Return to Transcripts main page

The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper

"Homebirth Journey: Saving Black Moms". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 17, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Absolutely. Look, not everybody can have a home birth. That is 100 percent true. And many people absolutely need to be in a hospital. They need that kind of care.

And so, it's really important for people to just know they have options but explore them in a way where they are educated about what they are.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: All right, Abby. We'll be watching. Thanks so much.

THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER is next right here on CNN. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, thank you very much for joining me this evening. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. We will see you again next weekend. Good night.



While the U.S. is the most expensive country in the world when it comes to giving birth, it's far from the safest. A maternal mortality rate in this country has risen steadily for the past 15 years, according to the CDC.

And their statistics are even more dire when it comes to Black women. They are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.

The question is why? Why do Black women face more risks when they go to the hospital to give birth?

That's the question that CNN anchor and new mom, Abby Phillip, has been asking since the birth of her daughter two years ago. Abby was well aware of the statistics and made some unconventional choices when it came to her own childbirth experience. Since then she's been surprised to meet so many other women who made the same choices that she did.

Over the next hour, she takes us to hospitals and birthing centers around the country to show us why more and more Black women are turning away from traditional health care and finding other options when it comes to giving birth.




PHILLIP (voice-over): This is the sound of new life being brought into the world. The kind of moment most pregnant women dream of.

Yet this is the stark reality that most pregnant Black women live with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, I'm feeling pressure. I was scared. I have like -- I was crying.

PHILLIP: Angel is in labor with her sixth child.

What were you afraid of?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming in and not coming out.

PHILLIP: Ashleigh is having her second child in one month.

ASHLEIGH BARNES, PREGNANT: Moms are supposed to have wonderful moments, and we were not making it out, you know, alive of the hospital.

PHILLIP: Elaine gave birth nearly two years ago.

ELAINE WELTEROTH, JOURNALIST: We were preparing for the worst at the best time in our lives.

PHILLIP: Three women, three pregnancies, one journey to understand exactly what scares them about hospitals and why some Black women, like me, are now redefining the oldest act in human history, childbirth.

A few years ago I was pregnant with my first daughter. I knew the Black maternal mortality statistics and I didn't want to take any chances, so I decided to skip the doctor and the hospital and with the help of a midwife I gave birth in my own home. It may sound crazy, but it felt so much safer. And honestly, since then I have been surprised to meet a number of Black women who decided to go down the same path that I did.

September 2023, my first stop on this journey. The Hollywood Hills to meet Elaine Welteroth. Elaine has done it on, a journalist, author and television host. She was on a rocket ship to the top in 2021 when she got pregnant.

ELAINE WELTEROTH, JOURNALIST: It took time for me to really even sink into this new reality that I was going to be a mom.

PHILLIP: Had you ever thought about pregnancy and labor and delivery prior to the moment when suddenly it was about to become your reality? WELTEROTH: Not at all.

PHILLIP: But there was one thing she did know.

WELTEROTH: I wanted to feel comfort and safety with my care provider.

PHILLIP: But Elaine would soon learn that feeling of safety is hard for many Black women to find.

DR. CHRISTOPHER MAYER, OBSTETRICIAN: Our statistics are just horrible.

PHILLIP: Dr. Christopher Mayer is an obstetrician who has been in the trenches for decades.

MAYER: So what happened with that?

PHILLIP: And has watched as the statistics in the United States have gone in the wrong direction.


Maternal deaths for all races including Black women in the U.S. have increased while globally rates have decreased.

MAYER: I think it's come to a point where with the increasing number of people that are becoming harmed, the noise, the protests from those people that are affected by that loss of life is louder and is being heard more.

PHILLIP: Do you think even with all of that, there's enough of a sense of urgency about what this problem is, and what should be done to fix it?

MAYER: No, I don't. And I'm not sure why there isn't.

PHILLIP: Even with some of the biggest superstars sharing their stories.

SERENA WILLIAMS, PRO-TENNIS PLAYER: I had a C-section and everything from there was pretty much a nightmare.

PHILLIP: Serena Williams and Beyonce have been very open about their traumatic birth experiences, despite access to world class health care.

WILLIAMS: I started coughing because I couldn't breathe. It hurt so bad. It hurt so bad.

