Research promises to settle the question
Conclusion of a two-part story
Black Midwife Rebecca Polston and University of Minnesota Health Professor Rachel Hardeman are collaborating on a research project. The two women are testing a hypothesis that access to culturally focused care is a predictor of improved health outcomes, including psychosocial stress during pregnancy.
The project’s secondary goal is to understand and document best practices for culturally centered prenatal care, which is among the services offered by Polston’s Roots Community Birth Center in North Minneapolis.
“I am not the first person to have this idea,” admitted Polston in an MSR interview at her center. “I knew I wanted to be in North Minneapolis. I wanted to be in the neighborhood and not in an industrial corridor…close to hospitals and access to [public] transit.”
“Every woman who wants to use a birth center and wants to receive care from a midwife who looks like them, that should happen,” said Hardeman, who was also present for the interview.
“I found most of the time that our families’ lives are not made better by institutions” that are not culturally specific, said Polston. “I wanted to see what it meant to provide care and birthing outside of the institution.”
Polston recalled a Black expectant mother who was told by her White doctor that the child would be born premature. “She came to us, we sat and we talked. I found out by listening to her story that her partner was about to go away [to prison] for five years. She hadn’t been eating for a month [because] she was so upset. We just made space for that in her care so she could get the support she needed.
“The baby was born just fine. [The doctor] never asked her what was going on at home,” noted the midwife.
Roots is set up like a house — its birthing rooms resemble plush bedrooms; the waiting room is like a family living room. That is intentional, Polston said.
“It’s obvious what Rebecca is doing is working, and it is important,” said Hardeman. “There’s a reason why she has 10 births a month.” The professor-researcher added that she hopes to document Polston’s work “to show the empirical evidence that this is working and it is important. It is helping to improve health outcomes.”
Roots is the only Black-owned and -operated birth center in Minneapolis — according to Polston it is only one of five such operations in the nation. “Fifty-eight percent of all babies born in the Twin Cities are non-color. Lots of other people are getting paid to give them care.
“I am very intentional. This is a for-profit business. I wanted equity and not charity,” said the owner-operator.
“After the birth of the baby, we care for both the mother and the baby for the first few weeks of post-partum,” explained Polston. “We do a real comprehensive newborn exam and we discharge them after four hours [after birth] to go home.”
She and her staff also do home visits — 24 hours after the mother and baby are at home, and then three weeks after birth. “Then they come back here in four weeks” for required checkups, she said.
“I think what’s exciting and great is that there is so much at stake,” stated Hardeman. “There are so many lives and so much well-being at stake. What Rebecca is doing is so powerful and so amazing.
“My job is to be able to make the case as a researcher to go to those policy folk who make decisions [and demonstrate] that this is working,” said the professor.
“I’m the only African American midwife not doing births at the hospital right now,” said Polston. “There’s room for 10 birth centers in North Minneapolis. We need to build more. We need more midwives of color.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related story: Northside birth center offers Black midwifery
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.