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Black Maternal Health Needs a Rehaul

Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood––these journeys comprising the miracle of life should be some of the happiest moments a family shares. But for the over half a million Black women giving birth each year in the United States, a painful reality looms in the shadows. 

Maternal mortality rates in the United States are shockingly three times higher than those of any other developed nation. This crisis is particularly severe for Black women, who are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth compared to their white counterparts. These disparities, compounded with the fact that a staggering 84% of maternal deaths were deemed preventable by the CDC, have left many Black women birthing in fear and some even swearing off childbirth altogether. 

The fact is, there are initiatives, organizations, and individuals working to turn the tide on these statistics. For example, we know that birthing with a midwife can reduce your chances of having a c-section and lead you towards a more positive birth outcome. We also know that women supported by doulasalong their perinatal journeys often have improved experiences and lower risks of complications. So what do doulas and midwifery-based care models have in common? They put community at the center—holistically meeting a mother’s physical, psychological, cultural, and other needs through their care.

So, we thought, what if we took a community-centered approach to tech entrepreneurship?

And there we started—two young Black female students embarking on a mission to leverage technology for social good, centering the voices of Black birthing people, maternal care providers, and other key stakeholders at each stage in our design. After that first Zoom call, we relentlessly held focus groups and interviews, talking to 50 people in just a few days; taking notes, and then rewatching recordings to catch anything we missed.

(Co-Founders of Birth By Us, Mercy Oladipo (left) and Ijeoma Uche (right))

(Co-Founders of Birth By Us, Mercy Oladipo (left) and Ijeoma Uche (right))

We realized both Black women and their health care providers were not being served by what’s out there right now. Black women felt under-resourced and unheard, and providers who dedicate their careers to service felt they didn’t have the tools to resolve this crisis on their own. Both stakeholders wanted more and deserved more, and we could be the ones to fill this gap. From these learnings came Birth By Us, the pregnancy and postpartum app for women of color.

(Ijeoma presenting Birth By Us at the Berkeley Haas Healthcare Conference, March 2023)

Birth By Us supports Black women and other women of color through their pregnancy and postpartum journeys with wellness check-ins based on validated health screeners that can detect key health warning signs. From there, they receive guidance on how to follow up with their healthcare providers, gain access to culturally-competent resources, learn about how to prepare for upcoming appointments, and more. At the same time, we analyze user feedback on their experiences to help providers improve care for patients of color everywhere.

Birth By Us isn't just another app; it's a dynamic partnership that connects directly with the communities it aims to support. We understand that to truly cater to the needs of Black women, their voices must take center stage in our development process. Our philosophy of "with them, not just for them" underscores the values of co-creation, collaboration, and ongoing feedback, paving the way for a solution that makes a difference.

Like technology development or design, community engagement must also be an iterative process rather than a one-time affair. Since that first Zoom call, we have interviewed and surveyed over 250 stakeholders including Black women, midwives, doulas, obstetricians, academic researchers, and more. Since our beta launch in July 2023, we’ve engaged with over 150 initial users, getting to know them personally as members of our community. With the feedback we’ve gathered during this period, we are now working on Birth By Us 2.0 and gearing up for our official launch, including partnering with medical centers and community organizations.

(Mercy speaking to community stakeholders at Chicago Birth Workers Collective Black Breastfeeding Cookout, August 2023)

This continuous feedback loop forms the core of our evolution, facilitating enhancement while ensuring that Birth By Us’ growth remains in close harmony with the needs of Black women and birthing people. 

We envision a future where high-quality perinatal care is accessible to all, starting with Black women and expanding to other underserved communities. Our platform's success lies not just in its technological capabilities, but in its ability to foster genuine connections and lasting change. By harnessing the wisdom, insights, and perspectives of women of color, Birth By Us is carving a path towards a new era of maternal health—one that champions empowerment, inclusivity, and community-driven progress. Ready to join us?

Learn more about solutions like Birth by Us and consider supporting youth innovators with Solve.

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