PHILLIP: Williams knew that feeling, a blood clot. She had had one before.

ALEXIS OHANIAN, HUSBAND OF SERENA WILLIAMS: She was undoubtedly battling for her life, and I was terrified that she might die. But I was grateful that she had the wherewithal to speak up.

JILL SMOLLER, SERENA'S AGENT, 2002-PRESENT: Fortunately, because she advocated for herself, she took her in for a CAT scan and they found a pulmonary embolism.

MAYER: A third of all Black women in the studies that have been done have said that they did not feel that they were listened to, and even higher number said that they felt disrespected.

PHILLIP: Why? According to the CDC, and mix of structural racism, implicit bias and underlying medical condition make Black women particularly vulnerable.

MAYA ROSSIN-SLATER, STANFORD RESEARCHER: We need to think more critical about the structural barriers that Black women in America face throughout the income distribution.

PHILLIP: Systemic barriers that a team of Stanford researchers including Maya Rossin-Slater say might explain why Black women, rich or poor, are two to three times more likely than white women to die giving birth.

ROSSIN-SLATER: These gaps by race exist throughout the income distribution. Black infants and Black mothers at the very top of the income distribution have outcomes that are worse in many cases than those of white families at the very bottom of the income distribution. The current system that we have is failing Black women in particular.

PHILLIP: From the very beginning of her pregnancy, Elaine felt that like system was failing her.

WELTEROTH: The doctor didn't ask me how I was doing. Didn't make eye contact with me.

PHILLIP: Did one doctor tell you you had a limited number of questions that you could ask?

WELTEROTH: The doctor interrupts me mid sentence and says you have exceeded our two to three question max per visit, and I have given you the grace but I need to leave. Eight doctors later, I realize it's not the doctors, it's actually the system.

PHILLIP: So, this journalist explored options outside of the medical system. The research was hard for her to ignore. Low-risk pregnancies births led by midwives resulted in fewer medical interventions, better outcomes for baby and mom, reduced rates of C-section, as well as reduced mortality rates.

KIMBERLY DURDIN, LICENSED MIDWIFE: This part of L.A. is a very old neighborhood.

PHILLIP: At 30 weeks pregnant, Elaine met this woman, Kimberly Durdin, a licensed midwife, certified child birth educator and co-founder of Kindred Space.

DURDIN: You can almost feel like you are floating.

PHILLIP: The only Black-owned birthing center in Los Angeles.

WELTEROTH: From the instant that she got on the phone, it felt completely different. It felt completely right.

PHILLIP: Hidden behind the graffiti and next door to a liquor store in south central l.a., it's a warm community space for moms.

DURDIN: If this was the last visit here before you have your baby, is there any questions that you would like to have answered before then?

PHILLIP: You can either give birth here with a midwife or at home.

Elaine chose her home with her husband and with Kimberly at her side.

WELTEROTH: It was the most incredible feeling.

DURDIN: It was beautiful. And also, sometimes complications happen, and that's part of our training.


Elaine had more bleeding than we like to see after birth, and we call that a postpartum hemorrhage, and the cool thing was Elaine was not quite aware of what was happening.


DURDIN: We were able to stop the bleeding and give her lots of IV fluids.

PHILLIP: I had exactly the same experience.

DURDIN: Really?

PHILLIP: I delivered my daughter and had a postpartum hemorrhage, and I lost a lot of blood and they managed it and it was like it never happened.

WELTEROTH: You did not walk away from your experience with birth trauma --

PHILLIP: Not at all.

WELTEROTH: -- because you had a hemorrhage. You felt cared for.

PHILLIP: I was totally fine. I mean, I was fine, my baby was fine, and I felt great.

WELTEROTH: We are changing the face of home birth. We are those moms. It turns out we're those moms.

PHILLIP: And we are certainly not alone. I travelled across town to visit a mom who's preparing for her home birth.


PHILLIP: Hello, Ashleigh.

Ashleigh and her husband, Norris Barnes (ph), are getting ready to have their second child.

BARNES: That's also something I get scared about, if I am not able to have my baby at home, if I go to the hospital, am I going to be safe?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Deep breaths.

PHILLIP: She knows there are no guarantees. Her birth story continues later.

But first, a mother's dream of a healthy birth becomes a nightmare.


