AMP: Grassroots²

Toni Hill of Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project

What do you do? Founder and Executive Director of Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project. I work with women on birth equity. We educate our moms by giving informational support. They learn how to become more empowered and how to make the best decisions for their families. We share resources on everything from car seat safety to childbirth preparation. Once they complete their class series, the moms receive goods to support their childbirth and child rearing thanks to donors and supporters.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? High cortisol levels don’t help pregnancy or the baby. We are thinking epigenetically and providing birthing and child rearing support so our community can have a better future. I’m proud of our high energy and impact in the community. Our breastfeeding initiation rate – when we had paid staff – was 98 percent. Our numbers now are a little lower – we’re at 92% with only three of us volunteering. It helps me to know at the end of the year, this work has been worth it. These families got support because we were there for them.

What moment motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? When I started, people would ask, what’s a doula? I found a big disparity between Black and white women in birth outcomes. In starting our program, I learned very quickly it was hard to find women to volunteer at the capacity we need. I would have 20 pregnant women come in looking for support and only one volunteer. I found HealthConnect One that offers support and services to train women in the community to do the work and share it. We had three doulas and three breastfeeding peer counselors.

How has your work been different over the past year? We have lost funding which means right now we are all volunteers – nobody gets paid anything and some folks had to move on. We are still doing the work, but we have to be selective about who we take as doula clients since we have limited capacity. A homeless 19-year-old woman I’m supporting now, she receives our doula support given her tough circumstances. We also still have breastfeeding peer counselors who are volunteering. Home visits are limited because of resources. We continue to hold monthly meetings to provide a similar level of regular support in a group setting, but it’s tough without money for staff and resources.