Elaine Welteroth Recalls Doctor Who ‘Laughed, Walked Out’ of Pregnancy Consultation, Inspiring Her BirthFund Initiative (Exclusive)

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The 'Project Runway' judge opens up about enlisting Kelly Rowland and more to raise money and awareness around concerning maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

<p>Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty</p>

Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty

Before Elaine Welteroth gave birth to her son at her Los Angeles home in 2022, she says she had some unfortunate experiences looking for an OB-GYN. 

“I think pregnancy is the most vulnerable time for any woman,” says Welteroth. The former co-host of The Talk and her husband Jonathan Singletary relocated to Los Angeles during her first pregnancy. 

“I came into childbirth and pregnancy really naive,” she says. “I was kind of shocked by how little I knew about birth and navigating the medical system. I thought, I've done hard things in my life. How hard could it be to have a baby? You find a doctor, you go to the hospital, you get the epidural, you have the baby.”

<p>Belathee Photography</p> Elaine Welteroth

Belathee Photography

Elaine Welteroth

Welteroth, 37, recently enlisted the help of fellow moms and stars like Kelly Rowland, Serena Williams, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen to launch BirthFund, an initiative to help fund midwifery for new moms with the hope of helping reverse a startling rise in maternal mortality rates in the U.S., especially for Black women. 

Related: Elaine Welteroth Welcomes First Baby, a Son, with Husband: 'Look Who Finally Made His Debut'

According to the National Institute of Health, “Black women in the United States (U.S.) disproportionately experience adverse pregnancy outcomes, including maternal mortality, compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups.” A 2021 study by the CDC found that “the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women.” 

It’s an issue Welteroth feels is directly related to disparities in healthcare and how many expectant moms are being mistreated by their healthcare providers and institutions. She says she herself got a wake-up call to this issue, while on the search for her own physician. 

“I’d always planned to have a hospital birth, but I got pregnant in the pandemic and I was in a new city and I didn't have a doctor, so I had to start dating doctors to try to find the one that I would give birth with. And each experience was humbling, to say the least.”

<p>Belathee Photography</p> Elaine Welteroth, son Silver Singletary and husband Jonathan Singletary

Belathee Photography

Elaine Welteroth, son Silver Singletary and husband Jonathan Singletary

In one instance, “I had one doctor literally stand up in the middle of a question I was asking and cut me off and tell me that I exceeded their two to three question max per visit,” she says. “And she walked out on me and this was the eighth doctor I’d met with.”

According to Welteroth, “I was asking very straightforward questions like, what's your intervention rate? What's your C-section rate? These are questions every birthing person should be asking of their care provider. I was asking, could I eat or drink water during labor.”

In return, she says, “The doctor literally laughed at me and said, ‘What do you think this is? You can't just walk into a hospital, pop a squat and have a baby,’ and dismissively walked out of the room.”

For Welteroth, who was already in her third trimester, that was it. After being recommended to Kindred Space LA, she decided to have midwives help deliver her baby at home instead.

Elaine Welteroth/Instagram Elaine Wentworth and her son
Elaine Welteroth/Instagram Elaine Wentworth and her son

“They empowered me, they nurtured me,” she says of her experience. “I never in a million years thought I would have a home birth. When I tell you I had the most beautiful, peaceful, joyful birth. I'd only ever seen women screaming wildly cussing their husbands out, legs flailing.”

On the contrary, she describes, “I was in the most peaceful meditative state throughout my labor. I didn't speak for eight hours. My eyes were closed and I was breathing. I didn't scream once. I was amazed by what my body could do under these circumstances.” 

During labor, she says, “My husband and I were in the shower in our bathroom at home, and I labored there for hours and my midwives sat outside the closed door, and they came in only when they needed to take my vitals. And they did so with such reverence for my process.”

<p>Belathee Photography</p> Elaine Welteroth and husband Jonathan Singletary

Belathee Photography

Elaine Welteroth and husband Jonathan Singletary

While she acknowledges home births are not for everyone and that expectant mothers should work closely with their healthcare provider or midwife to assess their individual pregnancy risk prior to making that decision, Welteroth wants to make midwives an accessible option for everyone. 

“The beauty of this initiative is that it really does meet people where they're at. It’s a grass roots fundraising effort.” As for select “founding funders” like Rowland, she says, “These are women and privileged folks who understand how broken this system is because of their own personal experiences, and we all come together and agree that we need a change.” 

<p>Courtesy Kelly Rowland and BirthFund</p> Kelly Rowland and son Titan for BirthFund

Courtesy Kelly Rowland and BirthFund

Kelly Rowland and son Titan for BirthFund

Rowland is one of many who will personally fund midwifery for an expectant mom in need. She gave birth to her sons Titan and Noah at a hospital and “my OB-GYN made me feel very comforted, safe and happy,” she tells PEOPLE.

She also credits the support of husband Tim Weatherspoon as well as a doula for “the opportunity to have a really peaceful birth.” She adds, “I’m so excited this is an actionable initiative.” And, says Welteroth, it's an extremely important one.

<p>Courtesy Kelly Rowland and BirthFund</p> Tim Weatherspoon, Kelly Rowland and sons Titan and Noah for BirthFund

Courtesy Kelly Rowland and BirthFund

Tim Weatherspoon, Kelly Rowland and sons Titan and Noah for BirthFund

“When you look at high-income countries in the world, the U.S. is the deadliest place to give birth. The thing that other high-income countries from Canada to France to the U.K., the thing that they all have in common is that midwifery is their default birth care model. And yet here in America, it's not even covered by insurance.”

On top of getting the service covered for those who want them, Welteroth says she and Dr. Uché Blackstock, who serves on the fund’s medical advisory board, want to change the narrative.

“When we think about midwives, we think less skilled. We think riskier, we think less safe,” she says of stigmas. “But when you look at the numbers, they tell you a completely different story. And so that's why I feel compelled to change the narrative around midwifery and to increase the visibility.”

Asked about the response she’s got from those in the traditional medical community, she says “It's important to call out, we are not anti-doctor. We are not anti-hospitals. What we're doing is working outside of those systems to change what we can.”

<p>Belathee Photography</p> Jonathan Singletary, Elaine Welteroth and son Silver

Belathee Photography

Jonathan Singletary, Elaine Welteroth and son Silver

Dr. Glenda Newell-Harris, who was recently appointed by President Joe Biden to the Advisory Committee for the Office of Minority Health, echoed the need for supplementary maternal care options while speaking at a social justice conference for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Far Western Region in Los Angeles on April 18. 

During the event, she shared with a room full of majority Black sorority members that included this reporter, “I feel that every pregnant woman, as part of her health plan, should have a doula, period. I believe that all health insurance plans ought to offer that to all women and perhaps all of us as African-American women because our numbers look so terrible, so that we may have the additional support that we need.” 

As for BirthFund, which is solely focused on helping provide midwife care, Welteroth is hoping the initiative can do its part to help save lives. 

“I know personally, two people, Black women, who died in childbirth,” says Welteroth. Another woman she learned about was April Valentine, who died in Los Angeles last year. 

Upon reading her story, “I broke down because it was like, this is a Black woman who lives in my city and was becoming a mother for the first time,” she says. “She went into the hospital never expecting that she wouldn't leave.” With her work, “we're not focused on fixing what we can't change,” she says. “We're focused on changing what we can.”

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