PHILLIP: It's just after 6:00 a.m. in southwest L.A.



PHILLIP: Hi, Naija. I'm Abby.

ROBERTSON: I'm Naija. Nice to meet you.

PHILLIP: Thanks for letting us come in here.

ROBERTSON: You're welcome.

PHILLIP: New father Naija Robertson (ph) welcomes me into his home.

His 8-month-old daughter Aniya is just waking up.

Hi, Aniya.


PHILLIP: Good morning. I watch as the gentle giant of sorts and his little baby get ready for the day. How does your morning usually go?

ROBERTSON: She does good. She normally should, you know, take a bath.

PHILLIP: They have their rhythm in the early quiet mornings.

It's just the two of you in the mornings?

ROBERTSON: Yes. It still feels awkward, but it still feels like awkward because a mom is supposed to be helping out.

PHILLIP: But Aniya's mother and Naija's partner, April Valentine, is not here.


ROBERTSON: I felt like this was her moment because she really wanted a baby. So I was just happy to see her that happy.

PHILLIP: Is this her room? KEISHA CORDOVA, APRIL'S SISTER: Yes, this is her bedroom. Pretty much

the way she left it.

PHILLIP: Keisha Cordova is April's older sister.

CORDOVA: I would see her every day.

PHILLIP: They were so close that April had a room at her house.

This is her labor ball?

CORDOVA: This was her ball, yeah.

PHILLIP: A Cal State Northridge sociology graduate, April researched everything she could about having a healthy pregnancy and baby.

CORDOVA: She sent me her birthing plan, what her birthing rites. She picked the doctor because she wanted a black doctor because she said, they'll hear me, they'll see me, I don't want to be treated like I'm invisible.

ROBERTSON: She chose a Black doctor because of the rates.

PHILLIP: The rates of maternal mortality?


PHILLIP: April had to memorized, as did nearly everyone I have met so far on this journey.

CORDOVA: We celebrated sister day every year.

PHILLIP: But it was new to Keisha, who was 21 years older than her baby sister.

CORDOVA: I was actually shocked to hear it because when I had my kids, which was a lot of years ago, the only thing that we worried about was when the next labor pain was coming.

DEIRDRE COOPER OWENS, HISTORIAN: Twenty years ago, the stats were still two to three times as high for Black women as it is for white women and really other racial groups in this country.

PHILLIP: Historian Deirdre Cooper Owens.

OWENS: We have more access to social media and news and different places outside of just the TV screen from 20 and 30 years ago.

PHILLIP: April said that she specifically chose a black OB/GYN, because she wanted to feel listened to. She wanted to feel supported. Should that have been a factor for her?

OWENS: It should have been a factor because a study of almost 2 million hospital records in Florida looking at birth found that the mortality and morbidity rate had been cut by 50 percent when you had Black caretakers. PHILLIP: But it wouldn't help April. January 2023, a rainy weekend in

L.A., April was 40 weeks pregnant.

CORDOVA: That Friday before the doctor had told her, she didn't go in labor over the weekend naturally, that they were going to induce her.

PHILLIP: Was she anxious or more excited?

CORDOVA: She was scared. She was scared.

PHILLIP: The sisters spent the whole weekend together trying to jump- start labor, walking miles upon miles in the rain around Keisha's neighborhood.

CORDOVA: It was like raining outside.

PHILLIP: She was really eager to get labor going.

CORDOVA: Uh-huh. So, we took this umbrella, which is the biggest umbrella ever.

PHILLIP: Labor pains were on and off as she went to the doctor Monday morning, January 9th.

CORDOVA: Dr. Quinn (ph) actually went into the waiting room, she told the hospital, at that moment, I want her to be admitted, and she looked at me right in my face and says, I will need you there.

PHILLIP: April arrived at the Centinela Hospital with Keisha and her partner Naija. Several hours later, she was in labor through the night, hour after hour, Keisha says April complained of pain, swelling and numbness in her legs.

CORDOVA: Hungry, no food.

PHILLIP: Her family says nothing was done to address what doctors now tell us were potentially troubling symptoms of a complication, an embolism or blood clot, like Serena Williams had.

CORDOVA: It plays in my head like a horror. We asked repeatedly. I had here in my notes, how many times we asked repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly for the doctor.

