On Working for Breastfeeding Equity

Interview with Joia Crear-Perry, MD

We caught up with Dr. Crear-Perry over email to learn about her work with the National Birth Equity Collaborative and how she came to be such a strong advocate for moms. Here is what she shared:

What is your name? How many children do you have and what are their ages?
I am Joia Crear Perry, and I have 3 Children – 22, 19 and 5. I am the full reproductive spectrum 🙂

When did you begin your work to support breastfeeding?

I am an OB/Gyn. When I trained, they taught us nothing about breastfeeding and how to support women to ensure that they are able to breastfeed. When I went into private practice, I began attending seminars and trainings on how to encourage and support breastfeeding as a physician and member of the community.

You help so many families. Can you share a little about the help you provide?

Having worked in private practice, in public health and inside of managed care companies, we often see that the needs of poor women and women of Color are not adequately met. Having a Doula support the birth and breastfeeding of our babies can be reserved for those who are more well resourced. We are currently working to ensure Doulas are covered on Medicaid and insurance plans so that this disparity does not continue. These systemic shifts in resources are critical to us reaching any equity.

How does inequality show up in the work you do with families?

Our Vision at the National Birth Equity Collaborative is that every African American infant will celebrate a healthy first birthday. The fact that black babies die at two to three times the rate of white babies is inexcusable. It is the canary in the coal mine of our times. The coalminers used to bring caged canaries into the mines with them. If the canaries became sick or died, this was a sign that something was seriously amiss and that miners needed to get out. We need to make the U.S. not be a coal mine for black babies. The structural inequities that contribute to this must end.

Do you remember a time when a family you were working with was treated unfairly?

Speaking with large health systems and insurers about the importance of breastfeeding for communities of Color, we are often met with the statement, “They just don’t want to do it.” We are able to show data that Black women have high intention rates to breastfeed but significant work and structural barriers that they can address to improve those rates.

Birth work is often challenging, especially when we are faced daily with racism or other bias. Where do you find support?

I have found my tribe. I have a community of fellow OB/Gyn’s, midwives, doulas, reproductive justice activists who fight with and for each other. We know this is a battle for justice that has been going on for generations and that together, we are continuing to push forward towards equity.

What does this support look like?

Anything from phone calls to 3 day spa retreats. ( Need more of those 🙂 )

What advice would you give to other birth workers who face racism, bias and inequity?

Make sure you find your tribe. We cannot do this alone.

What is one thing the person reading this can do to support equity in birth and breastfeeding?

Make sure any person you know is supported when they are pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding. Ask them if they have someone to go to their appointments and hospital with them. Be a safety net for them. What we all need to have a safe, healthy baby is to be valued and supported.

Anything else you want to share?

We are living in a very exciting time. Equity and justice are parts of daily conversations in the United States today. The impact of structural, institutional, interpersonal and internalized racism on our health over the lifespan must be ameliorated.

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry is the Founder and CEO of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of the Birthing Project, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at Jefferson Community Healthcare Center and as the Director of Clinical Services for the City of New Orleans Health Department.

After receiving her bachelor’s trainings at Princeton University and Xavier University, Dr. Crear-Perry completed her medical degree at Louisiana State University and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. She was also recognized as a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Crear-Perry currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Community Catalyst, National Medical Association, and the New Orleans African American Museum. She is married to Dr. Andre Perry and has three children: Jade, Carlos, and Robeson.

Her love is her family; health equity is her passion; maternal and child health are her callings.

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today with two guest posts on “Birth Work for Equality.” Thank you to Dr. Joia and to Stacy Davis for sharing your work and your passion.

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