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On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Irth® App founder, Kimberly Seals Allers, to update us on Irth® App’s mission to fight against racism and bias in perinatal and infant care. 

Kimberly Seals Allers (she/her) is an award-winning journalist, five-time author, international speaker strategist, and an advocate for perinatal and infant health. A former senior editor at Essence, and writer at Fortune Magazine, Kimberly is a leading voice on the racial and socio-cultural complexities of birth, lactation, and parenthood. Kimberly is the founder of Irth®, a new Yelp-like app for Black and Brown parents to address bias and racism in perinatal and infant care. Kimberly also created Birthright, a podcast about joy and healing in Black birth that centers positive Black birth stories as a tool in the fight for birth justice, and to reverse the narrative of negative statistics that is common in mainstream media coverage of Black perinatal health.

We talk about the updated research from Irth®’s movement to eradicate racism and bias in perinatal and infant care. We also talk about the importance of actively implementing strategies for safer birthing spaces for Black and Brown birthing people. 

Content warning: We mention racism, bias, Black perinatal death, and trauma. 

Resources

Learn more about Kimberly Seals Allers here and the Irth® App here. Follow Kimberley on Instagram. Follow the Irth® App on Facebook and Instagram. Listen to the Birthright Podcast here

Listen to EBB 161 here.

Learn more about Dr. Carla Williams here and her feature on the Birthright Podcast here

Learn more about March of Dimes here.

Learn more about the White House Maternal Day of Action press release here.

Transcript

Rebecca Decker:

Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast. We’re going to talk with Irth® App founder Kimberly Seals Allers to update us on Irth® App’s mission to fight against racism and bias in perinatal and infant care. 

Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast. My name is Rebecca Decker, and I’m a nurse with my PhD, and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See EBBirth.com/disclaimer for more details.

Hi, everyone. My name is Rebecca Decker, pronouns she/her, and I will be your host for today’s episode. Today we are so excited to welcome Irth® App founder, Kimberly Seals Allers. Before we interview Kimberly, I want to let you know that we will mention racism and bias in this episode. And if there are any other detailed content or trigger warnings, we always post them in the description or show notes that go along with this episode. And now I’d like to introduce our honored guest.

Kimberly Seals Allers, pronouns she/her, is an award-winning journalist, five-time author, international speaker strategist, an advocate for perinatal and infant health. A former senior editor at Essence, and writer at Fortune Magazine, Kimberly is a leading voice on the racial and socio-cultural complexities of birth, lactation, and parenthood. She is the founder of Irth®, a new Yelp-like app for Black and Brown parents to address bias and racism in perinatal and infant care. Kimberly also created Birthright, a podcast about joy and healing in Black birth that centers positive Black birth stories as a tool in the fight for birth justice, and to reverse the narrative of negative statistics that is common in mainstream media coverage of Black perinatal health. We are so thrilled that Kimberly is back with us again as a repeat guest. Welcome, Kimberly, to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Thank you for having me, and thank you for always making space for me and my work on Evidence Based Birth® podcast. And so I’m excited to be here.

Rebecca Decker:

Yeah. And for those of you who haven’t listened to our earlier episode, it is EBB episode 161. So if you want to learn more about the history and background of how Irth was created, you can go to that. But, Kimberly, just briefly for our listeners who weren’t here in 2021 when Kimberly was on the podcast, can you just briefly explain what Irth® App is and why it exists?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah, of course. So Irth, which is like the word birth, but we dropped the B for bias, is the first of its kind, Yelp like review and recommendation platform for Black and Brown women and birthing people to find and leave reviews of their OB/GYNs, birthing hospitals, and pediatricians. We are on a mission to eradicate racism and bias in maternity care. And so we use Irth, one, on the front end as a tool for Black and Brown folks to see how other people like them have said that they experience a certain provider or hospital.

And then on the back end, we turn those qualitative review into quantitative data so that we can work with hospitals, payers, providers to inform their strategies, but to make sure that they’re … what they’re doing is literally rooted in the lived experience of care. So how do we make sure that what Black and Brown folks consider to be patient safety and all the other things that hospitals need to improve, how do we make sure that there’s that equity lens always laid on top of that quality improvement work? So that’s the work that we do with Irth, and I’m super excited about its growth, the ways that it’s being supported and celebrated, and the movement begins.

