With the glaring statistics and harrowing personal stories of childbirth, mothers-to-be oftentimes feel a mixture of nervousness and excitement during pregnancy. For many, the realities of the maternal health crisis adds pressure and anxiety to having a baby.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all industrialized nations, according to the World Health Organization. Hundreds of women die during pregnancy or within the first year. Thousands more have unexpected labor outcomes, leaving short- and long-term health effects. For Black women, the maternal mortality rate is even higher, with pregnancy-related deaths three times more likely than White women. There are multiple factors that contribute to this alarming reality for Black women, including variation in quality healthcare, underlying conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.

The realities of the maternal health crisis struck journalist and author Elaine Welteroth in 2018. Welteroth recalled having a “viseral reaction” to tennis player Serena Williams’ birth story. It was her first time facing the realities of the maternal health crisis.

“I remember thinking: If that could happen to Serena Williams, what makes any of us safe?” she wrote in a recent TIME article. “I packed the thought away in the back of my mind, where it stayed until I found out I was pregnant for the first time in 2021. Suddenly, it was my turn to face the fears that had been planted years before.”

Welteroth became acutely aware of the realities of childbirth during her pregnancy. Her personal experience, along with the life-changing work of the midwives from Kindred Space L.A., inspired her advocacy.

“After a series of eye-opening encounters with the maternal health system and a life-changing home birth experience with the midwives at Kindred Space L.A., I committed myself to raising awareness about the urgent need to create more access to midwifery care by sharing my story and relentlessly advocating for policy change,” Welteroth told Black Love in a recent interview.

Despite the statistics, it is possible to address the maternal health crisis. Research shows that 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Healthcare professionals must recognize urgent maternal warning signs, provide timely treatment and deliver respectful, quality care. Midwifery could avert more than 80 percent of all maternal deaths, stillbirths and neonatal deaths., according to a report from the World Health Organization.

Beginning as a birthday fundraiser on Instagram, Welteroth sparked a new movement for maternal health. Her original goal with the birthFUND was to raise enough money to support one mother during her birth journey. However, when she raised $16,000 within 16 hours, she was able to sponsor two families in Los Angeles.

With the success of the fundraiser, Welteroth decided to expand birthFUND into an organization and continue to help other mothers in need. She used her network of friends and strategic corporate partnerships to establish an organization directly addressing the maternal health crisis. The founding investing families include Serena Williams, Chrissy Teagan, John Legend, Kelly Rowland, Ayesha Curry, Abby Phillip and more. The birthFUND matches individual funders with families in need of quality midwifery care and birth support across the country.

“We’re done waiting for these systems to change,” she told Black Love. “We’re stepping in where the systems won’t. Because it’s on us to save us, but we can’t do this work alone. Our potential collective impact is far greater than anything we could ever do on our own.”