After near-death experience, Serena Williams launches new initiative with Elaine Welteroth to help mothers

Elaine Welteroth, a mompreneur and TV personality, has partnered with 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams to launch birthFUND, which aims to address the maternal health crisis in the U.S.

The two pioneering women have had similar struggles with near-fatal pregnancies. In an article in Time Magazine, Welteroth wrote, “Between Serena’s first birth experience and mine, more than 3,400 mothers died during or after childbirth in the U.S. That’s 3,400 prayers never whispered into tiny ears—3,400 parents who won’t be able to watch their beautiful babies grow up. This should not be the norm in the country with the largest economy in the world.”

Considering various medical and technological advances, she questioned why the U.S. still had high rates of maternal mortality.

The article stated that even though the two were aware of the concerning statistics, they had long thought that their privilege would protect them from the risk of becoming part of the numbers—a belief they held until it was proven false.

Welteroth recounted, “Having babies in America was a wake-up call for both of us. Like many parents, and first-time parents at that, we never anticipated the harrowing experiences we’d have on the road to becoming mothers. We have both accomplished a lot in our lives and careers—from Grand Slams to history-making career appointments—needless to say, we can do hard things. But nothing made us feel as disempowered as being pregnant and Black in America, left to rely upon a medical system that is statistically failing people who look like us.”

Even after joining forces to share their personal stories to increase awareness, the two thought that more needed to be done to actively develop solutions that would alter both the national dialogue and the quality of obstetric care.

Williams has made no secret of her near-death experience while giving birth in a hospital, and Welteroth has also written openly about her depressing experiences with doctors, which changed her life and made her decide to give birth at home with Black midwives.

Welteroth started her birthFUND project as an Instagram birthday fundraiser in December 2023. In just 16 hours, she was able to raise almost $16,000 to pay for the births of two families at Kindred Space LA, the Black-owned midwifery practice she used for her delivery. Soon, the fundraiser sparked a new maternal health movement. From that time on, birthFUND has rapidly expanded into a coalition dedicated to increasing access to midwifery care for families nationwide who cannot afford the out-of-pocket expenses.

Besides Williams and her husband Alexis Ohanian, birthFUND has received support from John Legend and Chrissy Teigen; Kelly Rowland; Ashley Graham, and Karlie Kloss, as well as strategic corporate partners like SoFi.

The article stated that although most insurance plans in the United States do not cover midwifery, and home birth with midwife assistance is prohibited in certain states, midwifery is the standard birth-care model utilized both inside and outside of hospitals in other high-income nations with better birth outcomes, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Canada.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Black women have a three times higher risk of dying during and after childbirth than White women. Nonetheless, Welteroth stated in the article that she believes the incident is not entirely about race or status, declaring “Our goal with birthFUND is to help remove financial barriers to quality care and to expand life-saving access to both education and choice.”

“No matter where or how they decide to give birth, parents deserve access to safe, dignified care. Right now, that human right is out of reach for far too many.”

She concluded, “We are ready to tackle this issue, head on. And we hope families—and companies—all over the country will join us.”

Dollita Okine

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