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As a public health program advisor with the California State Department of Health Services, Kathryn Hall was well aware of the big picture of health care and its costs when she began The Birthing Project in 1988. At that time, her intent was to ask ten community volunteers to provide one-on-one friendship, education and practical support to ten pregnant teens and women as a way of demonstrating that this was a cost effective way of decreasing infant mortality and morbidity in the African-American community.
All public health professionals use the term "infant mortality" almost on a daily basis. It was not until Ms. Hall held a 10-day old baby boy named DeAndre shortly after his life slipped away, that she internalized the meaning of those words as "counting dead babies." DeAndre’s short life became the impetus for The Birthing Project to become both a method of improving birth outcomes and a national movement to educate and invite community people to become involved.
Each of the founding mothers of The Birthing Project were paired with a pregnant teen or woman, serving as her friend, elder sister and advocate during her pregnancy and until the child’s first birthday. The founding father provided support to the babies’ fathers.
Since then, over 10,000 babies have been born into over 90 birthing Projects nationally. Although our services target African American women, we welcome pregnant women of all ethnicities who need medical care and social support to optimize their birth outcomes.
Birthing Project USA is the only national African American maternal and child health program in this country. We are a volunteer effort to encourage better birth outcomes by providing practical support to women during pregnancy and for one year after the birth of their children.
The first Birthing Project began in Sacramento, California in 1988 as a community service project comprised of volunteer Sister friends who provided one-on-one support to pregnant teens and women to lower Infant Mortality. In June 1992, The Birthing Project was featured in Essence Magazine. The response from women all over the country to become involved in their own communities was overwhelming.
The Birthing Project concept has grown into a nationally recognized model which has been replicated in over 70 communities in the United States, Canada and Honduras. This sisterhood of Birthing Projects is provided with technical and practical support through our national resource center and is known throughout the country as Birthing Project USA: The Underground Railroad for New Life.
At any given time, there are approximately thirty Birthing Projects in action - operating from homes, churches, service groups, places of employment, clinics, health departments and hospitals - any place where a group of ten women can commit to being conductors on The Underground Railroad for 18 months.
The Birthing Project USA mission is to assist local communities in improving their health status by addressing the systemic causes of their lack of well-being. The systemic causes usually include, lack of education, lack of social justice and economic disparities compounded by institutional political and personal barriers. Birthing Projects actively engage community residents in
1) Identifying their needs.
2) Planning, implementing and evaluating services.
3) Working collaboratively with other agencies, organizations and individuals.
During the last 18 years, Birthing Project models have been developed to improve birth outcomes by intervening at critical periods in a woman's life. For example, one of the most important determinates of a baby's health at birth is the physical, education and economic health of the baby's mother when she became pregnant. Our innovative programs allow us to identify our babies before they are born, keep a watchful eye on them during their childhood, invite them to participate with their mothers in our risk reduction programwhen they are in 6th and 7th grades and participate in our Academy of Dreams during their high school years. We also provide guides and support to their fathers.
Birthing Project USA provides the following services...
- Provides information, training and support to women and organizations who are interested in starting a Project in their communities.
- Assists local projects to identify and obtain necessary community services and resources.
- Assists local projects in establishing collaborative efforts.
- Assists local projects in developing long term strategic and action plans.
- Sponsors an annual training and networking conference for local projects, professional colleagues and other stakeholders.
- Provides Leadership Development and support for grassroots girls and women .
- Provides technical assistance and consultation to organizations, agencies and institutions that provide health and human services to African American and other underserved youth and women and their families.
- Also shares the history, experience and outcomes of this innovative model at your meeting, conference, summit or training.