Learn about our story, mission, and values.
Birth Center Equity was created to make birth center care an option in every community, by growing and sustaining birth centers led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
We envision a world where every community has access to a birth center.
All Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) deserve safe birth spaces and safe birth care. Ensuring our safety includes healing and reparation of harm and inequity in maternal health practices, structures and systems (including inequitable access to capital) that have oppressed our communities.
With trusted relationships and solidarity comes abundant resources to grow and sustain BIPOC community-owned and led birth infrastructure.
To lead together in our own care is an act of liberation. Honoring birth as a sacred transformative experience at every level (individual, organization, community, culture) will transform birth culture for all.
These callers, often people far along in their pregnancy, were seeking a safe place to give birth, somewhere that was not a hospital overwhelmed with COVID-19. What they sought was the safety of a community birth center, a homelike facility where prenatal, labor, birth, and postpartum care is provided in the midwifery and wellness model, and birthing people are supported to make informed decisions about how and where they birth.
The urgency and opportunity of the pandemic led Leseliey and Nashira to join with trusted partners Julie Quiroz (New Moon Collaborations) and Taj James, Rachel Burrows and Ruben Hernandez (Full Spectrum Capital Partners) to create Birth Center Equity as a channel for resources to increase access to community birth center care during COVID-19 and to create a vibrant lasting community birth center infrastructure across the country.
Our Accomplishments 2020-2021
BCE has made important strides, including strengthening economic stability and sustainability for community birth centers; gathering invaluable information regarding BIPOC-led centers in the US birth center landscape; nurturing a powerful community of birth centers led by Black, Indigenous, people of color; increasing awareness and understanding of community birth centers. Read below to learn more!
In our first year, BCE raised over $1M and distributed emergency rapid response and general operating funds to more than 25 birth centers led by Black, Indigenous, people of color. By the end of 2021, an additional $500,000 will be distributed.
BCE made strategic investments to strengthen the larger birth justice ecosystem, including a start up investment in Jennie Joseph Health, a new venture led by renowned midwife and mentor and BCE Capital Circle member Jennie Joseph, to support the replication of Jenny’s community maternity center model in communities across the country.
BCE strengthened the field by conducting the first-ever survey of BIPOC-led birth centers’ economic sustainability, strengths and needs. This survey found that:
- With a modest level of investment, 15 developing birth centers could open by 2023 to provide birth center care to fifteen communities of color who do not currently have access to birth center care.
- The infrastructure needs of established BIPOC led birth centers comes to a total aggregate of $29.1M.
The immediate infrastructure priorities of these established birth centers were: building purchase/renovation, general operating, and debt repayment, patient assistance funds, etc.
- The infrastructure needs of developing BIPOC led birth centers comes to a total aggregate of $21.15M.
The immediate infrastructure priorities of these developing birth centers were: start-up and operating costs in the first 1-2 years.
BCE nurtured a powerful community of birth centers led by Black, Indigenous, people of color.
BCE held our first gathering virtually in Spring, 2020, bringing together more than a dozen Black, Indigenous, people of color birth center leaders from across the country for the first time in history. Since then, BCE capital circle members have grown to 30 centers and BCE has facilitated monthly gatherings. In these gatherings, BIPOC birth center leaders celebrate their accomplishments and share their struggles and grow relationships from community to community.
BCE has also created a vibrant space for current birth center leaders to gather with our broader community of aspiring birth center leaders: BIPOC midwives, doulas, and other birth workers who dream of opening a birth center someday. In 2020 BCE convened three virtual Wisdom Circles with current and future birth center leaders, with topics such as “How We Got Started.”
BCE increased awareness and understanding of community birth centers.
BCE is telling powerful stories of Black, Indigenous, people of color leaders creating birth centers that provide safe, loving, culturally reverent care in their communities. BCE collaborated on National Partnership for Women and Families’ October 2021 report Community Birth Settings: A Highly Effective Model to Improve Our Maternity Care Now. Co-Directors Leseliey Welch and Nashira Baril have elevated birth center equity issues nationally in an article in Rewire News: “Birth Centers Are Crucial for Communities of Color, Especially in A Pandemic” and in an episode of the Good Birth Podcast. BCE has inspired and educated over 100,000 viewers about the power of community birth centers through video stories about the lives and work of our members, and about BCE’s collective power and vision in “Birthing our Future.” In 2021, BCE launched a social media campaign to increase awareness and understanding of community birth centers.
Understanding Birth Center Equity
Maternal and infant health disparities in communities of color are facts we know all too well. But we also know what to do to change this.
We know that, when it comes to care, the birth center model of care lessens rates of preterm birth and low-birth weight, reduces cesarean usage, improves breastfeeding rates, is cost effective, and ensures families feel seen and heard and have a foundation on which to raise healthy thriving children.
We also know that birth centers led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color are:
- A key solution to reversing the maternal health crisis by providing safe and culturally reverent care in communities of color
- A crucial part of a vibrant health care system.
- Vital infrastructure to increase BIPOC access to midwifery education, training, and practice to strengthen the field overall.
Community institutions that create healing for generations.
Our country’s history of racially unjust wealth distribution means people of color lack access to the capital needed to start birth centers in their communities.
Right now, more than 80 percent of birth centers are for-profit entities that were started through owners’ personal savings, loans, or family gifts. (Source: American Association of Birth Centers). According to data collected by Birth Center Equity — where no data existed — less than 5 percent of community birth centers are led by people of color. While these numbers are estimates, they make clear that the need for birth centers in communities of color far outstrips the availability.
Racial inequity is a major barrier to community birth center access.
In the past decade, the number of birth centers in the country grew, yet, many communities of color remain woefully behind the rest of the nation in access to birth centers. As of Fall 2020, there were less than 15 birth centers open, led by, and serving people of color – out of more than 380birth centers in the US. Prior to BCE gathering this information, no specific list or data on BIPOC-led birth centers existed. BCE specifically focuses on BIPOC-led birth centers (not BIPOC-serving birth centers) because of the structural inequities in access to midwifery education and access to the capital to finance birth centers. With a midwifery workforce that is 95% white, BIPOC-led birth centers provide vital infrastructure for the education, training, and practice for midwives and birth workers of color.
Our health-care system was not designed with equity at the center—in fact, it was originally designed to the full exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. By contrast, community birth centers are designed to reflect the stories and dreams and heal the frustrations and traumas of people and families who are usually not centered in the design of health-care spaces.
Birth Center Equity Resources
- The 2020 report “Birth Settings in America: Outcomes, Quality, Access, and Choice” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020) recognizes birth centers as an integral part of integrated health systems.
- The Strong Start 2018 report by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), demonstrates that birth centers improve outcomes by addressing physical and social health concerns, from reducing preterm birth rates and low or very low birth weight (leading causes of infant mortality) to increasing breastfeeding initiation and ensuring patients feel respected by their healthcare team.
- The National Perinatal Task Force’s 2018 report “Building a Movement to Birth a More Just and Loving World” calls for community-led access to quality, culturally-congruent health care and services.
The American Association of Birth Centers is the national multidisciplinary membership organization dedicated to the birth center model of care.