Black Maternal Health Week event celebrates human connection while highlighting deadly, ongoing inequities

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • Convened by the JUST Birth Network, Swedish hosted our second annual Black Maternal Health Week conference on April 10 and 12 at our First Hill campus.
  • JUST Birth was initiated in 2022 and includes doulas, cultural navigators and other staffers dedicated to providing Black and Native patients culturally affirming care throughout their pregnancy journey. 
  • Community partners and special guest speakers were welcomed to the event, which also celebrated Black culture and emphasized the importance of mental health and well-being.
  • Watch a video featuring JUST Birth Network founder Sauleiha Akangbe to learn more.

The Swedish community celebrated Black Maternal Health Week, which is recognized each year from April 11-17, to bring attention and action in improving Black maternal health, with the second annual Black Health Week Event on April 10 and 12 at Swedish’s First Hill Campus. 

A discussion panel at Swedish's Black Maternal Health Week Celebration, held at our First Hill campus on April 10 and 12. 

Convened by the JUST Birth Network, the two-day event centered on the history of grand-midwifery practices/beliefs and doulas in the birth experiences of Black, African American and Native women; how midwives and doulas are working to change their profession; and Swedish’s efforts to foster birth justice and build a warmer, more culturally affirming experience for all patients.

The event also seeks to call attention to the continuing inequity in maternal health and the striking racial disparities in maternal and infant care, despite advancements in maternal and health care. Pregnancy-related mortality is three times higher in Black women than white women.

Presented under the themes of decompress, educate and celebrate, the event offered participants the opportunity to celebrate connection, self-care and Black joy; educate attendees about the realities of communities and Black mothers and the need for inclusive, collaborative and culturally affirming care; and celebrate Black culture with a variety of artists and performers. The contributions of JUST Birth doulas were also celebrated. Since JUST Birth’s inception the program now includes 54 doulas, including 13 Latinx doulas, and one Native American doula.

The event included presentations from experts and advocates in maternal health, public health, birth education, lactation, and more. Elders and activists shared their own stories about birth and what called them to their work in community health and birth justice. Gloria Laryea, PhD, acting deputy regional administrator with the U.S. Department of Health and Human and Services’ Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs was a guest speaker.

Watch video: Sauleiha Akangbe appeared on a recent edition of KING 5’s New Day Northwest and discussed the importance of events like the Black Maternal Health Week celebration and initiatives like JUST Birth.

JUST Birth is the vision of Sauleiha Akangbe, who is a community advocate, full spectrum doula and African American woman. Today, Akangbe leads JUST Birth, which was initiated in 2022 after the 2020 founding of the Black Birth Empowerment Initiative. JUST Birth’s beginnings were supported with funding from the Providence Health Equity fund as part of Swedish’s commitment to address inequities experienced by our patients and communities. JUST Birth currently includes dedicated cultural navigators, childbirth educators, and birth and postpartum doulas who provide patients and their families with expert care and guidance throughout their pregnancy and birth.

During a recent appearance on KING 5’s New Day Northwest, Akangbe emphasized the importance of events like the celebration of Black Maternal Health Week and initiatives like JUST Birth.

“Every birthing person deserves a wholesome experience, one where they feel empowered, involved in their choices and birth in a way they want to birth. That includes our patients who experience trauma, speak a different language or come from a different culture,” said Akangbe. “We honored Black Maternal Health Week as a time to decompress, educate and celebrate the human connections caregivers and the Black communities need to have.”

Learn more and find a practitioner 

At Providence Swedish, we honor the possibility inherent in every life. That’s why we created the Justice Unity Support Trust (JUST) Birth NetworkThe network strives to provide our Black and Native patients with an umbrella of culturally connected, authentic care from the start of pregnancy through the postpartum experience — supporting and improving the birthing experiences of Black, African American, African, Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander people from across the sex and gender identity spectrum. To learn more, send us an email

Swedish has three birth centers — First HillIssaquah and Edmonds — making it convenient for people who live or work in the Seattle, Eastside and North End areas. But don’t just choose your birth center based on location. It’s also important to consider factors like the size of your birth center. Do you want a smaller, more boutique-like feel, for example, or a bustling city hospital with every possible resource available? Or maybe something in between?

All of our Swedish patients can take classes, meet other families, get help with lactation and go for new parents and well-baby checkups at The Lytle Center for Pregnancy & Newborns at our First Hill birth center. You can also get expert advice there and help with wellness.

To learn more about our childbirth and parenting classes — both in-person and online — visit our Childbirth and Parenting Classes at Swedish Medical Center page. To take a take a virtual tour of our birth centers, visit our Birth Center Tours page. If you need to find a provider, use our provider directory.

Information for patients and visitors

Additional resources

The JUST Birth Network 

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Childbirth Classes & Tours

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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