As the United States reckons with its Black maternal and infant mortality crisis — where Black mothers and babies are dying mostly due to racism and interventions in hospitals — Black birth workers are building birth centers to meet families’ needs for safe, culturally competent care.
There were about 380 freestanding birth centers around the U.S. in 2020, according to the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC).
With built-in bedrooms and bathroom suites, these low-tech healthcare facilities provide midwifery care in a home-like environment for pregnant people who are considered “low-risk” for complications.
Research has associated midwifery-led birth centers with low rates of infant and maternal deaths and cesarean sections. Black-owned birth centers, in particular, have been found to produce outcomes that fare better than national averages.
In 2020, amid the response to the murder of George Floyd, Roots Community Birth Center — based in Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis — had a 0% low birth weight rate, compared to an 8% national average, and 9% cesarean birth rate, compared to 32% nationally.
Roots’ clients — two-thirds of which are Black — also receive at least six visits after their babies are born, which is more than what typical postpartum care offers.
Fewer than 5% of birth centers are owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), according to data from Birth Center Equity, an organization that financially supports BIPOC-led birth centers.
But on Chicago’s South Side, a new Black-owned birth center is springing up while others around the nation roll out their blueprints and follow suit.
For years, Jeanine Valrie Logan has dreamt of opening a birth center in Chicago, where she supports families as a certified nurse midwife.
After pushing for legislation to expand Illinois’ birth centers in 2021, she teamed up with local doula Shaquan Dupart to open a facility that can serve a section of the city that is, in some U.S. Census tracts, as much as 99% Black — but which only has four hospitals with maternity wards.
“When people come in the space, [I want] people to realize that they have the knowledge and the technology that they need to achieve their wildest dreams for themselves, for their families, for their children, for their community,” Logan says. “I just want people to come in and kick off their shoes and make some tea and just really feel like they can be at home.”
The midwife-doula duo are bringing Chicago South Side Birth Center (CSSBC) to the city at a time when other medical institutions are bowing out.
“Specifically on the South Side of Chicago, since 2019, four of our community hospitals have closed,” Logan says. “There are many who still don’t accept all insurances.”
While those challenges persist, Black women are about three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications in Illinois.
And in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the nation, at 14.8%, the rates for preterm birth are highest among Black infants, compared to 8.2% for white infants.
A 2019 study revealed that Black neighborhoods in the Windy City that were impacted by redlining had higher preterm birth rates than Black neighborhoods not impacted by the racist mortgage practices.
Logan and Dupart seek to interrupt these trends by establishing a birth center that’s community-centered.
The facility will host three bedrooms, complete with bathtubs and other amenities.
“Each of the suites have a private courtyard, like a garden. And then behind the birth center is a community garden. So, that’s where we would have outdoor classes or shared space if we want to have food together,” Logan says.
In addition, Dupart says “there will be a children’s area for when families come. There will be a room for lactation consults. There will be a space where different heroes within the community can come and share their services.”
Yoga teachers, mental health professionals, massage therapists, and other practitioners will be invited to service clients at CSSBC.
Another unique feature of the birth center is that it will accept Medicaid.
“We’ll be able to see folks who normally wouldn’t be able to afford an out-of-hospital experience. Or, you know, many birth centers don’t take Medicaid,” Logan says.
Having a robust reproductive clinic with wrap-around care is also a top priority.
Logan adds, “where a lot of birth centers will only see their birthing clients prenatally and postpartum, we want to see folks in community for STD testing, pregnancy tests, paps, any abnormal bleeding issues, family planning, and gender-affirming care.”
The CSSBC team launched a 90-day fundraising campaign to raise $400,000 for their new building. They currently have about 30 days left to meet their goal.
On “Giving Tuesday,” the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, they plan to share 3D photos of the birth center on social media.
As the center prepares to officially open its doors, Dupart envisions the facility as a place that will positively impact local families for generations to come.
“We always say that healing takes seven generations forward and seven generations back. And I hope that this birth center can be a part of that healing back and forward,” she says.
“I hope that people are able to come here and just feel safe and a sense of community and that it is a place to help. Because I know that this birth center alone won’t help change that Black birth narrative. We can be one of the catalysts in helping to change that narrative for Black birthing folks in general.”
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