Eng Span webinars

Apoyando a Familias | Supporting Families During COVID-19 and Emergencies

“Supporting Families During COVID-19 and Emergencies led by Lourdes Santaballa, Executive Director, Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI) in Puerto Rico (PR) presented their approach to supporting families during emergencies and this public health pandemic.

“Apoyando a Familias Durante COVID-19 y Emergencias” presentado por Lourdes Santaballa, Directora Ejecutiva de, Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI) en Puerto Rico (PR) compartió su enfoque para apoyar a las familias durante emergencias y durante esta pandemia de salud pública.

Resources/ Recursos

Guía Operativa para el Personal de Socorro en Emergencias del IFE  | Operational Guidance for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers of the IFE Core Group

Global Health Media Video (in English only) Extracción Manual de Leche/How to Express Breastmilk

Guía express para la Alimentación Segura en Emergencias | Express Guide for Safe Infant Feeding During Emergencies

Jamarah Amani webinar photo

Increase power, improve health outcomes, Amani says

Please click below to view the webinar video from May 28.

“We cannot talk about health disparities without talking about power, and how lack of access to power over the course of one’s life impacts the ability to be healthy,” Jamarah Amani, executive director of Southern Birth Justice, told more than 100 birth workers and others on HealthConnect One’s recent webinar.

“By increasing power, we also improve health outcomes,” Amani said. She was the featured presenter on the second of three webinars focusing on birth equity this spring and summer. Milwaukeean Dalvery Blackwell presented her agency’s birth equity work during COVID-19 on the first; a third is later this week in Spanish and in English

Amani is founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance, the only national professional association specifically for midwives of African descent, as well as director at Southern Birth Justice, working to expand the birth justice movement and to make midwifery and doula care accessible to all. She’s been honored numerous times for tackling the epidemics of black maternal and infant morbidity and mortality for more than 15 years, such as the 2019 Trailblazer Award from the city of Miami, as well as media coverage in Florida where she’s based and nationally.

Birth Justice Bill of Rights & Circle of Mamas 

Amani presented an approach that combines the toolboxes of the community health worker and the community organizer. She shared her organization’s Birth Justice Bill of Rights, 22 core values that Black and all other pre-conception, pregnant, birthing or postpartum persons have a right to–from the right to stand against racism to the right to recognize that my body is always mine. 

She also discussed their seven-year-old Circle of Mamas program, a combination childbirth preparation, doula support, and leadership development circle, Amani said: “e talk to young mamas about their birth options. We educate them, they educate us on what their needs are, and we work together collaboratively with our community in a participatory way to uplift and honor their needs.” 

She presented, with permission, the video birth story of Bianca, a young woman who participated in Circle of Mamas and chose to deliver at a birth center. 

“When I watched this video,” Amani said, “it really to me is what is possible when we come together as a community, when we have access to black midwives and black doulas, when young parents are not shamed but they are celebrated for their journey into motherhood  and parenting. This is to me what is possible.”

“And it doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know but it is possible. And it will help to not only improve health outcomes but make our communities better places to live and to grow. That is central to the birth justice movement.”

PPE for Black Midwives available 

As Amani explained in the opening portion of her pre-recorded presentation, a client was headed into labor at the scheduled time of the session. But that seemed to present few problems for Amani, nor for participants who tuned in through to the end of the session, facilitated by the HealthConnect One team. Joining the call were more than 130 people from 30 states and Puerto Rico, as well as several who joined in from Brazil and Canada.

The presentation lifted up historical birth workers including Onnie Lee Logan and Biddy Mason and was dedicated to Claudia Booker, the Washington, D.C. midwife who passed away earlier this year, a formative influence for Amani.

Before ending the session, Amani discussed key initiatives in her work during the time of COVID-19.  The National Black Midwives Alliance and Everyday Birth magazine are paying for Personal Protective Equipment for midwives of color facing difficulties getting these supplies. Information on how to request a kit or make donations to support purchase of additional kits is here.

Sen Durbin video screenshot

This is what a leader looks like: U.S. Sen. Durbin’s CHW of the Year Video

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This pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on African American and Latinx communities, leaving many mothers and babies of color vulnerable…. More than ever, mothers and babies in minority communities need support, and the faculty and leadership of the Birth Equity Leadership Academy have stepped up. Thank you, BELA!

–Senator Richard J. Durbin


day 2 promo of EBOB event to intro CHW AwardIn 2014, HealthConnect One recognized U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin because of his support for community-based doulas and other community health workers.

