This month, the County of San Diego awarded San Diego Community Birth Center a proclamation honoring their work during Black Maternal Health Awareness week. “We are the only all women of color Black owned birth center in San Diego County!” says founder/director/midwife Nikki Helms.
Core to their success, Nikki says, is collaboration. “When we were getting started, I began inviting people to my house for Sunday dinner. I would meet people and think, ‘You need to know each other,” but they didn’t. The dinners were a way for people to meet people that they otherwise wouldn’t.” “My grandmother would have been so proud,” beams Nikki. “I recreated our family tradition. I made fried chicken, collard greens, mac ‘n cheese — soul food.” Strengthened by these Sunday dinners, a loving community grew around the San Diego Community Birth Center, and the seeds for diverse and powerful collaborations.
San Diego Community Birth Center’s collaborations include their work with Global Communities’ Healthy Start program, through which they are reaching deeper into Black and immigrant communities with lactation support and supplemental midwifery care for hospital births. Moreover, San Diego Community Birth Center helped shape the content and focus of a new doula program in which the county subsidizes doula support as part of a supplementary midwifery program. “Oftentimes, doula programs run by hospitals end up generating more hands to tell a mother to sit down and be a good patient. We helped make sure this doula program would be grounded in core midwifery practices like partnership and informed decision making.”
Through another collaboration, with The People’s Holistic Clinic, San Diego Community Birth Center is able to provide birthing people with access to sliding fee chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and craniosacral care. “People come here and can access services that are often out of their reach or never even cross their minds,” notes Nikki.
San Diego Community Birth Center also has a thriving garden, thanks to their collaboration with San Diego Co-Harvest. “Co-Harvest came in and planted plants, built raised beds, set up irrigation, everything,” says Nikki. San Diego Community Birth Center now hosts a Garden Day where they work in the garden that helps supply food to birthing families. “We grow broccoli, kale, eggplant. When we’re talking with people about nutrition, we take them out to the garden and pull the vegetables right off the plant.”
San Diego Community Birth Center has come a long way since they opened their doors in October 2020. Nikki worked as a home birth midwife for years, but dreamed of opening her own birth center. On a leap of faith, she put up a Go Fund Me to see if they could raise enough money to open. In that moment, in the months after the police murder of George Floyd, many people were looking for ways to donate to Black-led community solutions. The result was an outpouring of donations for the San Diego Community Birth Center, which welcomed their first birth center baby in spring 2021.
Nikki is proud of what San Diego Community Birth Center has built through deep collaboration, and proud of the center’s ability to make a difference in the community. “We hear all the time about people’s terrible experiences in hospitals,” says Nikki. “People are really traumatized.” “The main thing that we hear from Black birthing people,” says Nikki, “is that they are not being listened to. And we know that not being listened to is what gets them killed.”
With Black midwives practicing the values of collaboration and community, people know that they will be listened to at San Diego Community Birth Center. “People come to San Diego Community Birth Center because they trust us,” says Nikki. “They come to us for our knowledge and for our lived experience. We all come together in a way that is familiar and safe.”
Note: San Diego Community Birth Center recently updated their Go Fund Me page, to accept much-needed donations for their current operations.
Photo: Midwife Nikki explores roly-poly habitat with little friends — two of whom she midwifed –on SDCBC Garden Day.