How Leseliey Welch is Putting Black Maternal Health in the Spotlight and Her Push for More Black Birthing Centers

Detroit native Leseliey Welch has experienced the highs and lows associated with childbirth, and all the emotions in between. She successfully delivered her pre-term daughter, but soon after experienced the grief of her premature nephew passing away the day he was delivered. She’s also suffered her own pregnancy losses, a feeling many women around the world also know far too well.

“During the time that my nephew passed away, I was actually working in the local health care field,” Welch told EBONY. “I would later look at his name on the list of infants that we lost that year, so these are not just statistics to me.”

Seeing a need in her local community for more advocacy around maternal health, pre-term birth, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and low birth rate among other maternal needs— especially for women of color—Leseliey Welch along with three other women—Elon Geffrard, Char’ly Snow, and Nicole Marie White—stepped up to found Birth Detroit.

“I say that we’re unique in that we’re really a community grounded process. We started with asking our community if there was a need for a birth center. Statistics show that Black birthing people are least likely to have access to birth center care in the U.S. So we started with community assessment and community education,” explains Welch. “Our assessment came back that our community wanted not only a birth center, but also providers that looked like them, they wanted childbirth education, and just an overall different care experience. But, they did not want to wait for us to raise millions of dollars to open a birth center.”

Birth Detroit Care Clinic Easy Access Accreditation. (Leseliey Welch, far left.) Image: courtesy of Birth Detroit

Rather than wait, Welch and the Birth Detroit co-founders opened an easy access care clinic during the height of the pandemic, offering midwifery care and a host of other birthing needs. The team recently met the first of many goals in their capital campaign, raising just over $1 million to purchase the land to begin breaking ground on phase one of the center next year. While the easy access clinic alleviated some needs of the community, Welch was still flooded with calls from Black and Brown women looking for trusted open birthing centers—sadly, many of them were not open. This led to the creation of Birth Center Equity.

“Of the nearly 400 birth centers in the United States, less than 5% of them are owned or led by people of color. While we are most likely to need this type of care, we are less likely to have access to it. What my co-founder Nashira Baril and I founded Birth Center Equity to do was to overcome the capital barriers in opening our birthing centers. Not only are many white led, but many are also for-profit entities. And we know people of color are less likely to have access to capital resources. Our goal is to really catalyze birth center development through network building, grant making and capital investments.”

To date, the organization has built a network of around 30 birth center professionals of color. About half of the centers are open, and collectively they are all working together to get the entire network of centers up and running.

“As Black women, midwifery care is our legacy. It’s how all of our ancestors were brought into this world,” shared Welch shared. “There was a deliberate effort to undermine it in this country, and we need to know and understand that. It’s time that we reclaim that by supporting the midwives in our communities, encourage training of more midwives of color and support efforts like Birth Center Equity. We really can change how we have our babies in this country. We do not have to continue to rely on a system that was not designed for our health and safety as Black women.”

Updated: April 14, 2024 — 9:02 am