EMC Attends Inaugural Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute

By: Melissa Gradilla

Earlier this month, Every Mother Counts attended the inaugural Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute (BMHC) in Atlanta, GA. Hosted by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), this convening gathered care providers, researchers, advocates, public health professionals, and other like-minded individuals working to advance maternal, birth, and reproductive justice. The first of its kind, this conference and training institute brought together an estimated 400 individuals to deepen the conversation about why Black women in the US have disproportionately worse maternal health outcomes. Beyond providing a deeper understanding of the issue, BMHC provided a space for knowledge sharing, skill-building, and mobilization around a topic that has long required a national forum of its own.

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, during the opening plenary on “Towards a Collaborative Approach to Advancing Black Maternal Health, Rights, and Justice”

The conference and training institute had nearly 20 sessions to select from over the course of two days related to policy/advocacy, care/service provision, research/evaluation, and culture shift. From “Birth Justice 101” to “Maternal Mortality Review Committees – Experiences from CBOs & Providers,” the sessions were led by an array of experts and leaders in their respective areas of maternal health, all working towards addressing challenges related to health equity, particularly among women of color.

Dr. Monica McLemore, Assistant Professor at UCSF, presenting on Maternal Mortality Review Committees

I attended a session titled “Reflections on a Community-Based Participatory Research Partnership to Understand Respectful Maternity Care in Atlanta,” led by Shanon McNab from the Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (AMDD). Shannon presented on a research project AMDD and BMMA conducted to understand experiences of women of color during pregnancy and childbirth in Atlanta and New York City. Research was conducted by partnering with community-based organizations and individual stakeholders to identify women who had recently given birth, as well as doulas and other support workers, to identify themes on disrespectful maternity care in Atlanta and NYC. Similar to what we have started to see in other research projects, such as Giving Voice to Mothers, themes that emerged included verbal abuse, ineffective and condescending communication, discrimination and racism, and health systems conditions and constraints.

Shanon McNab presenting findings from AMDD and BMMA-led research on understanding respectful maternity care

A second session I attended was titled “Communicating Reproductive Justice and Black Maternal Health to Policymakers,” another valuable conversation given the significant progress maternal health legislation has made in 2018. This session provided an overview of key maternal health legislation introduced in 2017-2018 and provided best practices for engaging with policy makers to advocate for policies to address racial disparities in care provision and outcomes. Informed by the reproductive justice framework, this session provided examples of policy opportunities and challenges at the state and federal level, and also allowed participates to share examples of some of their current involvements. At the state level, some examples included working on Medicaid reimbursement for community-based doulas, and at the federal level, examples included integrating more components of culturally competent care and eliminating implicit bias into new/existing legislation.

With the recognition that there is still much work to be done, this convening was also a celebration of the multitude of efforts of leaders working to improve Black maternal health outcomes. Among the individuals recognized, Jennie Joseph, Founder of Commonsense Childbirth and grantee partner of EMC, was recognized for her exemplary midwifery-led care efforts, including the development of the JJ Way, “an evidence-based system to deliver maternal and child health services which improve health, reduce costs and produce better outcomes all around.” Jennie Joseph, along with many other leaders present at BMHC, are committed to improving maternal health outcomes in communities of color and low-income communities and consistently demonstrate this commitment through their work.

Recognition of midwives during opening soiree

Our maternity care system is failing women, but it is specially failing women of color. BMHC was an empowering convening to bring our focus to unacceptable racial disparities in our maternity care system, and to equip us with additional knowledge and tools to raise awareness and bring much needed action to the issue through our work. As Angela Doyinsola Aina BMMA Co-Director stated in the event’s press release, “To date, discussions about Black maternal health have been carved into existing reproductive, maternal and public health practices, where there is little space for rich discussion and limited framing on health equity and reproductive justice. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance has created that space with the Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute, where we can center Black Mamas in all of our activities and pursue reproductive and birth justice, un-apologetically.”

Closing Remarks with special guests Tatyana Ali and Dr. Simone Whitmore



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