Senator Durbin’s work had allowed HealthConnect One to make great strides in providing important health access and early parenting support in Illinois – and he had also recently become a grandfather.

He was enthusiastic when, in addition to recognizing his efforts on behalf of maternal and child health —which have continued– the organization named its Community Health Worker of the Year Award in his honor. Since then we’ve recognized leaders from Illinois, Washington state, and New Mexico for their work as community-based doulas.

We’re grateful to him for his continued support and leadership. Thank you for watching.

We’re also grateful to sponsors of our virtual Every Baby Our Baby this year: Gold sponsors the Irving Harris Foundation and Perigee Fund; Silver sponsor, Navistar, and Copper sponsors, Mairita Smiltars, Gordon Mayer Communications, and Graceful Fusion Birth Doula Trainings.

Our work to support and train community-based doulas, peer counselors and other community health workers continues. We appreciate you for being here. If you are able to support this work at any level, you can contribute here.

Thank you!

Support our work

promo of EBOB event to intro CHW Award

Congratulations, Community Health Worker(s) of the Year

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Back in February, we were full speed ahead planning our annual Every Baby Our Baby bash. That was a different world and we’re not looking back. Not being able to be together this year is just the start of what’s different this year.Every Baby Our Baby promo

We can still recognize our leaders and the change they are making happen. And we can still thank those who make it possible for us to continue to advance equitable, community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

This week we are holding up individuals shaping a new conversation around birth equity, beginning today with HealthConnect One’s Community Health Worker of the Year award. This year instead of recognizing one CHW, we’re recognizing 129 of them… the 129 leaders and mentors of our Birth Equity Leadership Academy in Puerto Rico and more than 25 states.

These leaders have been one factor in making HealthConnect One’s longtime vision of peer support to help women of color have better births part of a larger movement. We celebrate both their impact and the journey each of them took to become the leaders they are.

We’ve collected some of their statements over the years we’ve had the privilege of working with them, and photos of them from the convenings and workshops we’ve held with them. We hope you’ll enjoy watching our presentation of them.

We’re also grateful to sponsors of our virtual Every Baby Our Baby this year: Gold sponsors the Irving Harris Foundation and Perigee Fund; Silver sponsor, Navistar, and Copper sponsors, Mairita Smiltars, Gordon Mayer Communications, and Graceful Fusion Birth Doula Trainings.

Our work to support and train community-based doulas, peer counselors and other community health workers continues. We appreciate you for being here. If you are able to support this work at any level, you can contribute here. Thank you!

Support our work

Esperanza Dodge against car mural backdrop

Why I Give: Esperanza Dodge


We are grateful to our supporters!  As we prepare for our virtual event in June where we will recognize all of our Birth Equity Leadership Academy faculty and leaders, we wanted to say thank you to everyone who has invested in our work in recent weeks.


One of the first to contribute this past week was Esperanza Dodge, who was last year’s Sen. Richard J. Durbin Community Health Worker of the Year awardee. You can read all about it and her work as a Co-Founder of the New Mexico Doula Association and Operations Director of Bold Futures – formerly known as Young Women United here. Here are her comments on why she supports this work and how she is coping in the present moment.


1. Thank you again for giving. Can you share what motivated you to give to HealthConnect One last week?

I wanted to give back because HealthConnect One has given so much to not only myself and other BELA leaders and faculty, but to mamas, parents, families, babies. So many of the birth workers I have gotten to know since doing this work have a connection to HealthConnect One. That is showing the wide reach they have which can have a great impact on our communities. I see BELA as a big network of supporting one another and as a resource for one another. I chose to give because I believe in BELA.


2. How are you handling the COVID-19 pandemic in your birth work? What has been most successful for you in dealing with the pandemic? 

The funny thing is, I don’t do any direct birth work. What I do love, however, is birth justice advocacy. I’m still involved in the New Mexico Doula Association and it brings me joy to see doulas connect across the state, including indigenous doulas. There are issues all the doulas and birthing families are experiencing that are unique to their area. It feels like a support system has emerged as a result of COVID.

I’m an Operations Director at my organization, Bold Futures, formerly known as Young Women United. I take pride in the fact that those of us doing mostly internal, behind the scenes work can make sure our operations and internal policies accurately reflect our reproductive justice values. It’s one thing to be on the front lines with policymakers demanding the right for our families to have decent childbirth and family leave, and it’s another actually “walking the walk” so to speak and implement those within your own organization. Take care of your people and you strengthen to be the best version of themselves to go out there and make women and people of color proud!