PHILLIP: She would be in the hospital for more than 21 hours before her doctor arrived. Clearly in distress, Naija and Keisha say April threw up violently, and repeatedly, the numbness and pain persisted.

CORDOVA: They treated her almost like it was an assembly line. They didn't check her. They feed her. They didn't respond to her.

ROBERTSON: She was trying to throw up like (INAUDIBLE) and her eyes locked up and her eyes rolled to the back of her head. So I looked up and (INAUDIBLE) I told the nurse, I'm like, ma'am, ma'am, help me, she ain't breathing. So I started doing CPR on her.

PHILLIP: Nurses called for a code blue, Naija said, and along with April's doctor finally took action.

ROBERTSON: They rolled her down the hallway, but when they made it to the double doors, a nurse handled her a knife and she just cut her wide open and took the baby out.


PHILLIP: Baby Aniya survived, her mother did not.


PHILLIP: Adjoa Jones leads the L.A. County's maternal mortality action team.

She seemed to have done so much that you and everybody that we talked to want to see women having the opportunity to do.

JONES: I t is still the bias. Something happened that should not have.

CORDOVA: We were told it couldn't have been racially motivated because the doctor and all the nurses were Black.

PHILLIP: What do you say to people when they say that?

CORDOVA: There are some biases we have as colored people that is ingrained in us against other people of our same color, and I saw her experience that.

PHILLIP: It has been eight months since April's death when I arrive on her family's doorstep.

ROBERTSON: I wasn't just prepared to be a single father.


ROBERTSON: But through it all, I think I am strong enough by God.

PHILLIP: And this sweet face.

ROBERTSON: Yes, yes.

PHILLIP: It makes it a little bit easier to wake up in the morning, huh?

ROBERTSON: A lot easier.

CORDOVA: She used to walk. I am still getting to a place of healing to be there to the moment she leaves me, and I am still not quite --

ROBERTSON: I am so sorry. I'm so sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my cousin that did not get a chance to hold her baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's not the only one. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes us feel as if black and brown lives

don't matter.

ROBERTSON: It's hard to sleep to even look at my child after seeing what I seen in that hospital.

PHILLIP: Later, finding justice for April, and a shocking announcement by the hospital. But first, another hospital learns from these kinds of tragedies.



REPORTER: Six days of rioting left behind scenes reminiscing of war- torn city. Riots in Los Angeles --

PHILLIP: It was the summer of '65 --

REPORTER: A terrible page in American history.

PHILLIP: Six days of civil unrest, in one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Watts.

REPORTER: Civil rights leaders were quick to deploy --

PHILLIP: When the fire was put out --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen of the press.

PHILLIP: The voices of condemnation were loud.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: I profoundly deplore the events that have occurred in Los Angeles in these last few tragic days. It is the job of all Americans to right the wrongs from which such violence and disorder spring.

PHILLIP: It was from those burning embers that Martin Luther King, Jr. County Hospital was born. A symbol of pride and hub of services for a community in need.

MAYER: It was a very, very, very busy place.

PHILLIP: Obstetrician Dr. Christopher Mayer first worked here decades ago.

MAYER: I remember the first day I came on as an intern here, I personally delivered 29 women in one day, and I thought I hope the next four years --

PHILLIP: How is that even possible?

MAYER: I'm not sure.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the outrage over a woman's death.

REPORTER: The last 45 minutes or so of her life, and according to witnesses she spent it on the floor vomiting blood.

PHILLIP: But with that chaos, tragically came high-profile mistakes. It became known as Killer King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hospital failed to meet national standards of care.

PHILLIP: In 2009, a private company came in, knocked the old building down and rebuilt, including an innovative labor and delivery unit.

It's 10:00 a.m., the Saturday morning shift change. When I arrive at MLK to meet Angela Sojobi, the midwife program director here.

Hi, Ms. Angela.

ANGELA SOJOBI, MIDWIFE: Hey, how are you?

PHILLIP: She's invited us to follow her on her 24-hour shift.

SOJOBI: How is it going?



PHILLIP: This is a midwife-led maternity ward and facility, and what is it like to work doctors to have midwives leading?

SOJOBI: Most pregnancies are normal and there are a few that just need medical care, right So, those normal ones we take care of, and it leaves the physicians to really take care of the ones that they need to take care of.


