This Midwife Is Giving Pregnant Black Women The Health Care They Deserve
Around eight months into her pregnancy, Kiki Jordan felt disappointed in the prenatal care she’d been receiving at a nearby hospital.
“As a Black woman, I didn’t feel like I was really seen,” Jordan, who is based in Oakland, California, told HuffPost. “I didn’t feel like I was being listened to. I was seeing a different provider every time I went in for my prenatal visits. I knew that I wasn’t going to know who would deliver my baby. I had these very short 15- to 30-minute visits, and there was no one speaking to me.”
It was then that she decided to work with a midwife — a health care professional that shepherds a woman through pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period at home. That decision changed her life.
Jordan described the experience as “a full-body, full-mind, full-spirit approach to care.” She believed that other women of color should receive the same level of attention during childbirth, so in 2005, she launched a midwifery career of her own.
Jordan opened Birthland Midwifery at 40 years old with her partner, Anjali Sardeshmukh, another woman of color. Birthland’s mission is to make midwifery and high-quality prenatal at-home birth care financially accessible to women of color and low-income communities. Jordan estimates that around 80% of her clientele are Black women, whom she’s particularly passionate about serving — in large part because she knows that historically, the hospital birth system has failed Black women at every stage.
The statistics are grim. Pregnant Black women are 45% more likely to die in the hospital than their white counterparts, regardless of socioeconomic status or education level, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. They are also 23% more likely to have a heart attack, the researchers found.
The mortality rate for Black newborn babies is three times higher than it is for white newborns. However, an August 2020 study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that the mortality rate for Black newborns is cut in half when they’re cared for by Black doctors, specifically pediatricians, neonatologists and family practitioners.
Jordan believes racism and implicit bias are at the core of maternal health disparities between Black and white communities.
“Black women encounter implicit bias from the moment they walk to the front desk,” Jordan said. “As they navigate a system that is not designed by them and where they may not be adequately integrated into it, they get shuffled through and lost.”
“There’s something called white coat syndrome where when you walk in to see any health care provider, your blood pressure becomes elevated,” she continued. “I think Black women are bathing in stress and a high hormonal surge of cortisol most of the time. When you’re walking into a system where you already are feeling underrepresented, unappreciated, feeling like you have to code switch, and you’re talking about your health care — that affects your physical health.”
With Birthland, Jordan seeks to provide parents-to-be with the exact opposite experience she had in the hospital during her own pregnancy. Giving her clients true continuity of care and a personalized, holistic experience is of the utmost importance.
“I felt like that was my calling. I’m supposed to be a part of helping Black women reimagine what birth can be for them.”
“It’s just so personal,” she said. “I just kept wanting to share with the Black women I knew and loved how awesome home birth can be.”
Several relatives, all of whom were Black women, attended Jordan’s birth and witnessed her experience with a midwife — which motivated her even further, she said.
“All of the women in my family had had C-sections and they attended my birth. Their whole perspective around birth was forever changed, and I got to witness that in my mom and my grandma and my aunties,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to spread that. I felt like that was my calling. I’m supposed to be a part of helping Black women reimagine what birth can be for them.”
For the past year, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities, leading to a significant increase in pregnant Black women turning to midwives. Jordan said her practice has nearly quadrupled since the pandemic hit. While an influx of clients is a positive thing, it has put Jordan’s vision for the future of her practice on hold.
“We wanted to have ongoing in-person childbirth education, lactation education, postpartum support groups, prenatal groups, annual family reunions, etc. to keep people connected,” she said. “That vision is on hold because we really can’t do anything in person, but that’s our dream — bringing people together, keeping clients connected even after they’ve transitioned out of our care, building community.”
Still, Jordan’s mission remains the same: providing pregnant Black women with the best care possible.
“There is nothing better than working with a Black woman and watching her fully unfold and blossom in your care,” Jordan said. “I am her, she is me. She sees herself in me.”