3. Where do you see community-based doula work heading? Will it continue to grow?

I think COVID has brought about two types of responses by doulas to the pandemic. One being a greater “fire in the belly” to fight hard and make sure birth work is valued and doulas and families have the support and resources they need, and coming together to make action happen, The other is sometimes that it is nearly impossible to continue work as a doula and some are having to put aside their birth work for the time being.

Both are OK! People are making the choices we need to make to survive right now. Knowing what you, your family, your community need and are capable in the moment are what we should be listening to. It’s great to take action, but it’s also wonderful to find peace in some pause time or a change of pace. Doulas had a hard enough time getting the pay they deserved before the pandemic. Now, it has only made things more difficult.

4. What else is on your mind right now with regard to birth work and what should we be doing or thinking about? 

One of the most emotional things I’m witnessing is the exponentially increasing positive COVID-19 diagnoses within the Navajo Nation. While I am not Diné, I have loved ones and colleagues who are from and/or live there and are experiencing heartache like you couldn’t even imagine, losing more family members to the pandemic than most of us have. This is where I would love to see more resources and love going- to support families experiencing tragedy in the Navajo Nation.

Learn more about Every Baby Our Baby 2020 

two report covers

Reports highlight community-based doulas’ role vs. maternal health crisis

One new report out of Washington, D.C. highlights that racism is the driving force of disparities in maternal mortality and doulas and midwives are key to the solution. Another from a Native women-led organization in New Mexico analyzes the living-wage pay scale of, and recommends a greater role for, community-based doulas. 

Taken together, both reports highlight the growing energy and consensus — one that can only be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic — for greater use of community-based doulas, lactation counselors and other community health workers. 

Here are more details on the two new documents:

Expanding Access to Doula Care: Birth Equity and Economic Justice in New Mexico 

Report here

This March 2020 report is from the Yiya Vi Kagingdi Doula Project, the Indigenous Women’s Health & Reproductive Justice Program of Tewa Women United. (It should be noted the leaders of this project are also part of HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy). Recommendations from the report include:

  1. State and Federal Legislation for Medicaid Reimbursement
  2. Managed Care Organization (MCO)-Led Reimbursement
  3. Expanding Access to Doula Training

“As a multicultural, multiracial organization founded and led by Native women in Northern New Mexico, we offer our perspective on Medicaid reimbursement for doula care as well as other opportunities to improve access across our state,” according to the organization. 

“Community-Based Doulas and Midwives: Key to Addressing the U.S. Maternal Health Crisis”


Report here 

News release here

At the heart of the April 2020 Center for American Progress report are Interviews with midwives and doulas from across the field of birth equity including HealthConnect One interim executive director Jeretha McKinley. The interviews were conducted in February and March 2020 via phone, email, video conference, and in person. 

Recommendations from the report include: 

  • Fund existing community-based organizations providing doula and/or midwifery care.
  • Expand access to training and education to support growing a diverse maternity care workforce.
  • Improve integration in and support for doulas and midwives from the medical system.
  • Establish clear guidelines for government regulation of practice.
  • Provide access and the autonomy to choose a range of birth options.

“While the world grapples with a global health pandemic and hospitals across the country are being stretched to capacity, the role community-based doulas and midwives play in bridging health disparities and supporting pregnant people in their experiences giving birth is more crucial than ever,” said report author Nora Ellmann, research associate for women’s health and rights with the Women’s Initiative at CAP.

Congrats to HealthConnect One Birth Equity Leadership Academy leader Steph McCreary and to our own interim Executive Director Jeretha McKinley for raising their voices for birth equity with their representation in and development of these reports! 

Q and A: SisterWeb Birth Doula Workshop in January


In January, Health Connect One trainers Brenda Reyes and Tikvah Wadley coached a group of doulas at SisterWeb in San Francisco. We had a conversation with SisterWeb’s Marna Armstead and Alli Cuentos afterward to learn more about the experience from the local organization’s perspective. Here are some brief highlights from the conversation:

Q. Can you share some background about Sisterweb?

A. SisterWeb was born out of a beautiful vision shared amongst the communities most impacted by adverse birth outcomes in San Francisco. From the Bayview to the Mission District, from the stories of doulas who were met with the financial and logistical barriers of on call lifestyle to the stories of mothers met with racism and fear-mongering during their pregnancies – we listened, and shared our own stories.

Many birth professionals from within these communities were looking for a way to organize our collective impact and work strategically together but lacked committed funding and people paid to help weave and sustain the “web”.