Rebecca Decker:

Yeah. So when we first spoke with you on the podcast in January of 2021, I believe you had just launched the app. So now that this interview’s going live, it’s been more than a year, what’s been going on with the app? How are things going? Give us an update.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah. So it’s been a super exciting, we are coming up on one year in the app store. I think we launched this last day of February, and so are excited about our first birthday. Happy birthday to Irth®. And so it’s been a real exciting year. One, we’ve expanded to our hospital pilots. We’re now working with a hospital in Detroit. We have another one in MOU status in Philadelphia, another in Los Angeles, and really developing our hospital pilots to see how folks can learn from what people are saying in Irth® App reviews. So that’s been exciting to see the interest from hospitals, as well as our movement to make sure that whatever they’re doing is literally informed by our lived experience of care.

And we were super excited to be included in the White House Maternal Day of Action press release because of our partnership with the March of Dimes. And the March of Dimes has its own HHS grant to do a number of hospital interventions in various states across the U.S. And they will be using Irth® more as a backend monitoring mechanism, right? And so how can they better evaluate how … what their initiatives are doing from a community perspective by using Irth® as part of their community feedback mechanism as a tool that can be used for evaluation. So it’s been exciting to expand the test cases for Irth, all the different ways it can be used, whether we are doing a hospital pilot directly with the hospital, or if someone else is doing a health equity initiative, regardless of what that is, what are you doing to get that feedback and to evaluate it from the community perspective? And so always thinking through the many ways that Irth® can be used. And so it’s been exciting to explore that as we get into that work with March of Dimes, as well.

Rebecca Decker:

So when you talk about hospital pilot, I know last year you mentioned how some hospitals were actually resistant to the Irth® App coming live. You’re saying that some hospitals are actually choosing the opposite, they’re choosing to work with you to figure out how they can improve care and start to remove bias as much as possible from the care they’re delivering?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yes. And to be completely transparent, many times that comes because we do have Irth® reviews about them. They often aren’t as great as they think that they are. And we share something about those reviews with them and invite them into a pilot opportunity. So we are still facing a lot of resistance, but we are seeing some hospitals, usually led by an internal champion, to be quite honest, someone who really cares about it, and is willing to do the work on the inside, and take it to leadership, and try to socialize it with peers about why it’s important. But, we certainly face resistance every day from hospitals. And it’s been interesting to see how they’ve been centered in this process, and the fact that many hospitals can’t fathom the idea that we have data about them without them is really something that’s mind-blowing to them.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

And they think that if they say no to me, that stops our work. And I’m like, no, we’ll still have reviews on you. We’ll still be sharing it with the community. We’ll still be reporting it publicly. You’ve just lost the opportunity to learn from it. Right? And so that’s really the only distinction in that work. We had a very well-known hospital here where I live in York city that was … that had signed up to work with us on a pilot, and then walked away because ultimately they wouldn’t agree that our data belongs to the community. And so there are these ways of being in this industry that have obviously harmed birthing people for far too long, and so we try to start with like-minded institutions, those who seem like they want to walk their talk. But ultimately, I feel like our strength will be when we have enough reviews that they have to pay attention.

Rebecca Decker:

Yeah. What is the pilot program like, then, when a hospital signs up with you for this pilot? What does it look like right now?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

So in our hospital pilot, we ask the hospital to create a working group, which usually includes folks from patient experience across maternity services. Different folks are usually involved in that working group. And then we co-create a process for capturing reviews. Like if that hospital has clinics, how do we get Irth® into the clinics? Sometimes that’s posters. Sometimes that’s having a dedicated iPad there for folks when they’re waiting for their prenatal appointments. In the hospitals, the hospital folks may have pins that say, “Ask me about Irth,” or we have our Irth® cards included in discharge folders. So we really learn all the different ways that they’re touching birthing people, and figure out what are the ways that we could embed ourselves. In our pilots, the hospital is actually expected to help in their own review collection. It’s their give back to the community that they are participating, actively participating, in their review process. That’s a standard part of our pilot.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

And then after that, then we go to work. We do the digital marketing, we understand zip codes. We always have funding to hire one or two community people who can work on the grounds to help us capture reviews and make sure that the work that we’re doing is locally rooted in the ways that families get their care. And so after we either set a number we target, or a period of time, we analyze those reviews, we share that feedback with leadership. Also, adding that working group must always have an executive sponsor. And then we work with them through our team to figure out what are the strategies that need to come into place. What does it mean when we’re seeing people constantly saying their pain levels are being dismissed, or frequency of some of the negative practice behaviors that are common in Irth? Is that empathy training? Is that more accountability in terms of from the hospital employers and human resources? What will it take?

