Today on Science & Sensibility, we have the opportunity to meet our final Lamaze/ICEA 2015 plenary speaker- Jennie Joseph, LM, CPM. This British born midwife is the founder and executive director of Florida’s Commonsense Childbirth Inc. whose vision states “We believe that all women deserve a healthy pregnancy, birth and baby!” Jennie is also the creator of the The JJ Way® which has been remarkably effective at reducing disparities and improving outcomes for both women and babies. Jennie owns a birth center in West Orlando, FL. She also operates a midwifery school as well as certifications for a variety of birth professionals Jennie will be closing the conference with her plenary session: The Perinatal Revolution: Reducing Disparities & Saving Lives Through Perinatal Education. What role do childbirth educators like you play in improving outcomes for families of color? Today, Jennie speaks a bit about this topic in advance of her presentation at the conference. I have had the pleasure of hearing Jennie speak several times in recent years, and I know that conference attendees are in for a treat. For more information about this year’s conference, head to the 2015 Lamaze/ICEA Conference website.
Sharon Muza: What role do childbirth educators play in helping to reduce the disparities that exist in pregnancy, birth and newborn/infant outcomes for women of color?
Jennie Joseph: Today’s educators can play an essential role in reducing disparities simply by educating themselves about what those statistics are, what they represent, who they represent and why. Once an educator understands the extent and the cause of the problem he/she is able to really embrace the need to reach women and families in meaningful and practical ways – ways that will ultimately make an impact on the outcome.
SM: What changes have you observed over time in the perception of the value of childbirth education in the communities you work with?
JJ: I think that in every community in this country there is and has been a movement away from the traditional childbirth classes of the past. Women and their partners are busy and overwhelmed, with a false sense of security engendered by internet searches and with the hope that someone else, or some other entity will take care of everything when the time comes.
SM: Why do you think that many families are not attending childbirth classes in their communities? Is it lack of offerings? Cost? Accessibility? Do new families feel it is irrelevant to their experience?
JJ: When families are disenfranchised in so many other ways there is little value seen, or interest in an additional expense, or reaching for non-existent support, given that time is at a premium and resources are low. The institutionalization of birth inherently leaves one believing that the system is already set in stone, that the options and opportunities for autonomy and independence are not going to be available, and the benefit of doing the required hours of class are not likely to avail much as far as having any say at all. Cost and accessibility may be a factor for low socio-economic communities but more importantly the fact that few independent educators are open to the outreach and innovative thinking that is needed to engage new families, leaves a void which does not appear likely to be filled anytime soon.
SM: What can Lamaze International do to support and encourage people of color to become childbirth educators and be prepared to offer evidence based programs in their communities?
JJ: Childbirth education organizations that recognize and acknowledge the inequities in perinatal health and outcomes, and that are committed to that change, will lead the way in recruiting, training and retaining a diversity of educators. Cultural humility and practical support, not only for the communities themselves, but the providers and the educators that service them typically is what is needed. Supporting from a grass-roots perspective and embracing the dedicated entry-level or non-credentialed perinatal workers and volunteers who are on the ground already will provide a pipeline to further grow the ranks of educators and practitioners able to make a difference.
SM: You have been actively involved in birth work and supporting families for many years. What keeps you from getting discouraged about the slow progress we are making in reducing preterm births, low birth weight babies, maternal complications amongst families of color.
JJ: I often feel overwhelmed with the glacial changes that occur and wondered how you continue to make progress and change lives in the face of often discouraging news. I get very discouraged working with families that are disenfranchised in one way or another. I find myself sometimes at my wits end because the agreement that we have in the United States is that we just don’t know the reason why we have such a high prematurity rate and in working in my field and doing the things that I do, the way that I do them, I have been able, as have many others, to not only reduce but all but eradicate prematurity in a population of women who are considered to be at highest risk for prematurity. Low birth weight babies, complications for the mothers, maternal morbidity and mortality is rampant inside African-American communities in particular. So, how I keep from getting totally discouraged is the fact that in seeing the change brought about by applying some very simple and essentially easily applied tenents to how I provide the maternity care that we offer, we have been able to turn the tide. I know that other people are willing and are doing the work the same way. I know that they are seeing the results the same way, so I continue to hope that there will be a turning of the tide that more and more practices and practitioners will embrace these few simple steps and show that they too believe we can stop the scrounge of prematurity and low birth weight in the United States.
SM: What are you looking forward to most about being a plenary speaker and presenting to the Lamaze/ICEA 2015 conference attendees?
JJ: I am very excited about being able to present at Lamaze/ICEA 2015. I am more than thrilled. This is something that has been on my heart for a long time and I am really clear that until we embrace and involve all the perinatal team in the work at hand we will not be successful. I think that childbirth educators have a pivotal role to play in bringing about change and I know there is an openness and a willingness to hear about new and innovative ideas as far as providing that education across the board. This is an awesome opportunity for me and I am very much looking forward to it.