Health + Wellness

Black Midwife Builds First Freestanding Birthing Center

Photo: Birth Sanctuary Gainesville

Birth Sanctuary Gainesville was founded by Dr. Stephanie Mitchell, who envisions it as a haven for pregnant women amid Alabama’s parched landscape of maternity services. The third-highest incidence of maternal mortality in the nation is seen in this state. Dr. Stephanie Mitchell is one of several Black practitioners attempting to alter this. She is a registered professional midwife who focuses on community-based midwifery and has a Ph.D. in nursing practice. To guarantee that Black families, and all pregnant women in Alabama, have access to the choices they deserve, she is constructing Birth Sanctuary Gainesville.

What Is A Freestanding Birth Center?

Birth services, including prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care, are provided in a midwife-led setting in a standalone birth center. Independent maternity care facilities are not associated with any local hospital.

More and more babies are being born in dedicated birthing facilities, and the number of these facilities is growing. Evidence shows that freestanding birth centers give the same or better treatment results as hospitals for low-risk pregnancies, both domestically and internationally.

RELATED: How To Create A Birth Plan

Why This Is Needed

Long before labor starts, we might inquire, “Was that racism?” Because of institutional racism, we’re reminded of mothers’ unnecessary deaths and prejudice. Mitchell thinks racism has persisted since enslavement and Jim Crow. “If you go with the default, being Black massively increases your chance of problems, disease, and death,” she says.

Many Black families can’t find alternatives to hospital deliveries because they live too far away, lack physicians, or lack insurance. Mitchell’s birth center provides Black families with additional options in a system that prioritizes hospital care.

Alabama, like much of the US, has over 98% hospital births. Mitchell believes Black women giving birth have few opportunities to avoid racism in obstetric treatment. “These institutions have a history of discriminatory consequences for Black births, Black people, and particularly Black mothers,” she adds.

Eliminating The Fear

Hospitals need to serve as places of care and healing for patients. However, they are becoming a cause of worry for many Black people, particularly Black women who are about to give birth. When a pregnant person of African descent checks into the hospital, she risks being dehumanized, rejected, or even disregarded outright. This is an unjust situation that should not exist.

Providing Birthing Options

On the March of Dimes 2021 report card, Alabama is one of seven states or territories that got an “F.” Only 1.2% of deliveries in this state are assisted by midwives, the second-lowest percentage among the five states. Gainesville lacks maternity care. Before Mitchell’s efforts, Alabama was one of nine states without a birth center.

Mitchell can change this. She adds that putting a community-trained midwife in the region simplifies patient-centered care. Birth centers reduce premature births and cesarean sections, improving outcomes—especially for Black and Latinx folks.

She believes that if things are to improve for Black women giving birth, medical racism must be acknowledged. This includes barriers to

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