PHILLIP: Somebody coming in here may never see a doctor?

SOJOBI: They may never see a doctor.

PHILLIP: Sojobi and her team of midwifes are all registered nurses, and many hold advanced degrees in nursing. Angela has four degrees in total, and estimates she's delivered more than 5,000 babies in her decades-long career.

SOJOBI: How's it going? Are you ready?

In this day and age, there should never be a patient that dies in childbirth.

PHILLIP: What are you doing personally to prevent things like that from happening.

SOJOBI: It's about listening to the patient, letting them know I'm here and I'm going to do my best for you.

PHILLIP: She takes us in to meet Angel Shirley, and that's her doula, Ellen, next to her.

So, Angel, this is your sixth baby.


PHILLIP: And you were actually born at the old MLK hospital.

SHIRLEY: Yes, I was. So, when I thought I had an option for this one, I immediately said yes.

PHILLIP: She was searching for something different.

SHIRLEY: I have not had support during two of my labors and I didn't like that feeling. I felt like the doctors didn't listen to me.

PHILLIP: And she's heard the stories.

SHIRLEY: This girl, her name was April, and she did my daughter's hair, and she died. I had seen her before.

PHILLIP: It catches me by surprise when we hear April's name. I had no idea Angel knew April Valentine.

When you hear stories like that, what goes through your mind?

SHIRLEY: I'm like, it could have been me. It could still be me because I am going through this process now.

PHILLIP: Over the next nine hours, Angela is monitoring Angel every step of the way.

SOJOBI: How are you?

SHIRLEY: I am doing better.

SOJOBI: Almost there.

PHILLIP: Pep talks, some ice chips, and just being there.

SOJOBI: Are you feeling the baby move?

PHILLIP: Uh-huh.

SOJOBI: The baby just hit me.


PHILLIP: By 7:00 p.m., Angel is ready to push.

SOJOBI: One more, one more. Keep it coming. You're almost done.

Good job. One more time. Awesome job.

All right. You can breathe. Wait for the next one.

Okay. Breathe. Breathe through your nose and out your mouth. PHILLIP: About 72 to 73 percent of the deliveries are midwife

deliveries here, with few complications.

SOJOBI: Oh, look!

PHILLIP: Their C-section rate is 14.6 percent, well below the national average of 32 percent.

Success they credit to the unusual partnership between doctors and midwifes.

Also, the on going education the midwives have in medical crisis management, implicit bias and racism response.

For Kimberly at Kindred Space, MLK is her hospital of choice.

DURDIN: I never have been in the community of medical providers or hospital providers that said, hey, if you have a transfer, if you have an out-of-hospital person that needs to transfer into the hospital, please come to us.

WELTEROTH: MLK Hospital, and I was like, oh, I don't know anything about MLK, usually, it's like underfund, and I went there. It's like midwives. The director of the midwives is a Black woman, I was like, there's so much unlearning we need to do about all of these. There's so many preconceived notions you go in to burden (ph) with.

PHILLIP: MLK is changing those motions and renaming itself in the process.

SOJOBI: This is not killing the King. This is not Kill the King community. It's a hospital that provides close to the best care of possible to the community.

MAYER: I think in this country, there are only about 10 percent to 12 percent of babies being delivered by midwives.


I think if this model were instituted more widely, it might go a long way to resolving some of the problems with respect to mortality and morbidity, especially among Black women.

PHILLIP: Today was a good day at MLK. The joy, the happiness, something Ashleigh, who you met earlier, is working hard for. Will she get the home birth she so desperately wants? That, when we come back.



PHILLIP: It's a hot Sunday in the middle of July, four weeks until Ashleigh Barnes' due date.

Family and friends have gathered to celebrate the upcoming birth of baby girl Barnes at her big brother's birthday. (SINGING)

PHILLIP: Among the guests, their midwife, Kimberly.

She's quite popular here having worked with several families.

DURDIN: It feels very old school where it's like the midwife was the person in the community that everybody went to and everybody knew.

PHILLIP: Kimberly's business is booming.

It's right in front of your face.

DURDIN: Oh, like that.


DURDIN: Oh, my God. Sorry.

PHILLIP: Is her baby happening?

DURDIN: Her baby is happening.

