JUST Birth Network hosts inaugural Black Maternal Health Week conference

[4 min read]
In this article: 
  • Convened by the JUST Birth Network, Swedish hosted our first Black Maternal Health Week conference on April 12 at our Cherry Hill campus. 
  •  JUST Birth was initiated in 2021 and includes doulas, cultural navigators and other staffers dedicated to providing Black and Native patients culturally affirming care throughout their pregnancy journey. 
  • Community partners and special guest speakers were welcomed to the event, including Sharon Turner, an acting director of intergovernmental and external affairs from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
The Swedish community celebrated Black Maternal Health Week 2023 with a groundbreaking conference hosted on April 12 at Swedish’s Cherry Hill Campus. 
Convened by the JUST Birth Network, the daylong event centered on the history of midwifery and doulas in the birth experiences of Black, African American and Native women; how midwives and doulas are working to change their profession; and Swedish’s efforts to foster birth equity and build a warmer, more inclusive birthing experience for all patients. The day’s packed agenda included presentations from community partners Black Mammas Matter and Blackberry, JUST Birth’s cultural navigators, and community elders who shared their own birth trauma stories about what called them to activism around birth justice. The contributions of JUST Birth doulas were also celebrated with a recognition ceremony. 
JUST Birth is the vision of Sauleiha Akangbe, who is a community advocate, full spectrum doula and African American woman. Today, Akangbe leads JUST Birth, which was initiated in 2021 after the 2020 founding of the Black Birth Empowerment Initiative. JUST Birth was begun with funding from the Providence Health Equity fund as part of Swedish’s commitment to address inequities experienced by our patients and communities. JUST Birth currently includes dedicated cultural navigators, childbirth educators, and birth and postpartum doulas who provide patients and their families with expert care and guidance throughout their pregnancy and birth.
Sauleiha Akangbe, who leads the JUST Birth Network at Swedish. Jennifer Richard Photo. 
“We are trying to create a space [for Black women] and their birth experiences. This work is vital and important, especially in predominantly white spaces,” said Akangbe, who led many of the day’s discussion with her own baby in her arms. “Blackness gets lost and, sometimes, abused, so we are taking back our bodies. That’s why the JUST Birth Network was founded—[because, historically] this work was placed on [birth] doulas to fix a [systemic] problem that isn’t theirs to fix.”  
JUST Birth Network team members speaking at Swedish's Black Maternal Health Week event. Jennifer Richard Photo.  
In attendance were many Providence Swedish staffers, including midwives and OB and Labor and Delivery caregivers. In addition to celebrating Black maternal health, the event was an effort to educate and foster cultural sensitivity at Swedish broadly, and more specifically, among those who care for Black women and other non-white birthing people. JUST Birth’s cultural navigators are a vital component of this work. 
“Our work is an important step for birthing Black, Indigenous and Native women. We are here to support them and the doulas who care for them,” said JUST Birth Cultural Navigator Faronda Rollins. “When we walk into a patient’s room, we want them to know that we see them. We know that birth is a sacred moment.” 
“Today's event was a moving celebration that honored and centered the caregivers who are doing the hard work of supporting our patients and families whose lives have deeply affected by systemic racism and bias,” said Kellie Ryan, senior manager of childbirth services at Swedish. “I am proud that we at Swedish are committed to this work and committed to doing more for our communities.” 

Learn more and find a provider

Every year, more babies are born at Swedish than at any other health system in western Washington. In fact, helping you have your baby your way is one reason so many families choose Swedish.

Swedish has three birth centers — First HillIssaquah and Edmonds — making it convenient for people who live or work in the Seattle, Eastside and North End areas. But don’t just choose your birth center based on location. It’s also important to consider factors like the size of your birth center. Do you want a smaller, more boutique-like feel, for example, or a bustling city hospital with every possible resource available? Or maybe something in between?

All of our Swedish patients can take classes, meet other families, get help with lactation and go for new parents and well-baby checkups at The Lytle Center for Pregnancy & Newborns at our First Hill birth center. You can also get expert advice there and help with wellness.

To learn more about our childbirth and parenting classes — both in-person and online — visit our Childbirth and Parenting Classes at Swedish Medical Center page. To take a take a virtual tour of our birth centers, visit our Birth Center Tours page. If you need to find a provider, use our provider directory.

Also, if you want to provide input on the way we provide care, please join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Giving parents-to-be the best possible start

Pregnancy and Childbirth

What Moms and Dads Say (What’s it Really Like to Have a Baby at Swedish?)

Our Doctors and Midwives

Childbirth Classes & Tours

Resource Center

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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About the Author

There's a reason why more babies are born at Swedish every year than any other health system in western Washington - bringing babies into this world is our mission. The Swedish Pregnancy & Childbirth Team is committed to giving you relevant and actionable insights on how to care for yourself and your child as you navigate the trimesters of your pregnancy.

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