GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Tiffany Townsend is a Grand Rapids native. A first generation American-born citizen, her family came from a long line of Dominican women who knew something about delivering babies.
"My practice is named De la Flor Midwifery after my great grandmother who birthed 14 kids all at home," Townsend said. "Her name was Flor. The “De” is in remembrance of my paternal Grandmother Dematrice. When my family asked why I wouldn't just become a doctor, my great grandmother always believed in my dream to become a midwife."
Even her favorite show growing up was Birth Stories, but in those episodes she didn't see a lot of providers who looked like her. When she got involved professionally in birth work, she still didn't see any Black homebirth midwives in her hometown.
"A doula is a birth companion and a midwife is a licensed certified professional, like a medical care provider," Tiffany explained. "There are plenty of Black doula's, but not many midwives. I believe that it’s simply because you go through so much to become a midwife, so any person who goes through this process of any race I salute, because it's hard!"
Townsend gave birth early — she had her first child in high school. She said she knew her son was coming into the world at a disadvantage, so she did everything she could to make sure he got everything she could offer.
"I learned everything about bringing him into this world as healthy as possible by myself, with books from the library," Townsend said.
She remembers her doctor treating her like she was an immature child who was probably not ready to handle motherhood. She admits that at the time she did feel that way, but believes regardless of age patients should be prepared for motherhood.
Townsend believes back then she gave her doctor the benefit of the doubt because she was so young. But, after three more births, she finally got the courage to ask why some of her other health providers didn't inform her about some simple things she learned would be healthy for her and her babies, like breast feeding.
"They were like, 'Oh, Black people don't breastfeed,'" Townsend said, impersonating the doctor that helped deliver one of her children. The doctor didn't know that Tiffany already breastfed her first three children, probably because he never asked, and she says that type of behavior contributes to the infant mortality rate.
"The reality is that most ethnicities mortality rates are all bad if you compare them to white women. And honestly the issue is that obstetrics and gynecology began with a white doctor practicing medicine and refining surgery techniques on Black bodies without anesthesia, and although not everyone is a racist there is implicit bias," Townsend said. "The belief that Black people don't feel pain because they learned to not react and take extreme amounts of it still lives on in our health care system."
Last year, MDHS data showed that in Kent County there were 118 home births, and that white mothers had the lowest infant mortality rate — losing four babies per 1,000 births, while African American mothers lost three times as much, losing 14 babies per 1,000 births.
Townsend said after four kids born in the hospital, against her family’s tradition, she decided to have her last one at home and it was an amazing experience. Now she just wants to help as many people as possible experience the attention and comfortability that she received while at home.
Townsend became a doula and has worked in the birth world for over six years. During that time, she decided she wanted to be in charge and enrolled in a program to become a certified professional midwife.
After not being able to finish school in Midwest College of Utah online, she transferred to an accelerated program in El Paso, Texas.
She went back and forth for 17 months, traveling home to see both her clients and kids then returning to her program doing her assignments and hands-on birth training.
"Every month of the program I was having break downs missing my kids. I failed my boards the first time, I felt so defeated off and on, putting in over 100 hours per week, I had to redo a lot of my clinical work while in El Paso," Townsend said. "It was so hard to complete the requirements almost two times but I gave up too much to be there and fail, so that wasn't an option for me."
With over 300 births completed, Townsend passed her boards in July 2020. The next week, she officially got licensed in Michigan.
"Right now, insurance does not cover the cost of out-of-hospital birth," she said.
For homebirths, Michigan midwife fees cost between $3,000-$5,000 per client, And even though payments can be spread out throughout the pregnancy, many still cannot afford the luxury of birthing safely at home.
Townsend's current fundraiser is raising funds to provide subsidized rates to families that want to birth at home but cannot afford it. She also wants to create a space that doula's and midwifes can use to meet with clients.
The COVID-19 pandemic instilled a fear of hospitals for certain families, according to Townsend, and because of that she has had so many requests that she has decided to try and multi-task both fundraising and doing what she loves — caring for families and catching babies.
She is now taking clients.
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