PHILLIP: A baby is happening.

DURDIN: It's safe to say we tripled what we do every month, and so, right now, it's feeling very busy.

PHILLIP: So, how many now is busy?

DURDIN: Twelve or 15 a month.

I put my hands on your belly, wherever your stage of pregnancy, I always greet the baby.

PHILLIP: It's not just Kimberly. Midwifery is having a resurgence. In 1980, midwives attended only 1.1 percent of births in the U.S. In 2020, that number rose to 12 percent.

And according to the latest CDC data, the percentage of home births among black women increased 36 percent from 2019 to 2020, and another 21 percent from 2020 to 2021. So, how did COVID affect the interest you started to see in home births and midwifery care?

DURDIN: That was a huge turning point for midwives everywhere. We were inundated with calls asking about our care. People were afraid, and people were so scared and are still scared, honestly.

PHILLIP: Of the hospital itself?

DURDIN: Yes, they are scared of the hospital. They are scared they're going to die.

OWENS: When my book came out six years ago, I remember I would say in the audience, who wants to become a midwife? No hands. Now I get emails from largely women who want to be midwives. PHILLIP: But there is actually nothing new about this ancient


OWENS: Women had been the birth workers for a millennia. Black women, they were coming with knowledge, culture and ancestral knowledge that they had been bringing from West Africa during the slave trade. They are birthing not just each other's babies, but they're birthing babies throughout the community.

PHILLIP: But that all started to change in the 19th century.

OWENS: When you have men entering into what was called midwifery in more formal ways, going to school, studying obstetrics, studying gynecology, using invasive tools.

PHILLIP: As modern medicine has developed, home births and midwifery has declined.

OWENS: Especially in the Black Belt south, the number of Black midwives declined drastically. People need to take these literacy tests, there's all kinds of things. So, because it was segregated, Black women couldn't join the guilds and those kinds of things.

PHILLIP: Another contributor to the decline? Money. Hospital births cost on average $13,500. And insurance usually covers much of that. Giving birth at a birthing center costs $8,300, and at home, $4,650 on average. Few insurance companies cover these kinds of births, and if they do, it's very limited. The estimated out of pocket costs range of these range from about $2,000 to almost $10,000.

What do you say to the people that say midwifery, home births, that's what people who have resources?


JONES: I can go to other countries and get covered.

What's the difference here with birthing? Why can't we expand that if we want to be like those other countries and improve our outcomes and not be rated so low?

DURDIN: What really was the catalyst for making the center a reality --

PHILLIP: So, Kimberly has tried to work around this.

DURDIN: We definitely have higher profile clients and celebrity clients and things of that nature, and they often pay a lot more to get the kind of services that work for their lifestyle, and that kind of helps out those folks that need more help with the financial aspect of it.

PHILLIP: But there are also other options to help to free the costs.

DURDIN: We've also been invited to amazing partnerships with people, and some of the organizations have provided partial grants and things like that to make it more affordable.

PHILLIP: It's these kinds of grants that made these midwives and home birth affordable and accessible -- to more people in this L.A. community.

BARNES: We were able to get funding. And so, they were able to kind of like prepare and were able to pay for it on our own this time.

PHILLIP: Pay for everything they hope will help ensure a healthy home birth -- from chiropractor and acupuncture appointments --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is one of the acupuncture points that you can use trying to promote labor.

PHILLIP: To personal training -- and long walks in the park.

BARNES: I am trying to be more active to kind of like the baby more engaged, and hopefully she doesn't wait until 42 weeks.

DURDIN: It's 12:49 a.m., and I am off to Ashleigh's house.

PHILLIP: The birth, when we come back.



PROMPT: Go pass this light and then at the next one, turn left.

PHILLIP: It's past midnight on Saturday, August 26th. Midwife Kimberly Durdin is on the move.

DURDIN: After talking to her today, like she's really anxious to get things going.

PHILLIP: It has been a little touch and go for her mom-to-be, Ashleigh Barnes.

DURDIN: The whole thing about Ashleigh is one, she will be a mom of two. This is not her first baby. Her due date was a couple days ago.

PHILLIP: The last time Ashleigh was this late she lost too much amniotic fluid and had to have her baby in the hospital.

DURDIN: I'm off to Ashleigh's house.

