EAST SIDE — A Chicago midwife is creating a South Side birth center, hoping it can be the first step in empowering Black health care workers and patients and bringing change to a community that lacks maternal health resources.
Jeanine Valrie Logan, a certified nurse midwife, is the brains behind the Chicago South Side Birth Center. The nonprofit, community-focused facility aims to bring maternal health care to the Southeast Side, where there are no free-standing birth centers.
The center has been in the works for years — but this week, Valrie Logan got a boost from investor Chicago Beyond, which will provide financial and organizational support for two years as part of its Leadership Venture program. The help will enable Valrie Logan to focus full-time on launching the center. She’s also still collecting donations online.
“Over the last few years, [working on] the birth center was stuck between call schedules and clinic and raising a family and being a partner,” Valrie Logan said. “So it really means a lot to have someone believe in the vision and give you the opportunity in that space to to really work toward that.”
Valrie Logan is a certified lactation specialist with 12 years of experience as a doula — someone who supports pregnant people as they give birth and afterward — and she has a background in public health and reproductive health policy work.
That advocacy has been particularly critical in recent years, as the number of Southeast Side hospitals offering maternity services has dropped. At the same time, the United States has seen its maternal mortality rate rise, even as it already has the highest such rate among wealthy nations, and Black people — the majority of the population on the Southeast Side — are far more likely than others to die during pregnancy or childbirth.
Valrie Logan said she got the idea for the Chicago South Side Birth Center when she moved to the area and was unable to find Black doulas or midwives while pregnant.
At the time, Valrie Logan thought back to DC Healthy Families, a birth center in Washington, D.C., she’d visited while serving as a doula for a pregnant friend. She’d also taken a doula program there after seeing its majority Black staff. She wanted to see a similar “utopia of Black birth workers” in Chicago, she said.
Once the Chicago facility is open, midwifery and support for birthing people will be the center of its work, Valrie Logan said.
The center will provide holistic, community-based pre- and postnatal care to birthing people and their families. Valrie Logan also wants the birth center to be a liberating space where Black people facing maternal health decisions can feel affirmed instead of scared.
“Midwives have a specific model of care where we believe in the normalcy of pregnancy,” Valrie Logan said. “Having an actual place where people feel safe and heard and listened to and have autonomy and make informed choices about the kind of care that they’re receiving is really important.”
The center will be a space where students can learn midwifery from Valrie Logan and other midwives. It will employ nurses, a physician collaborator, pediatricians, nutritionists, social workers and childbirth and parenting doulas and educators, Valrie Logan said.
Beyond the center, Valrie Logan has started the 2022 Student Midwife Scholarship to support Black midwifery. With funding provided by a racial justice organization, the scholarship will provide $5,000 scholarships each to five student midwives. Valrie Logan hopes the scholarship can address some of the financial barriers that can come with pursuing midwifery, she said.
The scholarship is for student midwives of color living in Illinois. The application and a full list of requirements can be found online. Applications are due Sunday.
And Valrie Logan and other activists helped write and pass House Bill 738, which aims to expand access to birth centers across Chicago. The bill, which was signed into law in August, requires adding more birth centers in areas where the area maternal health outcomes were worse than state’s, particularly the South and West sides and East St. Louis.
Valrie Logan said this bill needed to be passed to provide better maternal health care options to Black and other people of color on the South Side.
Valrie Logan is working to obtain a Certificate of Need, which people who plan to open health care facilities in Illinois must get before the buildings for them can be acquired.
With two years of funding assured and more work to be done on Chicago South Side Birth Center, Valrie Logan is also thinking about the impact she wants the center to have.
“Part of the process is the actual intentionality behind it and … figuring out what we can do … to make an impact and really figure out what impact looks,” Valrie Logan said. “Thinking about what tenets are important, like liberation and joy and autonomy and self determination — all of those things matter.
“A lot of the numbers and stuff, that part can be challenging. But at the end, what kind of culture you want to build, really from the bricks, the laying down of the bricks is really important, too.”
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