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The Black-Led Birthing Center With Hopes for South Dallas

Abide Women's Health Services is raising money for a facility to grow its services.
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Abide Birth and Collective Care Rendering by: Payal Bansal of Payal Bansal Design LLC

Cessilye Smith was moved to found Abide Women’s Health Services by the stark reality of being a Black mother in America, and is now on a mission to bring a new holistic birthing center to South Dallas. The Fort Worth native was a newly minted doula when she attended a conference and heard maternal health advocate and 2022 Time Woman of the Year Jenny Joseph speak about the disparities that face women like her when they become mothers. The experience put her on a mission to serve Black mothers through Abide.

Smith learned that black women are three to four times more likely to die due to childbirth-related issues, and Black babies die at two to three times the rate of White babies before they reach their first birthday. Black women have the highest maternal death rate among similarly industrialized nations. In 2021, deaths surged to their highest level in 60 years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four out of five maternal deaths are preventable; nearly two-thirds occur between seven days and one year of birth.

“In that moment, it gutted me and caused me to advocate for women differently than I had been over the years,” Smith says. “It introduced me to intersectionality and how systems intersect with one another, and how it affects the human condition. That’s where the seeds were planted.”

The last several years saw Smith implement her knowledge in South Dallas. She founded Abide Women’s Health Services in 2017 to improve birth outcomes for women in the neighborhood, offering childbirth education, lactation support, ultrasounds, and a clinic that provides pregnancy testing, prenatal and postpartum care, and ultrasounds. The patient-centered care is culturally sensitive and designed to reduce infant and maternal mortality.

The clinic charges a flat $20 fee but only turns away patients who can pay. The clinic helps patients navigate the health system, register for Medicaid, find an OBGYN, and figure out where they can give birth.

Abide is a small organization, but demand is high, and it is looking to expand with a new birthing center to offer complete midwife services. Currently, it employs one full-time midwife, two part-time midwives, and Smith. The clinic is open Tuesday and Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm but is usually booked a month in advance. So Smith felt it was time to expand. In 2023, it is on pace to grow by 230 percent.

Abide is in the middle of a capital campaign for a new birthing center in South Dallas to expand the organization’s capacity and expand its ability to address maternal healthcare disparities. The Abide Birth and Collective Care Center will include four birth suites and a large conference room and education space for prenatal yoga, education and more. There will be onsite housing for a student midwife, a resident midwife, and holistic services like massage therapy and chiropractic care. In partnership with Delighted to Doula Postpartum Services, two postpartum recovery suites will be onsite with care from postpartum doulas, where clients can stay 2-3 days after birth as they recover.

“Our goal is to provide opportunities for our families to not only have access to a safe, healing environment that centers their care, but to also have access to healthy produce grown on site while gaining the education and skills needed to carry healthy habits from the birth center…home,” Smith says.

Next up, Abide is looking to launch mobile units to meet people where they are and provide birthing services. After that, Smith says Abide wants to expand to Fort Worth with another brick-and-mortar location. The organization is also going through the process of being one of the few centers in Dallas to be in-network with Medicaid. It’s not an easy process, but Smith says it is essential for the organization’s sustainability.

Smith, too, is thinking about her own sustainability as she addresses a significant and frustrating issue. “When I started, I was enraged. Ninety percent of the deaths are preventable, and we know that something can be done, but we’re choosing not to do it,” she says. “That was the fuel that kept me going, but I realized that I couldn’t survive on that fuel. But that passion has transitioned. There’s still the anger, but it’s turned into a fierce love for black women and our families.”


Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior editor for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…

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