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I had a sacred birthing experience: Surrounded by my husband and family, my twin sister as my doula, and a Black woman doctor, I vibed to an upbeat playlist featuring the likes of Alicia Keys, Prince and Rihanna. Yes, there was screaming and sweating — befitting the occasion — but my spirits were high throughout it all. Then I laid back with my arms wrapped around my newborn son, feeling cared for, listened to and loved.

Sadly, not enough Black women get their portion of joy on the journey to motherhood. In fact, the path is often perilous. The collective impact is that Black women die from pregnancy-related issues at a rate three times higher than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Right here in our own backyard, Black Minnesotans represent 13% of the birthing population, yet we made up 27% of pregnancy-associated deaths between 2017 and 2019.

Even well-resourced women like tennis great Serena Williams and TV host Elaine Welteroth have faced daunting challenges. In their recent Time essay, "We Shouldn't Have to Be Willing to Die to Give Birth in the U.S.," they noted that more than 3,400 women died in the U.S. during or after childbirth in the span of several years between Williams' first birth experience and Welteroth's.

So, as a Minnesotan and a mom, I was heartened to learn that hundreds of local residents, leaders and stakeholders urged us at GreenLight Fund Twin Cities (GLFTC) to prioritize Black women and birthing people in maternal health during recent listen-and-learn sessions. That's why I'm proud to partner with another Black mom, Kimberly Seals Allers, founder of the application Irth, to improve outcomes.

Through funding from GLFTC, the Irth app will be offered to Hennepin Healthcare community members and future patients as a part of the organization's culturally responsible maternal child health programs.

The Irth app enables Black and brown birthing people, doulas and family members to leave prenatal, birthing, postpartum and pediatric reviews of health care providers and institutions. The anonymous reviews become data that help hospitals provide more respectful and equitable care while holding them accountable to our community.

The alliance with Hennepin Healthcare is so important because it serves the county, which is composed of about 30% people of color and includes the largest safety-net hospital in our state. Over the next four years, Irth will seek to partner with three additional hospitals in the Twin Cities.

This partnership is a pact with our communities to foster change, create opportunities and transform lives. With support from GreenLight Fund, Irth has recently hired a local coordinator and will recruit a team of 17 local doula-ambassadors. Over the next four years, it aims to gather 2,000 patient reviews.

Seals Allers, who also founded Narrative Nation, had her own difficult days as a new mom. "I was breastfeeding [and] they kept giving my baby formula against my wishes. Everything was a fight. I spent much of my early days of mothering kind of blaming myself and wondering what I had done wrong, that I didn't have the experience that I deserved, even having done the research."

GLFTC takes on initiatives that reflect our values around equity, justice, and the dignity of Black and brown lives. Our inaugural project, Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (LEAD), launched in 2022 and strives to minimize police interventions in minor offenses along the Lake Street corridor. While LEAD works downstream to rectify harm within the criminal justice system, Irth stands upstream, guiding individuals toward a healthier path from the outset.

In addition to our venture with Irth, we will continue to advocate for more hospitals, health care and birthing centers to eliminate systemic issues that cause Black women to face undue harm or to perish on the road to motherhood. It's unconscionable when, with systemic change, more than 80% of maternal deaths could be prevented across our nation.

The power of the Irth app, as Seals Allers said, is that it is "identifying frequencies and patterns that we know disproportionately lead to death. And we're able to flag facilities and notify them." Hospitals seem to be more incentivized to improve when they know that patients are using the app and sharing reviews publicly.

This is vital because Black women are the backbone of our community. They hold everybody up, and there's a psychic, physical and economic toll on our families when they're not there. We simply can't continue to lose them at disproportionately high rates. We also need more Black women doctors, a vision that Hennepin shares, and is addressing through various means.

As Black women, we've faced 400 years of trauma in our experiences of motherhood in this country, so I know that solving the maternal health crisis will take time. But as we move forward to intentionally eliminate birthing disparities, I hold a vision for a day when every Black woman who wants to can joyfully take the journey to motherhood.

Simone Hardeman-Jones is the executive director of GreenLight Fund Twin Cities. GreenLight Fund is a national nonprofit network matching local communities' unmet needs with evidence-based social innovations.