And so this is the work that we’re doing now, to be quite honest, Rebecca, that I’m so excited about, because what I’m learning is that hot hospitals have created a whole mechanism around quality improvement, but none of it has been rooted in an understanding of what that means to Black people, to Black birthing folks. And so I spend a lot of time asking hospitals what does patient safety look like to a Black birthing person, and no one can answer me as of yet. Nobody. And so how do we now outwork with that hospital? And we’ve learned so much from the community. What does this look like in terms of actionable strategies? What does this look like about what patient safety really means, and some of the other things that are important to hospitals. And then we get to work doing that.

We allow some time for those strategies to be implemented, but then we go back in for another review collection as a test of change. And so the pilot, all pilots, are built with at least two opportunities for hearing from the community, and then implementing strategies. And that’s what we really want to say. The work of eradicating racism and bias is not a training work. It is not a one-day or one week. It is a continuous effort. And is really our mission to these hospitals, that we start them on a process that really gets them to really understand this new paradigm, which is you are ultimately accountable to the communities that you serve. And so, if you don’t have a way of actively and continuously hearing from the community, then you are likely failing at that job. And so we want to start a process where hospitals now have a robust community feedback mechanism, not telling me that they sat seven people down in a focus group last year, but that they have continuous up to date information that they could use, and they’re constantly using Irth® in that capacity.

Rebecca Decker:

And I love that because it’s centering the lived experience, like you said, of the Black families. And you’re right. The quality improvement processes have not focused on Black and Brown families. So, that is so amazing that this has become part of the Irth® App mission. I was wondering if you could tell us, as you’ve been collecting more data over the last year and getting more and more reviews, what information have you been uncovering or discovering about racism and bias in perinatal and infant care?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

So many things. I think the biggest takeaway, and I recently shared this, was really that it’s in the nuances. I think that in our culture, we think of racism as Tiki torches and epithets, right? But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about that type of racism. We’re talking about comments about family size, assumptions that you’re on WIC, racist comments, just a lot of comments based on stereotypes. And it is really scary what people are being subjected to just around their humanity, just around not being treated like humans.

Right now, the number one negative experience being reported in Irth® is my requests for help were refused or ignored. Why? Why? Number two is users saying that they were scolded, yelled at, or threatened. Again, why? Number three is dismissiveness of pain levels. Unfortunately, very common and something we have seen in pretty much every Black maternal death story. And then number four being physical privacy violated. Very interesting findings about people whose bodies have already been hyper-sexualized by society and what privacy looks like to them. And I say this to the nurses all the time. I get that the knock and inter thing may be standard practice at hospitals, but it may not work for everybody.

And so even some nuanced understanding about privacy when people’s ownership over their bodies. We see a lot of induction stuff, which, as we know, has been happening a lot during the pandemic, people being induced for reasons they can’t explain. And then, it’s been really interesting. One of the things that I love to read, all the doula reviews. Just as a reminder to folks, Irth® accepts reviews not just from birthing people, but from fathers and partners. If your grandmother was there and she wants to leave a review, absolutely.

Rebecca Decker:

And the doula can leave a review.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

And doulas, right. And so doulas and hospital-based midwives can also leave reviews because we know that they often see a lot. And what’s been so amazing with the doula reviews is that not only do doulas see a number of births, which is one of the questions that we ask them, but they also see distinctions in their clients. And so doulas come into Irth® to say, you know what, I’ve seen the difference between my white clients and my Black clients, or my next clients or whatever. They see those distinctions because they’re working across client bases. And so it’s been incredible.

And this is part of the work that I want to do with Irth® around lifting up the experiential knowledge of doulas. I think there’s a lot of conversation about doulas and their value to the individual birthing person, which is real. But for me, the additional layer of that is when we bring doula expertise into that new data set that we’re looking to create, that is actually evidence based on the lived experience, and how do we bring what doulas see into that? And what I have found, as well, is when we go to hospitals, even if we have maybe a hundred patient reviews, collectively those doulas may have seen 500 births at this hospital. And so now what they’re saying is even more weighty than what the patients themselves … And so those doula reviews are so important.

My goal is that we’re building this new evidence base, based on the lived experience, and that, for me, doulas need to be included in that. It’s not just about what they do and the assistance they provide for birthing individuals, but also the value of what they see and what they know to the community, first as a warning system and an information system, but also to the data around what it takes to have a better Black birthing experience.

