Thank you for watching with us this week

Whether you are an advocate for change for birthing families, community-based doula, peer counselor or other community health worker, in Congress advocating for Black maternal health, a colleague working to change systems and policies,– or just learning about the issue of birth equity — we thank you for viewing our content this week!

Together we are strong and birthing a world that supports all moms, babies, and families.

Thank you, Birth Equity Leaders! All the leaders and faculty of BELA are impacting their communities in important ways especially during COVID-19.

Thank you, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood! As the Irving Harris Legacy Award honoree, you are a leader in the field of policy for Black maternal health, working to find solutions to improve birth outcomes for Black mothers.

We hope you will continue to support these fierce leaders who are needed even more by moms and birthing families during this difficult time.

Lastly, HealthConnect One is more relevant than ever as we continue to work for birth equity and change the conversation around pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. It is with your support that together we can move closer to realizing birth equity for every birthing person across our country.

We welcome your feedback and thoughts on the next move forward to support families and treat every baby, as our baby.

Best wishes,

HealthConnect One

###

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

 

Irving Harris Advocacy Award: U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14)

“The disparity in maternal health is] a crisis that has demanded action for decades and is now getting the attention it deserves,” –U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14)  quoted by the Wilson Center

 

The Irving Harris Legacy Award is given to individuals and organizations making an impact on maternal health and birth equity. Though our organization serves communities across the U.S., we did not have to look far from our Chicago home base to find a leader who well deserves this recognition.

This year, Congresswoman Underwood, D- Ill, led 62 members of the House of Representatives in a bipartisan letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that the U.S. is taking steps to understand the unique risks and complications of COVID-19 in pregnant women.

In March, alongside Senator Kamala Harris, D-Cal, and her Black Maternal Health Caucus co-chair Congresswoman Alma Adams, D-NC, Underwood helped introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020. The Act will fill gaps in existing legislation to comprehensively address every dimension of the black maternal health crisis in the nation.

The Black Maternal Health Caucus is one of the largest bipartisan caucuses in Congress, with more than 100 members. It is organized around the goals of elevating the Black maternal health crisis within Congress and advancing policy solutions to improve maternal health outcomes and end disparities.

“It’s both alarming and unacceptable that maternal mortality rates continue to rise in the United States, and the situation is even worse for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die. This issue affects too many women and families and will take a comprehensive approach to end disparities,” said Congresswoman Underwood.

“I would like to thank HealthConnect One for honoring me with the Irving Harris Legacy Award, a humbling reminder of the critical urgency of the work address of us to address our nation’s maternal health crisis,” Rep. Underwood shared. “I am grateful for HealthConnect One’s partnership with the Black Maternal Health Caucus that I co-chair, working with us to advance the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act and other policies to improve outcomes and save lives.”

HealthConnect One is grateful to Congresswoman Underwood, a true champion, for her leadership in improving the lives of moms, birthing families, and babies.

###

day 2 promo of EBOB event to intro CHW AwardEvery Baby Our Baby 2020

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

 

Sen Durbin video screenshot

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

Play Video

 

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

Play Video

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

Inspiring birth work during COVID-19 by BELA Leaders

Every Baby Our Baby has been the focus of HealthConnect One’s annual fundraising event for several years. This year we are going virtual with the event and one reason is to hold up the inspiring examples of work by Birth Equity Leadership Academy leaders. They exemplify and help power a growing movement for birth equity.

Here are a few examples of BELA leaders’ public contributions during COVID-19 from the past few weeks:

Cassie Calderone, Chicago, IL 
BELA leader and birth/postpartum doula Cassie Calderone returned to work from her own maternity leave in late March, just a week after the city’s shelter-in-place order went into effect. She was featured in the Chicago Reader’s article A Push for More Options. 

Nicole Marie White, Detroit, MI 
BELA leader and doula Nicole Marie White was a featured guest on the Good Birth for All podcast discussing safety and rights in the current moment with Elephant Circle co-founder Indra Lusero May 15. More about Nicole is on her organization’s website.

