Changing Our Story: Taking Back Our Babies (38983)

I have always operated from the simple premise that every woman wants a healthy baby, and every woman deserves one. Sadly there is a distinct difference in birth outcomes for women of color in the United States.

Between two- to three-times as many Black babies, as compared to white, are born too soon, too small or will die before reaching their first birthday.

The end result is shattered lives, devastated communities and a legacy of hopelessness that can seem overwhelming to those of us who are on the front line, delivering care.

I often wonder what happened to our community. We have been historically served and supported by our own midwives. For us, natural birth and breastfeeding was commonplace. Somehow we have ended up lost and drowning in a system that has become terribly detrimental to our health. Worse yet, across all races, the vast majority of us are not even aware that there is a problem.

In my search for a solution, I slowly developed a program, a method, a system at my Central Florida birthing center–The JJ (Jennie Joseph) Way maternal child health program. It includes lessons from my 10 years’ experience as a practicing midwife in London where midwifery care for low-risk, healthy pregnancy is standard.

Simple, understandable, step-by-step directions, instructions and plans formed the backbone of my program. Women and families were invited, engaged and supported as team players in the awesome task of reaching the goal of a full-term, healthy baby.

Lack of insurance or money was not allowed to impact the quality, frequency or availability of care. News of the program spread by word-of-mouth and Commonsense Childbirth Inc., a nonprofit organization, was formed in Winter Garden, Fla, to meet the rapidly growing demand.

Healthy babies do not just happen. For any pregnant woman it takes continuing education and encouragement of healthy behaviors and lifestyle. This includes diet, exercise, safety; attention to emotional, psychological and spiritual wellness.

For the care provider it takes meeting the mother where she is in her life, without judging her. Continuous care with trusted, familiar care providers encourages women to make healthcare appointments and follow-through on recommendations.

A particular JJ Way component is the stated goal of a full-term baby; every woman, family member and friendly supporter has no doubt about the purpose of each prenatal visit.

The results thus far are encouraging.

An independent 2007 study of 100 of my patients enrolled in The JJ Way program resulted in an overall 4.7 percent low-birth weight rate. Most notably: the incidence in my practice of low-birth weight babies and prematurity for the African American and Hispanic women– was zero.

If we can come together to help mothers deliver full-term, robust, thriving babies, we will naturally reduce the high infant death rate. We will reduce the need for high-risk prenatal care. We will reduce the need for babies to go to neonatal intensive care units and be separated from their mothers at birth. We will lessen the strain within the family by reducing long-term medical, educational and social costs. We will save the country millions of dollars. We will stop the madness once and for all.

Jennie Joseph LM, CPM is a midwife and executive director of Commonsense Childbirth Inc., in Winter Garden, Fla.; founder of The JJ Way MCH system; author, “Beautiful! Images of Health, Joy and Vitality in Pregnancy and Birth”