Rebecca Decker:

You’re right. Doulas sees so much. Because as a birthing person, you may give birth one, two, three, five, or 10 times. But a doula over, say a 10-year career, could witness a birth at every facility in your town with every provider and with almost every nurse.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Exactly.

Rebecca Decker:

And so they see a wide net of everything that can happen. I’m curious, Kimberly, can you tell us geographically where most of your concerning reports come from, or is it just spread across the U.S. equally, or are there some parts of the country where it seems to be worse?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Great question. I think that just in general, Irth® has reviews from 48 states, plus Hawaii. So I’m really grateful to see the geographic stretch. However, Irth® technically works best in geographic density. It is more powerful for us to have a thousand reviews in one city, than to technically have 10,000 spread across 50 states, because with those 1000 reviews, we can get some really good information that allows us to really push for change. We have the most reviews from the state of California as of now. But we do find that our reviews are centered in geographic cities, so New York being one of our top cities, New Orleans is also one of our top cities. In California, LA and Sacramento are our top areas with the Bay being the third, Bay Area being the third. We also skew heavily in the DC Metro area, and Detroit, Chicago coming in there, and then Atlanta. And so really thinking about our pockets, we’re really trying to dig into Houston to get some more presence there.

And so, one of the things that’s really been interesting is just seeing in places, let’s say in New York City, where we actually see women who are educated, higher socioeconomic status, leaving reviews, versus other cities where we end up … we tend to have a different population, which may be a lower-income population, leaving reviews. And those nuances about treatment really aren’t much different. And for me, what disturbs me, among the many things that disturbs me when I read Irth® reviews, is seeing that across socioeconomics and geographic areas, we are still stuck in those stereotypes about Black women, still questions about are you married, still question, assumptions that you’re on WIC. This is just happening across the board.

So I think those types of nuances are definitely more telling, to me. And then geographically, I think what we see is, and especially in our Southeast, like our Atlanta reviews, there’s a niceness to the nastiness that I think … New Yorkers are just direct. You’re just going to get it. But there’s actually a niceness to the nastiness that’s really interesting when we look at our reviews in the Southeast, where everybody is supposed to be nice, where it’s like, okay. It’s just a way that it happens can be very different. And so that’s been interesting to see geographically. Certainly in New York City, we’ve seen a lot more inductions than I would say other cities where people are being induced without being clear about why. So those are some of the key distinctions that I would say both geographically and also just in general, which for me has been what’s been the same, regardless.

Rebecca Decker:

So when you’re looking in a city, do you see differences between hospitals, or do all of the hospitals seem to have similar levels of problems and bad reviews, or do you see differences where one hospital seems to be doing better, and another one has a worse track record, or are they all just kind of bad across the board?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah, it depends. I would say that more of the hospitals that have implemented some sort of midwifery model of care, even if it’s within a hospital setting, those reviews are always better. And this happens, I think, more in California, folks who have been allowed to birth with a midwife, even at a hospital, which can happen in some places, have generally had much better experiences, which is based on what we know, just the way that model is set up, the care, et cetera. So that’s one thing that we can see. I would say that different hospitals are failing people differently. But it’s still systemic failure. And so nobody is consistently getting five-star reviews across the board, but the ways that they may be doing it, the ways that they are failing Black birthing people can, be very different.

Some of it is very blatant. Some may be questions. So for example, when you go through our birthing review, you’re asked about the doctors, nurses and lactation consultants. So one of the things that’s interesting, we ask a question. One, how soon did the lactation consultant visit you? Was it within 24 hours? How much time did they spend with you? And were you told about these things, some are like colostrum, cluster feeding, signs of insufficient latch, signs of low milk supply, things that you really should know, basics. And the places where we see people don’t know about any of those things before they’ve been discharged, for me, that’s one of my key … you failed here, because that is based on a stereotype and an assumption. And if Black birthing people and Brown folks are not leaving with basic knowledge about breastfeeding, how are they meant to succeed?

So, I look at the review, not just what happened on the birth side, but also the breastfeeding side, as part of how they’re being overall recommended. And nobody is getting it right on both sides of that equation. And that’s deeply troubling. Obviously much better experiences from people who’ve had doulas come in with them. And so many reviews where it’d be like, “If you’re going to go here, make sure you have a doula. Don’t birth here without a doula,” or, “My doula helped me have a good experience.” And so lots of that, as well.

