Owner of Roots Midwifery & Community Birth Center
Rebecca Polston’s mission is to focus solely on safely, simply and respectfully bringing African American, First Nation, Latino and African children into the world.
Polston is a Certified Professional Midwife and owner of Roots Midwifery, and for two years she is one of a few in the nation who have been delivering children in the tradition of those who did before her, and she is doing it very well.
“Cultural sensitivity is just as integral to our health as blood pressure”
REBECCA POLSTON, ROOTS MIDWIFERY & COMMUNITY BIRTH CENTER
A little history:
When Africans were brought to this country by force centuries ago, their customs of childbirth and mothering came as well. The midwife was a community treasure and infant mortality was almost non-existent. In the mid-20th century, local, state and federal governments insisted these traditional home births with midwives were unsafe and, in effect, shut the institution down. Today, the US ranks 60th worldwide in infant mortality and US babies born to women of color have four times the mortality rate of Caucasian babies.
The disparity, Polston believes and many studies support, comes from the systemic racism inherent in our health care system that discourages cultural differences and low-intervention care in favor of the promotion of highly profitable maternity care services. Through Roots Midwifery, allied with North Star Midwifery, midwives serve 40-50 birthing families a year, 20 percent of those families are of color. With the same technology as a small rural hospital, Polston provides services like genetic testing, lab work and ultrasounds. Together, each option is explored as a fit for each family and is by no means mandatory. Water birth is routine and all mothers thus far have chosen to breastfeed. Polston goes one creative, caring step further: each birth is attended by a team of providers that mirror the mother’s heritage.
This care and individualized approach has, at least at Roots, negated the number one cause of infant mortality in communities of color: preterm labor. “Cultural sensitivity is just as integral to our health as blood pressure,” she says.
From initial comprehensive prenatal care and dietary counseling through birth and six follow-up, postpartum visits, the cost is $4,000, though she rarely turns a woman away for inability to pay. Though currently housed with another CPM in St. Paul, Polston is actively looking for a building in North Minneapolis to be closer to the communities who need her most. Once she has her own birth center she will be able to accept insurance and contract with Medicaid to “make a dent in access to competent care.”
With her patients who eagerly come back for her assistance for subsequent babies, and word of mouth, Polston is very, very busy. And while she has navigated her journey from community organizer to doula at HCMC to becoming the first out-of-hospital African American midwife and CPM in the state, the business detail side to starting Roots was overwhelming.
Polston was referred to NEON, a partner of NDC’s in North Minneapolis, which provided the business training she needed to write a business plan. “It was vision and practice and spreadsheets to reality,” she said. She believes the business assistance she has received has saved her tens of thousands of dollars and is planning to turn to NDC for a loan to help with her birth center and other business growth expenses.
Her instructor, Romaine Turner honored Polston for her diligence by nominating her for NDC’s Growth in Business Growth Award at the 2015 Annual Entrepreneur Awards on April 18, 2015.