PHILLIP: So this time when the call finally comes in --

DURDIN: She is finally in the real labor.

PHILLIP: There's a sense of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Labor is all well, what do you want to say to Allegra?


PHILLIP: Fifteen minutes later, Kimberly arrives at her house.

DURDIN: I will definitely go over everything with you.

BARNES: I can hear their voices just encouraging me.

That was the most beautiful thing to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that. There you go.

PHILLIP: Everything moves very, very fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your baby is right here.

PHILLIP: Less than two hours later, Baby Birl Barnes arrives at 1:29 a.m.


BARNES: It felt so peaceful, and just, like, it was everything I could have dreamed of.


PHILLIP: It is the kind of birth April Valentine had hoped for.

ROBERTSON: She's eight months now. Huh, mama.

PHILLIP: Her partner Naija is fighting for meaning in her passing.

CORDOVA: Are you ready?


How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to see you again too.

PHILLIP: He's now an unlikely outspoken advocate.

ROBERTSON: I never woke up one day thinking I was going to be a single father to a baby girl. I am here to fight for other fathers, so they never have to endure the pain that I endured.

PHILLIP: April's family has not stopped fighting.

DEMONSTRATORS: What do we want?


Say her name!

April Valentine!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're requesting that you guys really support us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are asking and we are begging for your help.

ROBERTSON: Just give us justice, please?

PHILLIP: Filing a complaint with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, alleging systemic racist practices at the hospital, and suing Centinela and April's doctor for wrongful death and negligence. They both turned down the request for an interview and denied claims of negligent and racist practices.


But then surprising to all, at the end of October, Centinela closed their labor and delivery unit. The reason they say? Decreased demand.

Does it give you any solace to know that Centinela is closing it's maternity ward?

CORDOVA: There's rejoice, saddens and pain.


CORDOVA: It saddens me because somewhere, there's a girl right down the street that's in labor, and that service is now being taken out of that community. That was not our intention.

What we really would have liked them to do is come in and retrain and revamp that so they can be better for the community. People are recognizing doula midwives now, but there are birthing centers around that these women don't know about. I'd like for those birthing centers to be elevated to the point that these women can exercise their options and get the attention and be safe having a baby.

PHILLIP: The key to raising awareness and access, advocates say, funding --

REP. LAUREN UNDERWOOD (D-IL): The evidence-based investments in the momnibus --

PHILLIP: -- that could come from so-called momnibus bills.

If passed, this legislation should increase aid and support to midwives, birth centers and home birth options. It would also help midwife-led hospitals like MLK.

SOJOBI: Doing anything yet?

PHILLIP: They are struggling to keep their doors open. They say it costs an additional half a million dollars a year to staff midwives 24/7.

DURDIN: The work of Black midwives and indigenous midwives and midwives of color --

PHILLIP: They, along with Kimberly Durdin, lobbied Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra when he visited in October.

XAVIER BECERRA, HHS SECRETARY: A hundred million dollar investment in maternal health care.

WELTEROTH: One of the important pieces that we can't miss is the legislative change that needs to take place.

BECERRA: To train up more midwives, more nurses.

WELTEROTH: We just need to push our lawmakers to prioritize putting laws in place that save our lives.

PHILLIP: Elaine has also become an outspoken advocate.

WELTEROTH: There's no fight like a mom will fight for what is right and what needs to happen to keep more of us alive, to raise our babies. I really don't think there's anything more important than that.

PHILLIP: Many of the moms we met on this journey would agree. Ashleigh, who fought for her home birth. Kimberly who fights every day to deliver safe birthing options for women. Angela, who fights to create a hospital safe haven for Black moms like Angel. And Keisha, a mother and sister that fights for her loved ones' legacy.

CORDOVA: She's so cute. She's the light of the party. That's so like April. She seems to have a joy in life. And that's totally my sister. Nothing steered her away, and she was fearless and had a zeal for life, and I can see that in Aniya.

PHILLIP: The next generation, Aniya, Teigen, and Elaine's son -- three mothers, change makers, changing the way we look at childbirth, and in turn demanding change.


COOPER: The birthing center you just saw in this hour is planning on expanding to other areas where alternative options where alternative care are limited.

Thanks for watching THE WHOLE STORY.