Black Maternal Health & Chicago South Side Birth Center
Last month, from April 11 to 17, marked the third annual Black Maternal Health Week. This week was officially recognized by the White House in the spring of 2021, after lots of advocacy and action from Black parents, Black reproductive health advocates, and communities. While this week serves as a great way to shed light on the issues of Black maternal health, awareness and action to improve Black maternal health outcomes need to be prioritized year round.
In Chicago, there are huge health disparities for Black parents and babies. The infant mortality rate in Chicago is 11.4 per 1,000 live births for Black babies and 3.6 for white babies. Non-Hispanic Black birthing parents in Chicago have the highest rates of maternal morbidity, at 120.8 per 10,000 deliveries versus 46.9 for white birthing parents. These disparities are exacerbated across ZIP code, where predominantly Black neighborhoods such as Englewood, Washington Park, and Southshore have infant mortality rates over twice the Cook County average.
While there are countless factors that contribute to these disparities, including systemic racism and our for-profit healthcare system, lack of access to safe places to give birth plays a huge role. Currently only four hospitals on the South Side provide maternity services—severely limiting where birthing parents are able to safely deliver their babies.
Jeanine Valrie Logan, is working to address these disparities and inequalities in maternal and infant outcomes through the creation of the Chicago South Side Birth Center. This birth center would increase birthing options on the South Side by providing full spectrum, comprehensive, and affirming care to people with low risk pregnancies along with providing gynecologic care, family planning, and postpartum care.
Logan is a parent, nurse, lactation specialist, birth worker, midwife, and so much more. The idea for the South Side Birth Center started after Logan noticed the huge lack of Black birthing spaces in Chicago. The road to opening the Chicago South Side Birth Center has been long, and there is still a lot of work to be done. It took over 20 years of advocacy to make free-standing birth centers legal in Illinois. Once legal, state law still limited the amount of freestanding birth centers to a total of four across the City of Chicago. Of these four, one has to be run by a community health center that focuses on low-income patients and another by a hospital. Apart from policy-related hurdles, there are still enormous financial challenges to starting the birth center. Logan is currently fundraising with a goal of two million dollars to get the birth center started.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jeanine about her vision for the birth center. She described a collective space led by Black midwives, nurses, a physician collaborator, doulas, educators, and healers. In her ideal vision of the space, there is also a community center where community members can bring their skills and share their knowledge. She envisions yoga classes, meal sharing, and a community garden.
Birth work and improving Black maternal health goes beyond just providing clinical care: it includes making sure parents and their families have everything they need to live healthy lives. To learn more about the Chicago South Side Birth Center and the work Jeanine is doing, check out their website!