Tell us about your work and how it began.
I was trained as a midwife in Great Britain in 1979 and moved to the United States in 1989. My experience has been quite diverse: European hospitals, American birth centers, clinics and homebirth environments. I’ve been instrumental in the regulation of Florida midwives since the 1990′s and have been involved in educating midwives since 1995.
It took me a while to understand the history of midwifery in America and recognize the impact of the current maternity health care system on women and babies here. Having done extensive research and practical work, I became a subject matter expert on racial and perinatal disparities in the USA. My journey has culminated in the formation of a maternal child healthcare system, which has all but eradicated poor birth outcomes for women in Central Florida. My model of health care, The JJ Way®, provides an evidence-based system to deliver MCH services which improve health, reduce costs and produce better outcomes all round.
I currently own a Florida licensed midwifery school attached to The Birth Place, - a birth center and Easy Access’ Prenatal Care Clinic which offers quality maternity care for all, regardless of their choice of delivery-site or ability to pay. Working in partnership with women by raising their status from patient to client, my team and I have empowered them to be proactive about their treatment and care. Fathers, family members, and friends are brought in as part of the mother’s team and engaged in the goal of helping her achieve a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
I have pressed for linkages and collaboration with other public and private agencies in an effort to maintain continuity of care for the safety of our clients but also in order to bridge the gap between America’s maternity care practitioners. We have developed and administer perinatal professional training and certification programs to address the health care provider shortage, diversify the maternal child health (MCH) workforce and address persistent racial and class disparities in birth outcomes.
There are both quantitative and qualitative studies underway regarding our work at The Birth Place as well as continuous reviews of the impact of our clinical and educational programs. I recently formed the 'National Perinatal Task Force' in order to support and recognize the many 'supporters' who are on the frontlines daily, fighting for our families and navigating this fear-based industry of childbearing in America.
I firmly believe in patient-centered, woman-centered care and work tirelessly to support the systems, providers and agencies charged with delivering that type of care. Until women and their loved ones feel that they have enough knowledge and agency to be part of the decisions around their care and until they have access to the education and support that they are lacking, they will continue to be at risk.
Tell us about an experience you've had that conveys the importance of your projects.
It always comes down to the women and the babies and the relationship that’s built within our walls. We had a pair of African American sisters, S. 16 and T. 18 years old, whose due dates were 2 weeks apart. Their mom brought them to the Easy Access Clinic and it was obvious that they could care less about being there – they had no idea about how much we cared that they came.
As they filled out paperwork in our “classroom”, a very welcoming waiting room where we do 'stealth education', they encountered Diane, our “doula/instructor”. Diane is 50-ish, white, with an experience of life as different from these young women as their skin tones. With access to quality care though, these girls came back again and again, while I measured their growing bellies Diane connected them to their babies, and educated them about the true choices they had in their bodies, their healthcare, their plans for birth and for nourishing those babies.
She helped them find their voice to say what was needed, what mattered and what life as a mother could look like. With each appointment we saw confidence build, fear lessen and joy grow in their evolving motherhood!
Choosing to “at least try to” breastfeed their babies was in their plan from the beginning and empowering them to ask for skin to skin at the time of birth, giving them information so they knew they could provide their babies with all they needed created a sense of success that came to be when their babies finally arrived!
At the postpartum visit, they were strong and happy with chunky, thriving, breastfed little ones. Both sisters, now 17 and 19, continued breastfeeding and staying in touch with Diane (who got to be their real doula at their births!) until the babies were 8 months old, when she had to move out of state.
What data do you use to show the importance of breastfeeding and the impact of your work?
We collect birth outcomes on all the moms as a way of proving what we already know - that is that with support, encouragement and empowerment, ALL women can have a healthy birth and a positive breastfeeding experience.
So we document birth weight, gestational age (how many weeks of pregnancy reached) and breastfeeding 'starts'. Because we support a mom's choice to deliver in the hospital we often hear back from women how little support there is in the actual hospital environment and then how difficult it is to maintain breastfeeding once they get home. We know the importance of good education and preparation for the breastfeeding experience and we are striving to be a support for women wherever they choose to deliver.
My favorite breastfeeding resources:
"Teach Me How to Breastfeed" by TaNefer Camara
and everything Kimberly Seals Allers has to say, especially about First Food Deserts.
What is one thing the person reasing this can do to support the Perinatal Task Force?
Number one is find the nearest Materno-toxic Area, and “look for the helpers”, find out what you can do to help the helpers, those that are already there, and help THEM! Along with that become a member! Then you’ll always be in the loop on upcoming activities, ways to support and be connected to people who, like you, care…deeply.
Photo courtesy of (c) Alice Proujansky
What is an area of breastfeeding support that is being overlooked and what should be done about it?
Postpartum - once a mom gets home. We see that is the most dangerous point for her failing. We are piloting a virtual breastfeeding support program via a smart phone portal and using peer counselors and home visiting. It is a follow-on from the work we have been doing in the prenatal course and feel that if we can close this remaining gap we will see even greater success with breastfeeding, bonding and parenting all together.