EP. 94 Improving maternal mortality. Start with empowering greatness.

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Laurie McGraw is speaking with Inspiring Woman Shafia Monroe, a champion of change who has spent her entire professional life focused on creating awareness of the disparities with maternal and infant mortality and creating solutions to solve for them.  While she is known today as the queen mother of doulas and midwives, her beginning came from a family of doers.  For example, her father created the first community garden back in the ‘60’s.  She was raised being taught that if you see a problem, act.  This has been her approach ever since seeing the racial disparities of black women and babies dying in the ‘70s.  She became enthralled with being a midwife and hasn’t looked back since.

At age 24, she started her first non-profit to train more black midwives.  And why does it matter?  Because trust, understanding, sharing a common history, and listening to black women are key to health.  When you can create spaces that are safe and allow women to be themselves, this leads to better outcomes.  Today, Shafia is extremely well recognized for her contributions to improving outcomes for black women, children and families based on her work delivering babies and training of thousands of midwives and doulas over decades.

Over the years she has worked on policy change and other mainstream approaches (Shafia’s definition of “mainstream” is codename “white”).  However she finds it far more effective to educate the black community.  She states her work is more than just maternal mortality, it is about empowering the black community to embrace black culture, empower, and help others see their greatness.   E.g. What are your rights?  Here are the statistics – present them to your physician and ask them how they will ensure you do not become one of them….

Shafia is proud of building the next generation of leaders.  As she reflects on the work that she has loved over the decades, she knows the beginning was lonely.  Shafia advises other women to look into their hearts, if you love what you do, to claim their power with gratitude, grab the support of others along the way, go the extra mile, and indeed remarkable things can happen.


Shafia Monroe Background


Shafia M. Monroe is a renowned midwife, doula trainer, motivational speaker, and cultural competency trainer. Shafia has been “Birthing CHANGE” all her life. In 2016, Madame Noir named Monroe “Queen Mother of a Midwife Movement” for her pioneer midwifery work in Boston, Massachusetts, her hometown. It was there she co-founded the Traditional Childbearing Group (TCBG), a non-profit organization, whose mission was to reduce infant mortality through homebirth services, training community midwives, and providing prenatal education. Monroe served as Boston’s primary African American homebirth midwife from 1978-1991.

In 1991, seven months pregnant with her sixth child, Monroe drove from Boston with her family to Portland, Oregon. When she arrived, she was unable to find an African American midwife for her homebirth. Experiencing the lack of midwives of color in the region, she responded by forming the non-profit organization International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC), to increase the number of midwives and doulas of color to empower families, reduce infant and maternal mortality, and bring Black midwives together.

Monroe positioned ICTC as an advocate for disseminating culturally competent midwifery education, achieving recognition for Certified Professional Midwives (CPM’s), and directing funds to improve maternal health and newborn care. Under her leadership, ICTC spread across the nation, increasing the number of midwives of color, giving midwives of color a seat at the decision-making table, promoting the profession, as well as researching and teaching the contributions of African descent midwives in world history.

In 2002, Monroe organized the first US-based International Black Midwives and Healers Conference (IBMHC). The conference brought midwives together from around the world for improving maternity care, continuing education, and camaraderie. In 2010, Erykah Badu, a four-time GRAMMY™ Award winner, singer/songwriter, and holistic healer, was the keynote speaker for the conference. In 2011, Ms. Badu accepted Monroe’s invitation to be the ICTC National Spokesperson.

In 2002, Monroe created the ICTC Full Circle Doula Training program to teach the legacy of the 20th century African American midwife, who exemplified compassionate care through traditional birth and postpartum rituals. The training program focused on improving perinatal care, increasing doulas of color, and developing entrepreneurship in doula work. From 2002 to 2016, Monroe trained nearly 2,000 people as ICTC Full Circle Doulas. In 2017, one year after Monroe’s retirement as CEO of ICTC, the ICTC board asked her to acquire the ICTC doula training.

Monroe accepted and rebranded the ICTC Full Circle Doula Training to SMC Full Circle Doula Birth Companion Training and maintained the original curriculum. This groundbreaking doula-training program continues to serve as an international model for reducing infant mortality, increasing the number of doulas of color, empowering families for informed consent and physiological birth, and teaching traditional birth and postpartum practices using the legacy of the 20th century African American midwife.

Championing doula care for all, Monroe spearheaded the Oregon Coalition to Improve Birth Outcomes (OCIBO), creating the legislative concept Oregon HB 3311 to investigate the use of doulas to improve birth outcomes in vulnerable populations. Her work marked Oregon as the first state in the nation to approve Medicaid reimbursement for doulas and ICTC as the first Oregon Health Authority (OHA) approved doula-credentialing organization. SMC Full Circle Doula Birth Companion Training became Oregon Health Authority Approved in 2018.

Monroe became president of Shafia Monroe Consulting/Birthing CHANGE in 2013, to aid health care professionals and doulas in achieving cultural competency, increasing clients, and improving perinatal outcomes. In the same year, she opened Doula Ready LLC to prevent premature births by reducing perinatal stress for professional women.

Monroe loves teaching and is a lifelong learner. She holds a BA in sociology, a Master of Public Health, and an Independent Primary Midwife (IPM) certification from the Massachusetts Midwives Alliance (MMA). She is a member of multiple coalitions to improve maternity care, through continuing education and training.

Her work has made a significant impact in improving infant and maternal health through leadership development. As an influencer, her model for improving maternity care is being replicated both here and abroad and is featured in multiple publications. Monroe has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Midwives Alliance of North America and the Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter of the Black Caucus of Health Workers of the American Public Health Association.

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