Rebecca Decker:

So it sounds like in general, if you’re a Black birthing family or Brown birthing family, if your hospital doesn’t have midwives, or the midwives aren’t really practicing in the true midwifery model of care, that could be a red flag. And if they’re not providing adequate lactation care to Black families, that’s another big red flag.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Big red flag.

Rebecca Decker:

So ask other Black families, and look at the reviews for the lactation-specific stuff.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

I think that’s telling because for me, how we care for Black mothers and birthing individuals, as well as their infants, is really important to me. And so we know that lactation and body feeding is related to the birthing person’s health, as well as the infant’s health. Now you’ve got two people involved here. And so for me, when that is failing, that is a red flag. So, that’s important in terms of the overall care that you’re receiving during that process.

Rebecca Decker:

And I love how you said that the doulas are making a difference. So it sounds like they, in some ways, can buffer the negative aspects of racism and bias, that they can be somewhat of a buffer between that and the birthing family.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

They do try. And I think that it’s important for us to recognize that for doulas to play that role, they pay a price. And so, one of the things that I’ve been really focused on for Irth® for this year is how do we better support doulas and other birth workers who are trying to make Black birth safe? Because I was just saying recently on social media, everybody’s talking about doulas, nobody’s talking about the actual doulas. So they’re carrying trauma. They’re trying to be this buffer, as you said. But who’s supporting them?

And so that’s something that we are working on with our Irth® ambassador cohort in New York City, creating an opportunity to support birth workers now with mental health, with events, with support, because we can’t keep putting this burden on doulas and not pouring back into them as well. So that’s a huge thing that, for me, goes hand in hand with saying that yeah, the doulas are making a difference, and they repeatedly have been helpful. Sometimes I know the doulas feel helpless themselves and limited on what they can actually do for their clients, and that’s sad to read.

Rebecca Decker:

Tell us more about that ambassador program that you’re talking about. Is that something new? Is that a pilot? How does that work?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah, it is new. We just got funding from the New York State Health Foundation. So I’m piloting it here in New York City where I live with the hopes of taking it to other cities, but it is an inaugural pilot cohort. We’re going to have 25 doulas and birth workers overall who are coming into our cohort, and it’s a paid opportunity for them to get an additional stipend related to helping us, one, capture reviews, leave their own reviews. But more importantly, for me, it was an opportunity to give back in terms of us creating opportunity for them to, like I said, receive mentorship.

We’re going to have a speaker series around business building, and sustainability, and self care. We’re going to have some fun events because I’m about bringing joy back in 2022. So just trying to create a community of support, and to bring in some more resources for them so that it’s not just this lionization of doulas without us loving on them, without us putting back into their cups as well. So I’m excited about what we’re about to launch in March for the ambassador cohort here in New York City. And I’m excited about bringing it to other cities. Los Angeles is next on my list. So I’m hoping to bring it to California. So stay tuned for that.

Rebecca Decker:

That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to hear more about that next year as it grows. Can you talk a little bit about the community response to Irth, since you said it is a resource for community, the data belonged to the community? How is the Irth® App and being able to read the reviews, changing the perspective of Black birthing families, or how is it affecting them as they’re going to read the reviews while they’re pregnant or before they get pregnant?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah. I think there’s two things that’s happening. One is that we’re seeing our community acceptance grow, which is great. We’ve definitely increased our users by at least 40%, so that’s been exciting to see year over year. And then I have … One of the things that we’re constantly challenged by is making sure that our community knows that their experience matters. One thing that I’ve learned is that white women in general have been socialized to know that their opinion matters, what happened to them matters, and they need to tell somebody, they want to share.

This is not the same in our community in the same way. And that was a huge learning for me, that we actually have to first, and in addition to, educate and empower people to … who have been told that survival … they should be happy if they’re not dead. And so, if you feel like survival is your goal, then anything else has been a good experience technically, and so you should be happy and grateful and et cetera, et cetera. And so-

Rebecca Decker:

Kind of like grin and bear it, don’t complain.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Exactly.

Rebecca Decker:

Yeah.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

That’s right. And this idea that you were actually glad or expecting something so much worse that you have survived. And so this is why I’ve always been just leery of this narrative in Black maternal health. Because even in the Irth® reviews, we ask a specific question, what’s the best thing that happened to you at this hospital? And too many times, Rebecca, too many times that answer is, “I survived and my baby survived,” and that should not be anybody’s answer. And when we make survival the goal, what else is there?

