By Kiley Riffell
A Seattle nonprofit says that fear surrounding the pandemic has doubled the demand for midwifery services. Thanks to new funding, the Rainier Valley Midwives (RVM) say it will finally meet the increasing demand this spring.
Tara Lawal is the executive director of RVM, which is a center aimed at improving birth equity. In an interview on the Mirror Stage Podcast, she reveals that the organization has doubled its business since the start of the pandemic, and that the demand, particularly in the BIPOC community, just keeps increasing.
“We feel that Covid is increasing fear of the unknown for birthing people, as labor and delivery protocols and procedures are changing rapidly at hospitals, even from week to week,” Lawal said. Having a home birth lets some families take back control over the situation.
Layers of need
Lawal said the ongoing pandemic has also amplified the need for support services. There are many layers of need that the staff didn’t initially anticipate.
“We have had a lot of special needs that have come up through the pandemic so that we need to have social services and mental health services.”
This year, the clinic received funding to hire a full-time social worker. That person will coordinate efforts to ensure clients have rides to their ultrasound appointments, clean laundry, and healthy meals to eat.
Lawal emphasizes that parents continue to need support services after the baby is home.
“For people of color, it is the first seven days that we are really worried. That is when those problems really happen.” She added, “What we have figured out is that if we can have more eyes on them that first week, and then we can get at least six different eyes on them that first week, we will know what is happening. Is there an infection brewing? How is breastfeeding going? How are they lactating? How is the baby growing?”
Culturally relevant care
The clinic also hopes to diminish linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing healthcare. For many RVM clients, culturally relevant care means having a home birth, being surrounded by family, and feeling free to speak their native language.
Lawal is a native of Seattle, with roots in Hawaii and India. Her parents had nine children and taught her that birth should be family-centered.
“Our origin is centered around our family. Our family is our community,” she said. Her mother’s home births, surrounded by family and Polynesian traditions, influenced her decision to co-found RVM.
“Hearing and watching my mom tell that story of how she delivered her own baby, as she did it, in her own power and in her glory. That is what stayed with me my whole life.”
Lawal wants to make sure that, if it is safe to do so, families can feel supported doing a home birth, but the clinic supports all kinds of births, including hospital births. The midwifery-led clinic partners with physicians and hospitals across Seattle. All services are billed on a sliding scale, regardless of insurance.
A forever home
RVM recently received funding from the Equitable Development Initiative to purchase land to build their forever home. Lawal says the organization chose to stay in the Rainier Valley area because of what they see as a particularly high level of need for quality healthcare.
According to the organization, the 98118 zip code has worse healthcare outcomes than in any other part of Seattle. One reason, the staff says, is because families have incomes lower than the federal poverty level, at a higher rate than those living in other parts of Seattle.
Lawal says about 75% of their clients are people of color and most are on Medicaid.
The new Rainier Valley Health and Birth Center is located at 4704 South Mead Street, just a short distance away from the old location at Othello Station. Not only do they remain close to the families they aim to serve, but the new facility is much larger and they anticipate being able to help even more families.
Lawal says the plan is to open the new location in the spring. Until then, they see clients by appointment only and at their homes.
You can learn more about the Rainier Valley Midwives’ mission to improve parent and infant health outcomes on the Mirror Stage podcast. The podcast explores the Pacific Northwest through the stories and experiences of its people and communities. You can find the podcast on Spotify or MirrorStage.org.