This story, originally published on Outlier Media, is the second in a series of 9 stories funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that aims to highlight stories written by emerging writers in Detroit. Photos by Jeremiah Brown.
Nearly 1,000 women die each year in the United States while in childbirth or during their pregnancies, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of this group, Black mothers are four and a half times more likely to die than their white counterparts, and Detroit’s maternal death rate is three times the national average. It is with these tragic realizations that the founders of Birth Detroit have successfully started to build the city’s first birthing center.
A birthing center for mothers-to-be and their families can be an alternative to a hospital. As described on Birth Detroit’s website, “A birth center is a home-like place where midwives provide prenatal, birth, and postpartum care. Birth centers are freestanding and not in hospitals.” Birth Detroit’s certified nurse midwives and licensed midwives aim to offer both medical care as well as “sister-like” support and services to their clients before, during, and after their pregnancies.
By summer 2024, Birth Detroit’s birthing center will give families the option to deliver their babies on-site, as well as provide classes, mental health services, and lactation support through community partnerships. Leseliey Welch, co-founder and CEO of Birth Detroit, weighed in from the open field of where the vision of Birth Detroit will be realized.
“This is just phase one. In the next 10 years, we will have additional space on this property for values-aligned providers,” says Welch. “Families can see a pediatrician, a therapist, or a midwife, or acupuncturist. You won’t have to drag your family to multiple places for multiple appointments,” said Welch.
Welch fell in love with birthing and maternal health as a doula – someone who provides emotional and physical support during a pregnancy and childbirth. However, it was when Welch and her partner suffered both a preterm and a late term loss during their pregnancies, that those statistics hit home. “I’ve had a preterm baby and we’ve had a late term loss. Infant mortality has impacted my family through my brother and sister-in-law,” says Welch. “We want everybody to have access to this kind of care. We want more easy access clinics. We want more birth centers. We want other folks to know they can do it too.”
Engaging her community, Welch partnered with Elon Geffrard, Char’ly Snow, and Nicole Marie White to fundraise to bring Birth Detroit to full term. This group would be the founding and board members for Birth Detroit. They have grown to a staff of dedicated individuals with an almost fully funded $4 million capital campaign. The goal is to raise the remaining $400,000 by the end of the year.
Left to right: Elon Geffrard, Leseliey Welch, Nicole White, Char’Ly Snow.“I’ve seen all of these great interventions and solutions across the city, but not enough midwives. Why has no one invested in midwifery care? I knew I had to change that,” Welch said. “Once I understood midwifery care and birth center care and how the outcomes are better, I met my co-founders, it was all she wrote. We knew that together we could make it happen.”
Through word of mouth, Birth Detroit has made inroads to reaching their target audience: soon to be moms looking for an alternative. First time mother, Jamerra Flores, 24 of Detroit, discovered Birth Detroit through a friend’s recommendation after she experienced an uncomfortable interaction at an OBGYN office. “As soon as I walked into the doors at Birth Detroit, I felt welcome. It’s been absolutely amazing,” Flores said. “I don’t feel so alone anymore.”
Flores struggled with her mental health before she got pregnant. Now, she feels like she has the support she needs. Birth Detroit’s team has helped her navigate the medical system by recommending a therapist and helping her get access to the baby care items she will need as a new mom. “I feel like I have a village of people there to get me through the pregnancy. They are literally the gift that never stops giving.” Birth Detroit’s midwife checks in with Flores monthly and has helped her feel like she has the necessities required to raise her baby.
The team at Birth Detroit envisions a future with the multiple locations on the east and west sides of Detroit, and amplified access to similar care for future moms-to-be.
“And as a co-founder and CEO, my job is the administration and the fundraising. So I don’t get to see the families. I’m not in the clinic. I just see them at events and hear their stories on panels. It motivates me to keep going,” says Welch. “The moms, our midwives, and our team. That’s why we’re here.”
Birth Center Week is kicking off its inaugural celebration, September 14th – 20th and will be celebrated as a focus to “uplift the power and potential of midwives and birth centers, particularly those led by black, indigenous, and people of color to make a difference.”
Information on Birth Center Week events and celebrations covering policy work and building community-owned infrastructure around birth centers can be found by visiting https://www.birthcenterweek.com/.