And so I have found that we really are doing the additional layer of work to say no, it’s not just about survival. What happened to you matters. And even if you had a great experience, we want folks to share that. If you didn’t, we want folks to share that. Everything in between, we want you to share that. Every nuance of our experience matters, not just if we die or nearly die. That’s not what we’re doing. And so that education piece has been a huge learning lesson for me. And so, I’m hopeful that as we get that messaging better, we’ll even really see our community grow even faster than it has been growing.

Because we are a nonprofit, we don’t have the marketing budget of other folks in this space. So we do rely on our community, our birth workers, folks like you to help us spread the word. And so that has definitely been a challenge. But I do think that one of the things that our community always says, in addition to asking about what they want and what they need, and I’m excited about our product roadmap for this year, is to be grateful. This is so necessary. And that they understand the movement that we’re creating, which is we are publicly sharing where we are receiving good care and where we are not, and that we are really driving folks to understand they have consumer power, and that we will be holding these folks accountable.

So I think that even when people haven’t left reviews, they are completely aligned with our movement and message. And now our challenge is making sure that always turns into how do we get them to leave a review and to share their experience, knowing that matters within the app. So, that’s something that we definitely keep working on every day.

Rebecca Decker:

What are some concrete ways people could step up to help the Irth® App? I know you mentioned spreading the word, but do you have any specific calls to action or things you want birth workers in particular to do to get involved in the fight against racism in perinatal and infant care?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah, that’s such a great question. One of the things that we have found, and this is part of the reason why we started the ambassador program, is that Irth® is a structured review process. And to be quite honest, it takes about 15 minutes. And so, what we found to be most helpful is when people, whether it’s the doula, whether it’s lactation consultant, actually goes through the process with someone. So it’s one thing to say, “Hey, have you heard about the Irth® App? You should leave a review.” But can you take the time to sit with your client, or your friend, or whatever, to say, “Hey, I want to go through this review with you.”

And because people are used to apps being super quick and blah, blah, blah, they don’t … I say this to my team all the time. As much as I would love to, I can’t take data to a hospital-based on five questions. I am fighting for them to listen to our 25 questions. And so the fact of the matter is the fight against racism and bias is not a three-question survey work. It is just not. And it is the details, it is our structured process that allows us to have the data on the backend to really fight for systemic change. And so we remind people about that. And so, because we have a goal around addressing this on a systemic level, then it takes a little bit more questioning.

So if any birth workers out there can take the time to sit down with a client, help them complete the question, have a cup of tea, whatever it may be. If it’s your first intake for doulas, if it’s your last visit, maybe afterward, if they have some time. And to remember that Irth® accepts prenatal reviews, so of course their prenatal appointments, the birthing review. Then come back to share your postpartum appointment. Come back for your infant, leave your pediatric reviews. To just see if you can embed this process into your own client interactions, that would be a huge help. And to not just say it, but show it, and take the time yourself to invest the 15 minutes to sit with a client to help them complete the review, that would be a great support.

Rebecca Decker:

It sounds like a great role for postpartum doulas and lactation supporters because they’re often interacting after with the client, after they’ve had most of their experiences. So, love that.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Exactly.

Rebecca Decker:

Yeah, to see that be a standardized part of your postpartum visit.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), that would be huge. And to make sure, again … People say it, but we are going to have to show it, particularly knowing, again, what I shared around people not feeling their experience matters, people feeling happy that they survived, and all of these reasons why sometimes just taking the time to sit with them and to do it, and would be incredibly helpful, and I would be personally grateful.

Rebecca Decker:

Tell us about your new podcast Birthright and some of the work you’ve been doing there. And I’d love it if you could share some of your favorite episodes you’ve published so far so people who are going to your podcast for the first time know where to start.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yeah. Thank you so much for asking. I love Birthright because … I think everyone probably knows that I came to this work as a journalist by trade, and I consider myself to be a storyteller, and someone incredibly concerned about narratives. I consider Irth® to be a narrative shifting tool, as well. But I created Birthright because I was really concerned about the narrative in Black maternal health, all of the articles really being about negative statistics. And we would see, people would be DMing us, even on Irth®, still, really just in dread and fear about giving birth, asking questions about should they do their will before they go into the hospital for delivery, and just all types of things. I’m like, this is crazy.

