ORLANDO, Fla. — The statistics are stunning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year in the U.S., hundreds of people die during pregnancy or in the year after. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause.

What You Need To Know

  • Founder and President of Commonsense Childbirth Jennie Joseph said the U.S. the only country in the world where midwifery is not normal

  • Joseph says that outcomes can be improved when women are heard, seen and supported 

  • At her clinics, she says women are thriving, no matter where they choose to deliver their baby

“We have the highest maternal mortality rate amongst all developed nations — we are worse — in the entire developed world in terms of birth outcomes in this country,” said Jennie Joseph, founder and president of Commonsense Childbirth in Orlando. Meanwhile, the CDC says 80% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, according to data from 2017 to 2019. 

Joseph, a mother, has made it her life’s work to let expectant families know they don’t have to be afraid. Education and help are available for better outcomes.

For as long as she can remember, Joseph said she has always wanted to work in this career field.

“My brother was born when I was 10 years old and I decided that that was my baby, and I just commandeered that baby right out of my mom’s arms and that was when it hit,” she said. “I want to work. I want to be around babies.”

That was in England, where she could not start training in midwifery until she was 20 years old, but her passion and her persistence got her in the door when she was 19.

“For 42 years now, all I’ve ever done is be a midwife. My entire life,” she said.

Joseph is the head of Commonsense Childbirth, which includes two clinics and an accredited school to train midwives. She says she noticed something vastly different when she moved to the United States.

“This is the only country in the entire world where midwifery is not normal,” Joseph said. “This is the only country where obstetricians are delivering healthy women and normal cases and midwives are sort of fringe and considered to be unusual, and that’s not how it was historically. If you think about it, midwives delivered America. Everybody had a home birth. Everybody had a midwife, and it wasn’t until hospitals began to take over maternity care in the mid-20th century that it became normalized to have your baby in the hospital environment with a physician.”

Joseph said it is all about mothers being heard, seen and supported, especially when looking at the CDC’s reports of staggering maternal mortality rates.

“And what’s even more egregious, especially amongst people of color, Black and Indigenous women are two to three times as likely to die or be harmed during the pregnancy, birth or postpartum experience. What are we doing? We have the most resourced country in the entire world,” she said.

Joseph said it is critical that women and their families know they have a choice in their care before, during and after.

“Imagine that you don’t die, but you’ve had a horrendous experience — you’ve been harmed, or you have some leftover trauma in the experience of trying to bring life essentially. There are four million births in the United States every year. How many of those women are suffering post-pregnancy experience with depression, harm in terms of they’re not quite right? They’ve never been the same again,” she said.

Joseph said there’s where Commonsense Childbirth comes in. She said it is a place to learn about all the options that are right for you.

“Well, this is the big problem. There is a lack of information. A lack of education around those options,” Joseph said. “People do believe that there’s only one way. That’s not the truth. But there’s a struggle with providers that will share that information.”

Enlisting a midwife’s help, Joseph admits, is not the answer for everyone. Joseph says midwives only take care of low-risk, straightforward cases and obstetricians take care of the higher risk people.

She says information can be empowering and can lead to better outcomes: a healthy baby. A healthy mother.

“So going full circle, this is why we are growing the midwifery workforce. We’re growing the doula workforce. Doulas support by providing emotional and educational support, not medical support. We’re growing the community health workers. Those folks who are on the ground in the communities to share the message of one. You do have options, and we’ll support you in whichever choice you make. So, this is not to say hospitals are a bad choice. Hospitals without support can be problematic,” said Joseph.

Joseph says women who are getting the support are thriving. “Over the last 25 years, we have not had one single maternal death. We’ve not had one baby that was lost through prematurity. Our C-section rate, when we do have people delivering in the hospital, is about 17%. The local C-section rate varies between 30 and 34%,” she said.

Joseph also says the type of insurance you have, or even the lack of it, should never be a barrier to care, which is why they never turn anyone away.

“So we have provided workers who are able to support you wherever you decide is the best place for you and if you are finding barriers, such as insurance or money, to be able to access those, we do provide those supports to help you figure out how to pay for those services as well,” she said.

Commonsense Childbirth makes their services available to those who do not live in the Central Florida area through Telehealth.

“We have a national network. At this point, we have nearly 300 — what we call — ‘perinatal safe spots’ around the country. We are providing you with wrap-around support for you, for whatever you may need during your pregnancy, birth and postpartum,” Joseph said.