Elaine Welteroth and Serena Williams take on America’s maternal health crisis

Elaine Welteroth launches birthFUND in collaboration with Serena Williams and other famous Black mothers.

Elaine Welteroth, Serena Williams, birthFUND, midwives, doulas, Kelly Rowland, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Ashley Graham, Karlie Kloss, Black Maternal Health Week, Black Maternal Health Crisis, U.S. Maternal health crisis, Black maternal health, reproductive health, theGrio.com
Elanie Welteroth and Serena Williams are teaming up to take on the maternal health crisis in America. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

When Elaine Welteroth celebrated her birthday in December, she wanted to honor the “greatest gift” she’d ever received, her son, by paying it forward. The journalist, editor, and TV host launched a drive to raise funds to gift another woman holistic maternal care provided by the midwives at Kindred Space LA. Welteroth had worked with the organization during her first pregnancy in 2021 and knew firsthand how invaluable that level of support could be.

“My experience giving birth, supported by the unmatched care of midwives at Kindred Space, completely changed my life — and every mother deserves that kind of care,” the “Project Runway” host wrote in an Instagram post at the time. The drive raised $16K, enough for the mother of one to support two pregnant people. 

Building on the success of that birthday fundraiser, Welteroth has taken that idea and grown it exponentially.

On April 11, the start of Black Maternal Health Week, Welteroth launched the birthFUND initiative, raising funds to ensure more parents can have access to quality maternal care. She’s joined in this mission with famous founding faces, including Serena Williams, a mother of two who has been open about her own traumatic maternal health journey.

“Having babies in America was a wake-up call for both of us,” Welteroth and Williams wrote in a joint essay for Time magazine announcing the fund. “Like many parents and first-time parents at that, we never anticipated the harrowing experiences we’d have on the road to becoming mothers. We have both accomplished a lot in our lives and careers — from Grand Slams to history-making career appointments — needless to say, we can do hard things. But nothing made us feel as disempowered as being pregnant and Black in America.”

Since launching last week, the fund has raised nearly $27,000 of its $100,000 goal. In addition to Welteroth and Williams, other familiar faces involved in the founding of the mission include Kelly Rowland, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Ashley Graham, Karlie Kloss, and Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian.

In their essay for Time, the mothers note that between Williams’ first birthing experience in 2017 and Welteroth’s in 2021, over 3,400 mothers died during or after childbirth in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported “significant” spikes in maternal mortality in 2021. Meanwhile, the National Center for Health Statistics reports the maternal mortality rate has jumped more than 60% over the course of two years, from about 20 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 to about 33 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021.

Black mothers are 2.3 times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related complications.

Williams and Welteroth also noted that according to the World Health Organization, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all industrialized nations.

“This should not be the norm in the country with the largest economy in the world,” they wrote.

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In most cases, maternal mortality is preventable. Research has found and continues to prove that midwives (health professionals who provide medical care during pregnancy and immediately after) and doulas (trained professionals who provide emotional, physical, and informational support to pregnant people and their families) greatly improve the success and health of pregnant people. However, due to a widespread lack of knowledge and stigma midwives are often not covered under insurance. This is where initiatives like birthFUND come in handy.

“Our goal with birthFUND is to help remove financial barriers to quality care and to expand life-saving access to both education and choice. No matter where or how they decide to give birth, parents deserve access to safe, dignified care. Right now, that human right is out of reach for far too many,” Williams and Welteroth explained.

The tennis pro and journalist also state how, despite Black mothers being the most at risk, this is not solely a “Black woman’s problem” or even a “poor people’s problem.” Rather, risks to maternal health impact “us all,” they stated, closing their essay with an invitation for more families to join them in this urgent mission.