Freestanding birthing centers would be vital tools to ease Kentucky’s maternal health crisis
Maternal mortality rates are four times higher for Black birthing Kentuckians compared to their white counterparts. Our state is also a maternal care desert, where 73 out of the 120 counties do not have a practicing OB/GYN. (Getty Images)
I’ve been a professional birth worker for more than ten years, but I was a birth worker before I even knew what that was.
Birth work came naturally to me. Years ago, a family member of mine was pregnant and didn’t have support, so I stepped into that role, and it just felt right. The more I read about pregnancy and the physiological changes that happen during that time, the more passionate I became about my path as a birth worker.
I took advantage of doula training through Mama to Mama, a non-profit working to increase social support for people transitioning into parenthood by promoting healthy parenting practices, where I’m now proud to serve as the executive director. A doula is a trained birth professional who provides continuous emotional and physical support to birthing people during labor, delivery and early postpartum.
Doulas are part of the maternity care team and help improve birth outcomes for parents and infants by advocating for the needs and wishes of people while they labor and give birth. I have six doulas who work under me, and I still step into that role as needed. Mama to Mama is also home to the Community Doula Program, which provides doula services at no cost to low-income families.
Now that I’m in midwifery school, I’m grateful for my experiences as a community birth worker. Being out in the field gave me a bird’s eye view of what my community needs, and one thing that people in my community ask me about — a lot— is birthing centers.
Many of our clients don’t feel safe in a hospital. Oftentimes they have had traumatic experiences with our health-care system, and they don’t want to be forced into a situation they don’t agree to. Oftentimes in a hospital, there is pressure to give birth in a timeframe that works for the institution, and is not necessarily right for the birthing person.
Freestanding birth centers are a solution to my clients’ fears. Birthing centers are where people go to deliver babies under the care of a midwife in a home-like setting that utilizes more homeopathic practices. A birthing center operates under a shared decision-making model between the midwife and the birthing person, giving clients the opportunity to make birthing decisions on their own. Birthing centers prioritize the birthing person and their experience, which is more likely to produce positive health outcomes for baby and parent.
This shared decision-making model decreases the rate of C-sections and infant and maternal mortality while promoting the bodily autonomy that birthing individuals want and deserve. Birthing centers are also a great option for people who want to have a home birth experience, but their home setting does not work for a home birth.
Kentucky is at the forefront of the global maternal health crisis, and maternal mortality rates are four times higher for Black birthing Kentuckians compared to their white counterparts. Our state is also a maternal care desert, where 73 out of the 120 counties do not have a practicing OB/GYN. We need a new blueprint to improve maternal health in Kentucky, and birthing centers are vital tools in keeping birthing people, and their babies, alive and healthy.
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