And so for me, there’s a line between being aware and being weary and woeful. Aware, yes. Woeful, no. Because we know that is just going to be contributing to poor birth outcomes if you’re that stressed, and that worried, and that fearful. So I started Birthright to actually tell positive Black birth stories meant to show that is possible. There is also a tendency in the field to only care when we die. There are maternal mortality review boards that only analyze our care when something bad happens. Something else that Irth® is really much against, where we’re like hey, let’s learn from the living and not wait for people to die to analyze what goes right and what goes wrong in our care. I believe that we can also learn from positive experiences, what is going well. Something else we do in the Irth® App, what is a five-star experience for a Black birthing person?

And so with Birthright, I share positive Black birth stories. I don’t tell our guests what positive or joyful means. I let them self-define that. And so, this idea that we can learn from positive experiences, one, for my community to know that it’s possible. It’s like you could hear these stories and think, okay, well, I would like to have a positive birth experience. What did this person do? Who did she have in place? Where does she go? What did they do? And so how can we use these stories as instructive to the community, but also to the field of healthcare professionals? What is it that you need to know about a positive birth experience that you could implement? And so that’s what birthright does.

I think some of my favorite episodes, certainly Whitney’s story. She had a 25 weeker, which no one would consider to be a joyful birth. But she had two midwives who ended up attending to her, a maternal-fetal medicine expert, you know what they’re called, who allowed the midwives to do what they were doing. And it was just … I’m giving myself goosebumps right now thinking about her story. They allowed her to move. She had her music, she was dancing. Her husband was there. And it was a joyful experience for what the experience was. And so I love Whitney’s story.

So many great stories. Dr. Carla Williams, who’s actually a board-certified OB/GYN, but she does not give birth in the hospital. She had a negative experience herself with her first child, and never went back to giving birth in the hospital. And to hear an OB/GYN talk about how they had a joyful birth experience by actually not going to the hospital was really interesting. Oh my goodness, Maureen who had an all-Black birthing team, looked around and saw that everybody surrounding her was Black. And she shared that picture on Twitter and it went viral, just showing the need for people … People didn’t know that was possible. So many people saying, “I wish I could have that.” Just amazing. So she shares her story.

And so it’s really exciting. We’re just about to launch season two of the podcast, so I’m grateful for this timing as we start to share this story. This season, we’ll have a trans birth person sharing their birth story. So it’s really about showing the spectrum of Black birth, but always with joy, which for me is one of our important tools that we need to always center and remember as we do this work that can be very sad and depressing.

Rebecca Decker:

I love that focus on centering joy. That seems like that would bring a lot of hope and-

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yes.

Rebecca Decker:

Yes.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Yes.

Rebecca Decker:

Is very much needed. Kimberly, thank you so much for coming on the podcast to update us on how everything’s going. How can our listeners follow you in your work with the Irth® App?

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Well, thanks. I mean, definitely follow us on social media. We’re at the Irth® App, Irth® is I-R-T-H, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can follow me at IAmKSealsAllers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Again, and if there’s anything that we can do to support what you’re doing, particularly if you’re working in New York City … I’m trying to think what are our funded cities, Philadelphia, California, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Please reach out. We would love to support you if there’s anything else that we can do. We have promo cards and pens. We have forms that you can fill out. If you work at a hospital that may be interested in pilot to learn from the community, please get in touch. There is so much that we can do when we work together. And while we are empowering birthing individuals, we must always keep holding the system accountable, and not to forget that the system needs to change, as well.

Rebecca Decker:

Thank you so much, Kimberly. It’s been an honor speaking with you, and I’d love to remind everyone you can go to IrthApp.com, download the app, and to look at all the resources and everything that Kimberly and their team have put together. So we’re so excited for the work you’re doing. Thank you so much for coming back.

Kimberly Seals Allers:

Thank you for having me.

Rebecca Decker:

Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth® Professional Membership. The free articles and podcasts we provide to the public are supported by our professional membership program at Evidence Based Birth®. Our members are professionals in the childbirth field who are committed to being change agents in their community. Professional members at EBB get access to continuing education courses with up to 23 contact hours, live monthly training sessions, an exclusive library of printer-friendly PDFs to share with your clients, and a supportive community for asking questions, and sharing challenges, struggles, and success stories. We offer monthly and annual plans, as well as scholarships for students and for people of color. To learn more, visit EBBirth.com/membership.

 

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