“Safety is key. Safety for women and safety for providers.”

 -Jennie Joseph

The weekend of January 4th/5th and 11th/12th, a group of twenty-five women with diverse backgrounds and professions gathered tog ether in St. Petersburg, Florida to participate in the Community Outreach Perinatal Educator or COPE training provided by the Commonsense Childbirth Institute. This training provides community-based maternal child health  practitioner and para-professional training, education, and certification, focused on care coordination, psychosocial support and comprehensive health navigation for vulnerable communities. A major focus is to provide tools for community organizations and independent providers to establish ‘Safe Spots’ or hubs in what Jennie Joseph calls “Materno-toxic Areas”  – places where infant and maternal racial disparities in birth outcomes are too high, and where the death rates for Black moms and babies far exceed those of other races in the USA. Participants who complete the training and pass the rigorous exam are credentialed as Certified Perinatal Educators (CPE) which includes specific certification in community-based Doula, Childbirth Education and Lactation Education. The training includes key topics that prepare participants to provide perinatal education, breastfeeding support, and family and birth support through all states and aspects of the pregnancy, birth and postpartum process.

The COPE training is one of many offered by the Commonsense Childbirth Institute. Additional trainings offered by the institute include Easy Access Clinic training,  Maternal Child Health Specialist (MCHS), Certified Childbirth Consultant Program (CCC), Certified Doula, Certified Lactation Educator, Certified Childbirth Educator, and midwifery courses offered as part of the Commonsense Childbirth School of Midwifery (CCSM).

Many, but not all, of the participants at the St. Petersburg training came in with some degree of experience in maternal and infant health, with backgrounds including lactation consultants, perinatal educators, and doulas. Nevertheless, the ability to walk away with concrete perinatal skills, whether newly acquired or renewed, is only one of the many takeaways of the training. “Many of us were already certified lactation counselors and certified doulas so the material itself wasn’t new information; however, we weren’t really using the information effectively…” says Khyrej Jones, Founder of Brown Baby Brigade. Participants expressed feeling empowered to return home and address the maternal and infant health concerns in their respective communities. Most important, they felt able to continue to do the important work on the front lines to support women, children, and families in a collective and collaborative way.  “COPE was the first time that birth workers of color came together in one location to talk about the work we are doing and to recognize that our organizations need to come together to make this movement happen.”   

Jones also mentioned the idea often stated by Jennie that people don’t need permission to do the important and much needed work in their communities. “It’s like many of us were listening to too many dominant culture individuals telling us we weren’t qualified to do this work. Jennie gave us the empowerment and validation we were all seeking to be assured that we are more than qualified right now to save lives.”.