According to the Coalition of Communities of Color based in Portland, Oregon (Communities of Color in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile, 2010), African American babies have an 11.4% rate for low birth weight (less than 5.5 lbs.) in Multnomah County compared to a rate of 5.9% for White babies, 5.6% for Hispanics, and 8.1% overall for all people of color. Furthermore, according to Amnesty International’s “Deadly Delivery,” women of color suffer disproportionate rates of maternal mortality (www.amnestyusa.org). And the 2011 Oregon Black Birth Survey quantitative analysis revealed that over thirty percent of black women felt unsafe, frightened or discriminated against during the birth of their baby (www.ictcmidwives). Convening a conference of midwives, doulas, birth workers, physicians and nurses, is a critical step to addressing the health inequities that create these persistent disparities.
The conference will address the impact of racial inequity on birth outcomes in communities of color and the underrepresentation of birth workers of color in health care institutions and schools. While the research shows that midwives lower the infant mortality rate, there remains a shortage of midwives of color to service their communities in culturally appropriate ways that improve birth outcomes. Currently the national profile of midwives is majority white women, with less than 2% being black women with only 13% black women being served by certified nurse midwives (CNMs) compared to 57% of white women being serviced by CNMs (Goode, K.L., 2014).
The conference convenes educators, credentialing organizations and policy makers to create strategies to increase enrollment of people of color into the midwifery and doula professions.
Over three days, the midwifery model of care for better birth outcomes will be highlighted with increased civic engagement to promote cultural competency, with an emphasis on racial equity to reduce infant and maternal mortality. It will celebrate the past accomplishments of midwives of color and embrace the future of midwifery and doulas in communities of color to improve birth outcomes.
In addition to cutting edge research by seasoned midwives, doulas and physicians in the field of perinatal health, this year’s conference features an opening panel of veteran midwives, including Stacey Allen John, Sondra Abdullah Zaim, Debra Lewis, Sarahn Henderson, Shafia M. Monroe, Rita Aparicio, and Maria Valentin Welsch, who will lead a conversation on midwifery education and credentialing to diversify the midwifery profession. Community doulas and community health workers will share their vision of improving birth outcomes through integration in the home and hospitals as members on the birth team, and how to offer cultural competent perinatal services.