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How CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health is using a grant to bring more midwives to the area

Shelby County Commission awarded more than $200,000 for two midwife fellowships at CHOICES to give women more options in light of the Dobbs decision.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Four months ago, America became divided as reproductive health as we knew it for nearly 50 years, changed.

The Dobbs decision, where the Supreme Court overturned the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade case, now leaves a woman’s right to an abortion up to the states’ jurisdiction.

With help from the Shelby County Commission, CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health has plans to increase access to certified midwives in the Memphis area.

The birthing center inside CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health was designed to make new moms feel like they’re right at home.

"Choices has been in the community since 1974 and our focus has always been caring for the most marginalized most vulnerable communities," Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Nikia Grayson said.

Grayson, a certified midwife, delivered Rhonda Okoth’s second child. Okoth decided to use a midwife after a traumatic delivery with her first-born son.

"One morning I woke up and felt like my water had broken. And so, I went to my provider, and they were like well, no I’m not really sure about that and so I was sent away. And it wasn’t for another 30-something hours that I was finally admitted to the hospital, and at that point ended up having to have a C-section because I was ruptured for so long," Okoth said.

"Yup, she said next time I have a baby I’m going to have a baby with you, and I was like okay!” Grayson said.

Grayson came to CHOICES in 2017 and started offering birthing services. Since then, they’ve delivered more than 300 babies and now have five nurse-midwives on staff.

"Here we are certified nurse-midwives, meaning that we went to nursing school. We have nursing degrees and then we have advanced practice degrees, so we have to have a Master of Science, at least, a Master of Science and Nursing," Grayson said.

Grayson has a doctorate in nurse practice. She will soon add two more certified midwives on staff after Shelby County Commission approved a $200,000 grant towards their midwife fellowship, supported by Mayor Lee Harris’ Office.

RELATED: Shelby County Commission approves $200,000 grant to fund midwives for Choices Center for Reproductive Health

"Midwives tend to be better than most at building relationships, building comfort, which leads to successful and safe pregnancy," Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said.

From 2017-2019, The Shelby County Health Department reported the County’s average infant mortality rate at 9.8 deaths per 1,000 live births - higher than the state’s 7.1 average.

"What’s worse is it’s two times worse for Black mothers and Black children,” Mayor Harris' Senior Policy Advisor Jerri Green said.

"You see a contraction among the number of healthcare providers that are available to women, particularly pregnant women, particularly pregnant women of color, and so we’ve got to make sure that that doesn’t happen in Memphis and Shelby County and so that’s what part of this investment is about," Harris said.

"Black midwives make up only 6 or 7% of all the midwives in the country. There are many studies that show that patients do better when they feel like they are seen and heard and understood by their providers," Grayson said.

That’s exactly why Okoth had the strength to birth again.

"I needed to see a team that looks like me and valued me and that trusted me to know that I was in charge of my own body in the process," Okoth said.

Midwife care is less costly than obstetrics. Grayson said most of their patients are on Medicaid. She advised that not everyone is a good candidate for delivering by midwife. 

They will transfer patients to an OBGYN or co-manage patients with an OBGYN depending on the risk level of the pregnancy.

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