Born from a dream to fill a void of birthing options for Black mothers, Jeanine Valrie Logan has spent years focused on building Chicago South Side Birth Center. The center is an answer to the lack of healthcare options for folks who live on this side of town, which has been labeled a birthing desert with only four options available for labor and delivery.
In just a few weeks City Council will hear her rezoning request to allow medical services in the building, in South Shore, that is currently a church. Before that, it served as a funeral home. What once was a space for mourning and death will now represent safety and bringing new life into this world.
Rebellious met with Logan, who is in the final steps of actualizing her vision.
R: Why is it important that this center is on the South Side?
J: When I think about the state of maternal health in terms of Chicago, specifically Chicago as one of the most notoriously segregated cities in the world, honestly, purposefully this was a plan of our previous administration. There are so many beautiful things that communities build when they’re segregated from folks, but there’s also disinvestment. So, things like access to care, or food, or safety, or housing – all of those things only exacerbate maternal health and infant health outcomes.
When I look at specific areas on the South Side, where the infant mortality rate is sometimes four times worse than the whole county, than the city, than the state but there’s not a hospital in that neighborhood? Or there’s nowhere for them to get prenatal care or see a Black provider? [It] shouldn’t all be on the North Side or shouldn’t be only in wealthy areas. So it was really deliberate. Even when we changed the law we put in [that] these birth centers have to be in these areas where the black maternal and child health outcomes are worse than the county – Like the West Side, the South Side, East St. Louis, because that’s where the need is and people deserve to have this kind of care.
R: What are some of the benefits of delivering in a space like this versus delivering your baby in a traditional hospital?
J: If you look at adverse outcomes for Black maternal health, those numbers come from hospitals, so people are scared to go to hospitals. Birth centers have a different kind of pace. The time that you spend at an appointment is longer so that people can build trust. If I have an hour with you, talking to you about your family, your nutrition and your other kids and you know, ‘You were telling me last week your grandmother was sick. How’s she doing?’ like spending more time you develop that relationship, which also goes to [maternal health] outcomes.
R: Besides actual births, what services will you provide?
J: This will be a place where people can come and get reproductive healthcare like PAPS and family planning and STD testing, and some primary care. It’s specifically around the lifestyles and issues that people share. For example, we want to have a lot of support groups, but they’re more like educational groups so that people with certain issues can meet other people – such as fibroids, or difficulty getting pregnant. But we also know how limited access is for other things in terms of reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care. You are not going to find that in many places on the South Side.
R: What challenges have you faced in creating this facility?
J: With getting financing you have to show that your business is established, but we’re new, and so that is a risk that some banks don’t want to take. We’ve been able to get the word out, and I’m always fundraising and grant writing, so that’s been great, but it still doesn’t meet the need that we need for renovations and sustainability. We want to open, but we also want to stay open for like 20, 30, 40, 50 years. When I’m gone, I want it to still be open.
R: To my understanding, you also had to advocate for laws to pass in order to open this … Did you have any experience in policy before that?
J: I actually have a master’s of public health and global health policy. So I am a policy nerd, but a lot of my interests and writing have been internationally. This was really interesting to get so hyper local, trying to change a policy in the state.
R: So you’re changing lives… You’re opening a birth center… You’re delivering babies.. You’re a mother… How do you do this all?
J: I have like an IV drip of caffeine, so I’m walking around with an IV full with coffee in it. No, I’m joking. I have very, very good support. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my husband and my extended family to help and also they believe in what I’m doing. My daughter has on one of our t-shirts today at school, and she’s in seventh grade.
R: Is it one of those things that you don’t realize how much work it is until you’re in the process of doing it?
J: And learning it right? Because I didn’t know any of this stuff. So, I’m literally teaching myself how to write grants, how to fundraise, and how to read contracts. I’m not a realtor or a lawyer, but I know what this thing says now. It’s totally like you never envision the amount of work it is. But I also really think that’s special because the work isn’t just for me, right? It’s for all of us. This is all of our birth center.