Myla Watley is 36 weeks pregnant and glowing. Though she has had a relatively easy pregnancy, she - like most first time mothers - is nervous about the unknown and has many questions about what is ahead. She met her husband while finishing her degree and moved back to the DC area to be closer to her parents for when they started their family. "We weren’t necessarily planning to get pregnant, but we weren’t not either. It didn’t take very long – 4 months. When I found out, I immediately Googled Black OBs because of the Black maternal mortality rate and other things you hear.”
Myla has reason to be concerned. Overall, pregnancy mortality in the United States occurs at an average rate of 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births, but that number jumps to 43.5/100,000 for non-Hispanic Black women and over 70/100,000 in DC. Myla found Community of Hope’s Family Health and Birth Center (FHBC) - the only freestanding birth center in Washington, DC which is also well-known for its care of Black families. “I decided I wanted a little more of an intimate relationship with my medical provider. I needed someone local but someone who would hear me out."
Myla was nervous to consider an out-of-hospital birth, but that didn’t stop her. She immediately called Community of Hope and found her questions were welcomed. “I called and was able to talk to Sharice [the midwife] for 45 minutes to ask my questions. I was able to get a one-on-one [visit] with the midwife the next week, and when I came in for my first appointment it was an incredibly different experience than with my OB. Transferring my care was super easy. I had labs the first day which was in the building and super convenient. They told me about the patient care coordinator, what to expect in the birth center, and honestly, I felt seen and I was heard.”
In addition to birth support, Myla discovered that FHBC offered other useful resources, such as the CenteringPregnancy® program, a group model of prenatal care. Numerous published studies show that Centering moms have healthier babies and that Centering nearly eliminates racial disparities in preterm birth by providing more access to providers, encouraging participation in medical care, and providing community. “As the Type A personality that I am, having the resources from CenteringPregnancy® is really valuable. I appreciate the ability to connect with other moms. In prepping for an unmedicated birth, hearing others’ stories helps give me perspective on what could happen. Anyone can receive these resources.”
Myla is excited about her pregnancy, though she struggled with feeling joyful during a year when so many people were struggling. “I said in the beginning I didn’t have a gender preference [for the baby]…but I did. I wanted a girl and that is what we are having! I am conflicted because we have had wonderful things going on, but I acknowledge loss and am being mindful and recognizing that not everyone is having an experience to celebrate.”
Myla shares that she feels safe and supported in her pregnancy because the FHBC is community-based, implements holistic-based care, and is open to anyone who would like to birth with midwives no matter economic status. “Everyone wants a healthy, safe, attentive birth experience and medical care provider. It is so important to know Community of Hope is here to provide access to care. It is so important for me that everyone gets quality healthcare because everyone deserves it. That’s my favorite part about Family Health and Birth Center. I am planning to use FHBC for my own primary medical care and for pediatric care as well after the baby arrives." With a grin, she added, “but don’t worry – God willing, we are coming back for two or three more babies.”