During each of my two pregnancies I worried about a thousand different things. But something I never considered was how the color of my skin might impact health outcomes for me or my baby. Unfortunately, Black women in our country don’t share that luxury. Across the board, Black women experience unacceptably poor maternal health outcomes, and are 3-4X more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death. Our guest today, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry has dedicated her career to changing all of that. This episode is a must listen – especially for those of us who have had the privilege not to consider race during our motherhood journeys.
Watch + Listen to the whole conversation:
Dr. Joia always knew she wanted to be a doctor, and assumed she would follow in her father’s footsteps as an ophthalmologist. Until, that is, she got pregnant. That experience shifted her perspective, and she went on to become an OBGYN. Then she had her second son, who arrived prematurely. But her only significant risk factor? Being Black. Following her birth experience, Dr. Joia practiced as an OBGYN for many years helping Black women bring healthy babies into this world. Looking to scale up her impact and create systemic, lasting change, Dr. Joia went on to create the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Through training, advocacy, research and community-centered collaboration, their mission is to create solutions that optimize Black maternal and infant health across the country and make sure that every Black baby will celebrate a healthy first birthday.
Did you always know that you wanted to be in maternal Health?
I got pregnant in college. I was pre-med and my father was an ophthalmologist. I was supposed to be going into ophthalmology, but I couldn’t find a female gynecologist. They were all booked and so I quickly decided I should go into gynecology instead of ophthalmology. And when I got into medical school and got to actually work with patients, I really enjoyed working with women. The beauty of life is so amazing and at that moment a baby is born it could be anything. It’s like the omnipotent cell right? It could be anything. So it’s just hard to compare cataract surgery to the birth of a new human being.
What was it like juggling all of your studies while having 2 kids in medical school?
I guess I don’t know how not to do that. It’s been my only existence. Having a baby at 21 changes your life. I went to class every day. Then I would come home and feed her and take care of her and put her to bed and then start studying when she went to sleep and study until 3:00 in the morning or so and then get a few hours of sleep and start over again. I mean my friends were mostly twenty-two or twenty-three so other folks were going out partying and I was home being a wife and mom.
What inspired you to start the National Birth Equity Collaborative?
I was in medical school when my son was born early. At the time my only risk factor was being Black. So I believed that the reason that he was born early was because there was something about me being Black. So much so that I have an aunt, my mother’s sister, who had a baby early and I thought ‘Oh was just something Black people experience and I got it from her- we must have some black gene that makes us do this.’ But that just isn’t true. This biological basis of race is ingrained in us. I have really needed to untangle the things that society has taught me to associate with Blackness.
Also, the trigger for my maternity care work was because of how I was treated when I was pregnant. My mother worked in a hospital and she was the only Black person who worked in a medical profession. She was a pharmacist. Most of the Black folks that worked there at the time were either the cleaning ladies or worked in the cafeteria. Since everybody loved Miss Carolyn, they were all super nice to me. But I recognized that everybody doesn’t get that same treatment. You shouldn’t only be treated well because they like your mama. Many of my friends who went to that same facility were not treated as well. So I’m aware of that. I had no insurance. I had nothing but the medical staff was really kind to me and took great care of me. But we should be able to give all patients that grace and see everybody in that same way- despite their income or status or race. I know what it feels like to have privilege and I feel like everybody should get that.
What is the mission of the National Birth Equity Collaborative?
NBEC creates solutions that optimize Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy, research and community-centered collaboration. Our vision is that every Black baby will celebrate a healthy first birthday.
How has your work influenced your role as mom?
A whole lot. I have a 27 year old daughter. I remember when I had her very vividly. I worry that if she were to get pregnant today, where would I trust for her to go? I would probably just move in with her and go to make her with me. She knows that it worries me and it worries her. When I think about my own Black daughter I think about all the ways the Black women are not protected over and over and over again. That fuels my work.
I also try to raise my Black boys to understand what patriarchy is and how that shows up. I know white supremacy and racism are impacting their lives, but so does patriarchy and I really want them to think about that.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.
Read more from Bridget, follow her on IG, and check out her new series, Work Like a Mother.