On Thursday, January 19, Bobbie for Change, the advocacy arm of the infant formula company Bobbie, curated a panel in West Hollywood for activists, mothers, and tastemakers, to raise awareness about the maternal mortality crisis. They partnered with noted journalist, author, and television personality, Elaine Welteroth. A new mother and #boymom, Welteroth has been vocal about her difficult pregnancy and how she decided to divest from a “traditional” hospital care model to enlist the help of a Black midwife, Kimberly Durdin, who was also a guest on the panel.
In 2021, during her pregnancy, Weleroth experienced debilitating pelvic pain caused by a condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) that affects up to one-third of pregnant women. During numerous doctor visits, she felt neglected, dismissed, belittled, and not respected, causing her to deal with anxiety regarding the ultimate success of her birth.
“I was deeply disappointed and dejected by my experiences on this quest to find the right doctor. Every time I was in these appointments, the doctor condescended to me, and I saw that it was having this shrinking effect on me. I felt small, silenced, and scared to ask questions in these rooms. I was trying to find a doctor who was sensitive to my concerns and reassured me that I would not become a statistic,” she tells ESSENCE.
It wasn’t until Welteroth witnessed six vials of blood taken from her without her consent that she hit a breaking point. “The doctor wouldn’t take accountability or apologize for the error; instead, she gaslit me. I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone,” she says. “There’s a dissociation that many of us make for survival. When we hear these statistics, to elect to enter these systems, you have to go in believing the outcome will be better for you. I am aware of my privileges – so the fact that I’m experiencing this mistreatment from eight different doctors tells me this systemic issue is very real. And it is much worse for other women who also look like me. I knew there was a reason this must be happening to me because I needed to raise awareness about this.”
Through her traumatic experiences, Welteroth wanted to ensure that other Black women didn’t suffer in silence without communal support, advocacy, and safety. “I didn’t know that this could happen to me. And I wonder how many other women are experiencing this in silence, thinking it’s them? Because I thought something was wrong with me,” says Welteroth. “I thought it was me.”
She already felt trepidation about being pregnant due to the alarming maternal death rate in the United States – with Black women affected the most. Unfortunately, Black women are three times as likely to die from a maternal cause as white women, according to the Population Reference Bureau. This crisis disproportionately impacts Black families and mothers—who are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 84% of maternal deaths in the United States are classified as “preventable.”
Welteroth hopes her birth story and unpleasant experience can help bring change to lower these glaring statistics, as she believes every mother should get to aspire to do more than just survive their childbirth experiences.
Her own situation started to turn around when she met Durdin, midwife, and founder of Kindred Space LA, South Los Angeles’ only birthing center. Durdin worked with Welteroth and her partner to ensure safe childbirth rooted in support, care, and intention and delivered her son in her home peacefully in April 2022. “I immediately felt aligned with her mission, her values. And the idea of having prenatal care from a Black woman who cares about resolving this complex systemic issue facing our community. She was the one that told me she was going to take over my care because she saw the effects that these doctor’s appointments were having on me. And she was worried about me,” says Welteroth.
During the panel, we heard from Duran and Charles Johnson, maternal care activist, father of two, and founder of 4Kira4Moms, who founded his non-profit in 2017 after losing his wife Kira at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles, due to medical neglect, about the importance of Black women going back to their roots and history by choosing a doula or midwife to deliver their children.
According to Johnson, much work still needs to be done to improve the healthcare system, and he’s up for the challenge. “It’s imperative that when we discuss the grave realities of why our organization exists, we highlight what we can do to change the situation. We’re currently working with congress to pass key legislation, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act – an unprecedented set of bills addressing every aspect of the current maternal health crisis in America. It was introduced a year ago, and though it has not been finalized, we can ensure it is passed into federal law,” says Johnson.
Johnson and 4Kira4Moms are launching a new program – the Maternal Mortality Family Response Team – providing a full year of support via grief counseling, diapers, formula, food, and other essentials to care for and nourish babies and families who experience the tragedy of maternal loss through childbirth.
Bobbie for Change supports this initiative, as they believe they can fundamentally change what it means to be a parent in America today, starting at the beginning of life.
“Bobbie has never been about just selling formula. We exist to uplevel this industry – that’s why we founded Bobbie for Change, our social impact and policy arm, which helps drive societal change about the issues impacting our community and motherhood,” said Laura Modi, CEO, and co-founder of Bobbie and mother of three. “The maternal mortality crisis in this country is one of the issues that keep us up at night – ensuring a safe, equitable, and empowering birth, especially for Black mothers, is of critical importance, and we’re here to fight for it.”
For more information, visit https://www.bobbieforchange.org.