AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s historically Black university is launching a new doula-midwife training program.

Huston-Tillotson is partnering with Black Mamas ATX and Blue Cross Blue Shield. The university set out to add more culturally competent people to the maternal health workforce through Boldly B.L.U.E.

State data shows Black women die while giving birth at a higher rate compared to other women in Texas.

Right in the thick of this task is Nakeenya Wilson. She’s a mom of three, an entrepreneur and now a certified doula who will be consulting key leaders in HT’s new program.

“It’s being that support being a source of information, education, for both the birthing person and their partner,” Wilson said.

Wilson wants to help mothers cherish precious birthing moments. A calling, if you will, after she herself had major labor complications with her son.

“Him being born, not breathing…[and I] was given a medication that complicated my health, that really put me at risk,” Wilson said.

She turned what she describes as a traumatic situation into purpose, joining forces with HT.

“We have a real focus on health equity here,” Dr. Amanda Masino, an HT professor and project lead on the doula-midwife training program, said. “There have been several national studies that look at this and show that you have fewer C-sections, fewer birth complications, fewer pre-term births, less loss of pregnancy, if you have doulas involved in care.”

According to Masino, they’ve already had 149 applicants for the program, but only have 15 spots for the first training class.

“It’s tremendous demand,” Masino said.

The training program consists of classroom work and even shadowing doulas during births. Masino said doula training will take about a year.

Wilson thinks this will be a small, but mighty step toward being part of a bigger solution to save lives. Still, she emphasizes this alone won’t be enough to improve maternal mortality rates.

“In order for us to get to a place where every mom can experience a joyful and safe birth and pregnancy and postpartum, it’s going to take a lot of people working together,” Wilson said. “It’s not just going to be the doulas…we need to continue to look at what it looks like to collaborate with doctors and with hospitals because that is a part of the process, as well.

According to Masino, HT launched its first doula training on Sept. 16. Anyone can sign up.

Masino said their team plans to track how many people they train, and how birthing outcomes are affected.