according to data collected by Zippia.com. And of the total doulas, only 9.4% are Black.

James has worked as a teacher and school principal, but realized there was a real need to educate fathers about not only childbirth, but being good fathers post-delivery. He wanted to pass on his doula training to other expectant dads.

“Knowing how difficult it is for Black women in particular, and the disparities are clear, I wanted fathers who are well-informed so they can be their first line of defense,” James says. “I knew we needed to step up and be present.”

CDC data shows that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, with most of the maternal deaths being preventable. This heightened risk spans all income and education levels.

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According to the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the wealthiest Black woman in California is at a higher risk of maternal mortality than the least wealthy white woman.

Black moms are also more likely to experience life-threatening conditions such as preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage and blood clots, as well as an increased incidence of other pregnancy-related complications including preterm birth and low birth weight.

"The interesting thing is that it goes beyond socioeconomic lines as well,” James notes. “The CDC said 80% of those deaths are preventable. That means if a father is trained and aware of what's happening and knows how to advocate, we can reduce some of these disparities.”

<p>Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue</p> James Hogue II is now almost 4

Courtesy of James and Shunquita Hogue

James Hogue II is now almost 4

Related: Celeb Dads' Sweetest (and Funniest) Delivery Room Stories

In November 2022, James created the nonprofit Fathers Assisting Mothers (FAM), which is dedicated to preparing expectant fathers through education and support to become active participants in the childbirth experience.

Doula Bishop Stacker says James' education background serves him well in his new endeavor.

"He was so passionate about his wife being protected and cared for during her pregnancy and to her postpartum," Bishop Stacker tells PEOPLE. "He really went head first into really getting information and wants others to have that, too. "

FAM's flagship program is “The Dad Doula Bootcamp,” offering a deep dive into every aspect of being a father, from conception to postpartum care.

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And to help with the challenges faced by teen fathers, DadPrep Academy is a specialized 12-week program designed to equip young dads with the tools and knowledge they need to navigate the major life change ahead of them.

James says things have changed a lot since his own father’s first experience of being relegated to “The Stork Club" where, he says, dads sat, smoked and waited for their baby to arrive.

“Just thinking about how, in my family’s lifetime, there has been direct change from that, to not being allowed in the delivery room to now with me training fathers on how to be active doulas or support people for their partners,” James says. “It’s amazing.”

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