SisterWeb now carries out workforce development and ongoing coaching for women from underserved communities joining the birth worker industry. SisterWeb reaches birthing women and families from these same communities by way of doula care and other support services.

SisterWeb also impacts the entirety of the Medical and Family Support landscape in SF by way of our participation in community forums, task forces, and individual partnerships. It is our vision that SisterWeb be the working web of support for birthing families, doulas, doula mentors, and health care professionals from within historically underserved communities for many generations to come. We are part of the solution to restore our city, one birth at a time!

Q. What made you choose HealthConnect One to provide birth doula training?

A. What stuck out was how HealthConnect One has developed over time a pedagogy using popular education that centers the experiences of doulas of color, specifically black and brown doulas.

SisterWeb was able to bring in a lot of the local knowledge and wisdom but we worked collaboratively for months in planning a training that leveraged the historical and national perspectives HealthConnect One is bringing and the local wisdom of doulas in San Francisco.

Local knowledge is needed to be successful – a lot of people commented in the training evaluations that having both approaches made the training more meaningful and relevant than a training that was exclusively on-the-ground… knowledge from San Francisco.  They appreciated the time-tested teaching methods of the HealthConnect One model – they’ve not just developed the curriculum, they’ve tested it over and over around the country and refined that knowledge.

Our participants are also walking away with resources – HealthConnect One’s manual and the connections to Brenda Reyes and Tikvah Wadley, who are very involved in national birth equity work, as well as access to Dona certification, which is huge, while at the same time having been up and close and personal with Sisterweb’s staff.

Q. Can you talk about how birth equity was incorporated into the workshop?

A. Training participants learned not just best practices of ‘doula-ing’ but best practices for being a doula of color working in communities most impacted by racism. … A lot of doula trainings focus on a body of knowledge that was centering white private doulas… Several people in the training commented that kind of doula work has its helpfulness but also has its shortcomings, and this was very much not that.

2019 annual report cover

2019 Annual Report

This year, because you believe in maternal and child health and support the work of HealthConnect One, we impacted 5,700 people across the nation through our Community- Based Doula Program and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor trainings.

Together we can improve maternal and infant outcomes, most importantly, reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. This means more birthing moms, individuals, and families in communities of color will get the gold-standard and quality support they need and, more importantly, deserve.

Everyone deserves a positive birth experience, and because you believe in our work, we are able to continue advocating for birth equity so that expectant parents have a positive experience of pregnancy, birth and the earliest moments of parenting.

2018 annual report cover

2018 Annual Report

Under the leadership of new Executive Director Brenda Blasingame and with your support, we will build on HealthConnect One’s legacy to see every baby, mother and family thrive in a healthy community.

With a focus on equity, we will strengthen and expand our work to support the first 1,000 days of life by:

  • Engaging communities that experience marginalization because of race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, culture and/or language.
  • Training individuals and organizations so parents have support during pregnancy, so families bond with their newborn, get support for breastfeeding and healthy food options, and seek pathways to high-quality childcare, and so children and caregivers have support for their mental health and well-being, under- stand early learning and the developing brain, and work to reduce stress in the home as much as possible.
  • Changing the conversation around pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding in this country to focus on the root causes of health inequities.

Why the first 1,000 days? The first 1,000 days, from pregnancy through the first three years of every child’s life, presents a unique window of time and an opportunity to create the foundations for optimum health and development. Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting in the first 1,000 days affects how young children’s brains develop, their response to stress, and how they form trusting relationships.

2017 Annual Report cover

Together We Can Unlock Birth Equity-2017 Annual report

As many of you know, Rachel Abramson, HealthConnect One’s co-founder and current executive director, announced her decision to retire at the end of June 2018. There are no words to adequately express the extraordi- nary gifts that Rachel has provided to Health- Connect One throughout her 30-year tenure. Rachel started this organization to address the dismal breastfeeding rates in Cook County. With ever-present warmth, sincerity, and compassion, Rachel’s leadership grew the Chicago Breastfeeding Task Force into HealthConnect One, with a broad intention to impact organizations, communities, and Community Health Workers (CHWs) on a national (and international!) scale.

Rachel, I thank you for your leadership and for demonstrating to the Maternal and Child Health field that listening is an active verb and the key to effective community health programming. Your example has revolutionized the strengths-based approach to this work and has emboldened women to speak up for their health and for the self-determination of their peers. And lastly, thank you for the bold vision of HealthConnect One to fight for equity in maternal and child health so that every baby, mother, and family can thrive in a healthy community.

Thank you,

Mairita Smiltars, Board President