Jacqueline Lambert, Indianola, MS
BELA leader and WIC peer counselor Jacqueline Lambert’s organization The Baby Cafe was featured on DeltaNews.tv in a segment called Local Organization Helping Moms During Pandemic. The organization has now gone virtual and is helping moms and their families through their healthy pregnancy program.

Quatia Osorio, Providence, RI 
BELA leader and doula Quatia Osorio was featured in a Providence Journal article, Women & Infants Hospital makes room for doulas’ helping hands, hearts. Osorio, who was in the hospital for the birth of client Bria Haynes’ daughter, shared how important support people are during birth. You can read more about her journey to be a doula on her organization’s site.

To-Wen Tseng, San Diego, CA 
BELA leader and free-lance writer To-Wen Tseng shared her “Quick COVID-19 Guide for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers” on her own blog, I’d Rather Be Breastfeeding. Tseng, based in San Diego, is the writer who became a breastfeeding advocate and whose own story we shared on our website last year. Read To-wen’s story on our site.

We will continue to share examples of BELA leaders’ public contributions during COVID-19 as they come in. In the meantime, we hope you will join us in celebrating our BELA leaders and faculty who are on the frontlines supporting moms, babies, and families. Learn more…

 

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 

Every Baby Our Baby. 2019 Photo Gallery

Remember, you can still make an impact on maternal and child health by making a donation to our Legacy Fund! We thank you in advance! Donate Today!

 

Loretha’s Story

Editor’s Note: Loretha is such an inspiration to everyone she meets in her journey as a community based doula. Her knowledge and strength has continued to help women around the world since her start in community based doula work nearly twenty-two years ago. HealthConnect One extends our deepest gratitude and congratulations to Loretha on receiving the 2018 Durbin CHW of the Year Award.

Loretha Weisinger’s story as told by herself.

I became community-based doula in 1995. There were a lot of different things that inspired me to become a community-based doula, but the main thing was I was here at the Marillac and I was volunteering. I volunteered here for ten years. They were continuously asking me what it is that I wanted to do for my future, and I wasn’t coming up with anything. They would bring different ideas to me like culinary arts. Once I graduated from that, I was about to be a chef, and then the opportunity came along to be a doula. I became involved in the Marillac house because I was taking some assistance with finances , and I heard of a place that was doing a lot of different things for people, making a difference in their life, so I wanted to be involved in that.

I was halfway through classes when I went on a birth, and it was too soon before I knew what I was supposed to know. I didn’t know how a baby looked when it was being pushed out or what the body had to go through so all of that was traumatizing to me.

When I came to class and told them about the birth everybody was putting their arms around me and holding me like a baby and telling me everything is going to be okay and it was normal. I was like the guinea pig to them because they were hiring different people and they were quitting because there wasn’t any money in it. I just said that no matter how hard it is, let me just try to stick with this.

I am now a prenatal educator, meaning I teach the young ladies how to go through the pregnancy by first starting off with healthy eating, moving around during the pregnancy and keeping fit. We have nurses from U of I that come help us with breastfeeding, and we went from a 3% breastfeeding initiation rate to now about 70%-80%. A lot of these things help the mom get a visualization of what is expected, what they’re supposed to be doing, what is not acceptable and all that.

Many people have inspired me. Rachel and I went to Japan together to talk and educate women there about becoming doulas, Wandy held my hand and took me to classes in different cities to teach and learn different things. Gerrie McKinley oh my gosh, she would put her hand on my shoulder just to tell me that I don’t need to be stressed.

Community health work has impacted my life in such a way that it’s helped me to think about a lot of different things that people are going through and how grateful I am for what I do have. The sky’s the limit, well really there is no limit rather. Just the mere fact that I’m able to help nurture and help the moms bring life into this world and how their faces are glowing when they see their babies. And involving the dads. Since that’s a really big thing of mine, involving dads in the programs.  

Moments that really stand out to me are when moms and babies are running around and they talk to me and tell me they love me. I feel like a super doula because I helped them through their pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. I have the opportunity to be trusted enough that some of the young ladies that are still around who have their children in daycare ask me to pick up their babies and everything. You know, that is love. I am so grateful for what I do.