New Birthing Center Aims to Help Black Mothers in Detroit   

Birth Detroit founders want to bring equity back into the birth space for Black expectant mothers. 

The National Center for Health Statistics released a report in February indicating that the number of people in the U.S. who died during pregnancy, childbirth or within the first year of the baby’s life increased from 20 deaths per 100,000 births in 2019 to 24 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020.

In 2020, the death rate among Black people was 55 deaths per 100,000 births –– nearly triple the rate of white people, jumping from 44 deaths per 100,000 births seen in 2019. Hispanic Americans also saw an increase from 13 deaths to 18 deaths per 100,000 births.   

“The pandemic has uncovered the disparities in access to care, healthcare quality and delivery,” explained Dr. Janelle Bolden, assistant OB-GYN professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News.   

For pregnant Black women, a new government report shows the year was three times more lethal, worsening a decades-long crisis, Black Information Network reported.   


Heart disease, stroke and pregnancy-related complications are among the top 10 causes of death in women ages 20-44 in the United States, based on the most recent official data available. To look at the fullness of racial disparities in the risk of heart problems during pregnancy or after delivery, Kapadia and colleagues reviewed health records for more than 46 million hospitalizations of pregnant or postpartum women included in the National Inpatient Sample, the largest U.S. database detailing inpatient hospital care in 47 states, between 2007 and 2017, according to the report.     

Also, after adjusting for socioeconomic status, access to health care and other medical conditions, researchers found that compared to white women, pregnant Black women were:   

  • 45 percent more likely to die in the hospital;  
  • 23 percent more likely to have a heart attack;  
  • 57 percent more likely to have a stroke;  
  • 42 percent more likely to develop a blood clot in the lungs; and  
  • 71 percent more likely to develop heart muscle weakness.  

Dr. Michelle Voeltz, an interventional cardiologist who also manages high-risk obstetrics patients at Georgia-based Northside Hospital Cardiovascular Institute [who previously worked at Henry Ford Hospital], said that she is focused on improving the heart health in women who are thinking of getting pregnant, are pregnant or have recently delivered.     

Voeltz said that pregnancy-related cardiovascular disease and general mortality are a “double hit” in Black women when it comes to pregnancy and delivery.   

A group of Black women in Detroit is hoping to change those statistics, especially in the city, through a new Birth Center, Birth Detroit, coming online next year.  

Detroit’s first stand-alone birth center would bring more options to expecting mothers.   

According to data, there are over 384 freestanding birth centers in the United States with six in Michigan, and Birth Detroit would be the first freestanding birth center in Detroit.  

Birth Detroit is a community-based maternal health practice offering prenatal and postpartum care by midwives, as well as childbirth education and postpartum support.   

Leseliey Welch, Birth Detroit co-founder and CEO, told the Michigan Chronicle that the idea of the center came from doing public health work in the city for a long time and noticing that outcomes needed to change around maternal health but no one was willing to do anything “drastically different.”  

“The benefits of a midwifery model of care had not been highlighted or leveraged in the city and we know the midwifery model of care and the center [would] improve the Black experience and it is a lower cost,” Welch said. “I strongly believe that all people deserve access to all safe birth options. This one is critical and part of the disparities.”  

“Birth Detroit provides safe, quality, loving care through pregnancy, birth and beyond,” according to its website.   

Birth Detroit also offers telehealth and in-person prenatal and postpartum care visits. Birth Detroit also accepts insurance, and no one is turned away for not having insurance.   

The Birth Detroit Birth Center is not open yet but is actively fundraising to open the birth center and will launch a capital campaign this year.   

Char’ly Snow, certified nurse midwife, co-founder and clinical director, told the Michigan Chronicle that having women lead this experiential birthing experience is a win-win.  

“We all come from different vantage points but as a practicing midwife … midwives only have an option of home birth practices and … there is a gap,” she said. “This is an opportunity to create an environment where women are leading.”  

Elon Geffrard, co-founder and program support director, said it’s about responding and meeting the needs of people.  

“We see an express need of greater autonomy and power and birth centers give people that option, that opportunity and foundation of what birth centers do versus health systems, which traditionally robbed people of that autonomy and decision making, especially Black families,” Geffrard said. “Having witnessed birth on a regular basis we’ve seen what that looks like for folks that look like me.”  

The new location for the birth center is at 8575 Heritage Place in Detroit.  

Birth Detroit recently closed on the land and will hold a celebratory community event on October 16 to help fundraise.  

With Midwifery Week being the first week in October, Geffrard wants to remind people that while mothers do the work of giving back to the next generation, their job is to help carry them along during the entire journey.  

“As a birth doula when I see people come to me and be present with them in their labor and birth experience because they’re afraid. They hear lots of statistics about themselves and don’t want to be that. I remind Black women especially that they are powerful. Their body is powerful. Their decisions are powerful. … That is how one way we’re helping people rewrite their own story.”  

Chicago Defender Managing Editor Danielle Sanders and Black Information Network contributed to this report.  



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