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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Black maternal health

Marchelle Pettit and April Lidinsky
Marchelle Pettit
Marchelle Pettit and April Lidinsky

April: I’m here with Marchelle Pettit, a community doula and champion for Black maternal health and reproductive justice and we’re recognizing Women’s History Month by drawing attention to a national health crisis – especially acute in Indiana – Black Maternal Health outcomes.


So, Marchelle, thanks so much for joining me today. Let’s start with you. What drew you to birth work?


Marchelle: Hi, April, thanks so much for having me. So, I was introduced to birth work while completing my undergrad at Bethel University. I worked part time at a local maternity home that provided shelter for pregnant moms who had barriers to healthy housing. And so, I was able to spend a lot of time with the residents who were preparing for childbirth and parenting.


And once I was introduced to a birth doula at that space, and I learned about the devastating disparity and statistics, especially as a Black woman, a Black mother…I completely immersed myself in the work. And I’ve been doing the work ever since.


April: It’s so wonderful you’re doing this in our community. So, let’s talk about Reproductive Justice, and maybe just offer a definition for listeners. What is it?


Marchelle: Sure. I think it’s first imperative to understand that Reproductive Justiceextends far beyond the highly controversial debate of “pro life” versus “pro choice.” Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, and most importantly, the right to parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.


April: That’s so, so helpful. Thank you. Can you talk a little bit about how your own work falls under that big Reproductive Justice umbrella?


Marchelle: Sure, as a community doula, and a leader and champion for maternal health, my work currently includes advocacy and educating at the local level. So, I’m working to continue building sustainable pathways to increase the doula workforce, so more expecting and new parents have access to birth support throughout one of the most sacred and vulnerable times in their journey.


I mentor new community doulas. I guide new doulas on their journey through birth work. I’m an active member of St. Joseph County’s FIMR (Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Case Team). I’m in Community Conversations on Reproductive Justice, Birth Equity & Justice of St. Joe County. I also speak on panels and at events surrounding birth equity and Reproductive Justice. And so, my passion and my responsibility as a birth professional and leader in maternal health is to ensure that every participant in the maternity care system takes the necessary steps to help make respectful, equitable care a reality.


April:I can hear your passion in your voice. It’s really moving. So, for listeners, what might be important for people to know about Reproductive Justice, and to be paying attention to?


Marchelle: I think it’s important for the community to know that we can’t get the work done in silos. So, if we do not work together as as community to become educated to help to advance the needle on maternal and infant mortality, then, we’re not going to decrease the disparities. And so, it’s important that we all come together and we’re doing our due justice and being diligent in learning what surrounding Reproductive Justice, so we’re able to have a more equitable community.


April: Yeah. Beautiful. So, to maybe wake some of us up here, could you share some of the statistics about Black Maternal Health that might help people understand why this is such a crisis right now?


Marchelle: Absolutely. So, today, a woman is more likely to die from a pregnancy- related complication than her mother was a generation ago. And, specifically, Black and Indigenous women are two to three times — sometimes four times, depending on where you live — more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than our white counterparts.


April: Oh, my gosh. Really, truly, horrifying statistics there. So, how can people get involved. There’s an event coming up that I’d love for you to talk a little bit about.


Marchelle: Absolutely. On March 21, there’s an event at the Civil Rights Heritage Center: “Black Maternal Health: Sound the Alarm.” It’s from 5:30-7:30. At that event, there will be information, opportunities to reflect and connect. So, it’s important that the community becomes involved that.


April: And that event is open to everybody, and people will leave feeling educated and empowered. I’m looking forward to attending and learning more.


And I’m so grateful to know you, Marchelle, and grateful for your time. Thanks for sharing it with me today.


For Michiana Chronicles, I’m April Lidinsky, and I’m Marchelle Pettit.


Music: “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Alicia Keys



For more information, Black Maternal Health Week is nationally observed April 11-17.

April Lidinsky is a writer, activist, mother, foodie, black-belt, organic gardener, and optimist. She is a Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at IU South Bend and is a reproductive justice advocate.