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Urban Baby Beginnings: Helping pregnant individuals and expecting families build their villages

The moment you see those two little lines on a stick, your life changes forever. In a matter of minutes – although it may feel like a lifetime – you process any number of emotions, from joy and elation to fear and stress. If you happen to have a traditional nuclear family, with your familial support system in close proximity, chances are, you have a built-in network who will guide you through your pregnancy – from that first case of morning sickness to holding baby in your arms to navigating the challenges of keeping a newborn alive. But some don’t have that network, and that’s where Urban Baby Beginnings comes in.

What is Urban Baby Beginnings?

Urban Baby Beginnings is a 28 year old nonprofit based in Richmond, Virginia that operates maternal health hubs in Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond and Virginia Beach.

Urban Baby Beginnings Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Spencer
Founder and Executive Director, Urban Baby Beginnings, Stephanie Spencer, BSN, RN

“We work with pregnant and post-partum people to help foster healthy outcomes,” said Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Spencer, BSN, RN. “It’s important for people to have access. We provide navigation services, connect people with resources and evidence-based information for better care and better support. We also have a full-fledged home visiting, doula program and telehealth platform, ReByrth, which focuses on providing culturally-reflective support services for birthing people of color– among other things.”

Spencer and her team of 20 community health workers, doulas, education specialists, trainers and lactation consultants build the parental infrastructures that are critical to healthy, positive, affirming outcomes for both parent and child.

“When we first started, we realized that pregnant, birthing people didn’t have social support networks, not strong ones,” Spencer said. “The nuclear family changed over time, and the knowledge base for birth and recovery had changed, too. Generations are aging and there isn’t always a knowledge continuum. To have good outcomes, birthing people must have positive support networks – a village. This is the need we’re looking to address. Building the village.”

The importance of the work

If you’ve been around for a while, you may have seen our coverage on another maternal health organization based in Richmond called Birth in Color RVA. We cited data about how Black mothers in particular are up against significant systemic and racial disparities that lead to unhealthy outcomes, including death.

When a person is carrying a child, they’re responsible not just for their life, but the life of their baby. That’s a lot of pressure on one person. Add in a clinical or hospital setting that isn’t necessarily glitter and rainbows into the mix, and it can be incredibly challenging to navigate and have your voice heard.

We asked Spencer about a time when the work of Urban Baby Beginnings impacted her, and the story she told is the embodiment of why she founded the organization.

Black female doula performing a massage on a birthing individual in labor in a hospital room.
Doula support services provide continuous support and guidance for birthing individuals in and outside of a hospital setting.

“Just within the last year, we worked with one family who went into pre-term labor at 26 weeks,” she said. “This family stuck out because mom was doing everything she needed to protect herself and her baby. She was engaged in her care but nothing was helping. She came to one of the local hospital systems and was provided subpar care multiple times.

“But after a phone call from us, there was a compassionate nurse and a provider that took time to sit with mom, to advocate for her and to provide her with a treatment plan. That mom had baby at 38 weeks.”

Spencer added that she hears all the time about pregnant individuals not being listened to or having their pain invalidated. She added that the power dynamics within hospital institutions make it difficult to advocate, but when familial systems and the knowledge is in place, that can help build a personal advocacy network for a family.

“Now, that family has a healthy baby, a healthy mom who is breastfeeding, engaged and bonding with her newborn,” Spencer said. “She turned a stressful and overwhelming situation into a positive one.”

Urban Baby Beginnings and Virginia Advocacy

In addition to the work Urban Baby Beginnings does with direct client support, it also spends time advocating for policies and protocols that help give access, equity and protection to pregnant individuals and their families.

Case in point, Urban Baby Beginnings was part of a consortium of nonprofit agencies that fought for the maternal mortality bill, which looks to reduce racial health disparities by 2025. The team worked over several years to ensure policy was addressing these issues, and with the last administration, Urban Baby Beginnings was the site identified to hold the bill signing commemoration.

Its ongoing work includes advocacy for doula funding, maternal hub access, home visiting expansion, early childhood education and 12 months of postpartum coverage for birthing people in Virginia. Most of which was funded in the last administration.

“We’re trying to change generations and the outcomes that we’ve historically experienced,” Spencer said. “We can’t do that if we don’t start sharing information, collaborating, and opening our doors for community. Advocacy, direct support services, true community engagement, and making meaningful, yet purposeful changes to improve the health and well-being of Virginians. That is what we need to do so we can help change outcomes and the trajectory that we see today.”

To learn more about Urban Baby Beginnings, visit its website. You also can donate directly to the organization and follow it on Facebook and Instagram.

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