This article is part of our Local Heroes series where we spotlight women who are making positive contributions to their community.
Navigating the journey into motherhood is difficult for all women, particularly for women of color. The CDC reports Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women – and this disparity increases with age. Not only are Black women more likely to lose their lives, but they are also more likely to lose their babies. The CDC also reports the rate of stillbirth for non-Hispanic black women was 10.32 per 1,000, more than twice the rate for non-Hispanic white women.
It is hard to look at these statistics and not be discouraged, it’s harder still not to give up on motherhood when you have been one of these statistics. The maternity experience for Black women is definitely in need of a redesign. Enter Whitney Robinson the founder of The Renée. Through its jam sessions, The Renée seeks to create, “Spaces that are inviting and joyful – challenging and changing the narrative around our bodies and children, one idea at a time. Whether your baby is in your womb, in your arms, or only able to be cherished in your memory, we believe your experience is valuable and your story is necessary.”
The organization provides both valuable information and refuge for women of color throughout pregnancy and early motherhood.
Creating A Safe Space
The creation of The Renée was drawn from a painful experience in Robinson’s life.
“I suffered a late-term pregnancy loss years back and that was the catalyst.” After developing a survey aimed at other women who were processing their own miscarriages, and the emotional toll there of Robinson realized, “I’m not the only one.’ In 2019, Robinson felt a strong pull to put together a jam session. The jam session would allow women to move from a place of hopelessness to empowerment.
During these jam sessions, women from all parts of the maternity journey are gathered together in an intimate group of five to seven women pediatricians, midwives, doulas, new moms, and moms who have lost children. In this organic setting, women are able to share their experiences, give and receive advice, and most importantly enter an environment where they feel heard and cared about.
Recognizing The Options That Are Available
Whitney shares her experience with giving birth outside of a hospital using a midwife. Whitney has worked with a midwife during all her pregnancies and has had two home births. For Robinson, this experience was invaluable and thorough. Stating “My appointments with the midwife were as long as two hours as opposed to just 20 mins in the hospital. I appreciated the fact that midwives cared, and followed along with me. I wanted to know that I mattered and that people cared. The feeling of being taken care of is beautiful.”
Midwives are able to provide a level of care and attentiveness that is often not found in the traditional healthcare setting. For Black women, this meticulous care and nurturing can lead to better outcomes during pregnancy as well as during labor and into postpartum.
Changing The Narrative
Through her work with The Renee and Jam Sessions, Robinson wants Black women to know they are not alone when it comes to overcoming the challenges surrounding fertility and maternity. She states “If we can’t get tender love and care in the system then we need to position ourselves to get it someway somehow.” The Renée is a lab specifically and strategically improving Black maternal experiences. Robinson is planning to launch products to help Black and Brown women have better maternal experiences.
Despite the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic Robinson still is providing women with a safe space and continues with resilience. Robinson has now taken the Jam Sessions online. These upcoming virtual sessions will allow The Renée to reach more women. The most recent jam session featured Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. You can keep up to date with all the latest for The-Renee on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.