Growing up, Jeanine Valrie-Logan, CNM (FNU Class 146), MSN, MPH, wanted to be an opera singer or a doctor. Today, she’s neither one, but she’s putting both her medical and communications talents to good use. She is in the process of opening the Chicago Southside Birth Center and is spreading the word throughout the community, which currently has no other birth centers nearby.
“Geographically, there’s nothing there,” said Valrie-Logan, who currently works part-time as a certified nurse-midwife at the Birth Center PCC in Berwyn, Illinois. When PCC Community Wellness Center (PCC) opened the birth center in 2014, it was the state’s first freestanding birth center. “For me, going to work from the south side of Chicago takes about an hour, and that’s when you get to a first birth center. People are traveling from everywhere to come see us at PCC because there’s nothing in between.”
If all continues according to plan, the Chicago Southside Birth Center will be that place in between by late 2023. The plans are well underway, including the purchase of a building in the Avalon neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Since January 2022, Valrie-Logan has had a fellowship with Chicago Beyond, an investment organization through which she is managing the development of the birth center. She has undertaken the legal tasks involved in opening a birth center, including the completion of a certificate of need and establishing transfer agreements with local hospitals. She has also overseen plans to construct a 2,000-square-foot addition to the building, with the space to be used as birth center suites. She hopes to have state approval of the project by late winter of 2023 and to begin construction shortly thereafter.
Central to beginning construction, of course, will be having the funds to do. Valrie-Logan has been writing and submitting grants and creating GoFundMe campaigns to keep the project on track. Initially, she budgeted $1.9 million for the construction and renovation, but when the bids came back, that number grew to $3.2 million.
“Fundraising has its ebbs and flows,” Valrie-Logan said. “We will get this grant or that grant, and then the next three grants we won’t get. I’m working on a major donor fundraising plan right now. It’s exciting figuring out who I can make the ask to or what connections can be made to get some larger investment. We’re hoping to make connections and get some municipal funding.”
The birth center will be operated as a nonprofit. The plans are for the birth center to have two midwives in addition to Valrie-Logan in the first year, along with two birth assistants and support staff, including accounting, administration, and a receptionist. Valrie-Logan has projections for the number of births at the birth center, starting with year one and growing each year after that.
Community Support for the Birth Center
Her confidence in the success and growth of the birth center stems from the community support it has received already and the overall community needs for the birth center.
Avalon is a predominantly black community, and the birth center sits on a major thoroughfare, five minutes from the closest hospital, with which Valrie-Logan has secured a transfer agreement.
“It’s really beautiful because three community hospitals have closed since 2019,” Valrie-Logan said. “The big one that’s left – the University of Chicago – doesn’t take all the insurance. It’s the only one that has a midwifery practice. From the feedback I’m getting, our birth center is being very well received by community members and stakeholders. A lot of my time since January has been spent community building, letting people know about the project, and making connections. I recently met with the lieutenant governor. It’s just been amazing.”
Once the birth center is open, a board of directors will provide guidance, which Valrie-Logan welcomes with open arms.
“I wanted to make it a place where everyone who works there feels ownership in it – how we work, when we work, what kind of programs we are offering with guidance from the people who will receive those services,” she said. “We have a community survey that people can go to the website and take. It takes about two minutes and asks what kind of services do you want to see in the space? What kind of qualifications do you want to see in your provider? Do you want them to speak Spanish? Do you want them to provide gender-affirming care? These are all things we envision for the space, but we also want to receive confirmation from the community.”
Valrie-Logan understands that meeting the community’s needs means being more than a birth center. Born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, Valrie-Logan attended DePaul University for her undergraduate degree. Her first birth work, however, was in Washington, D.C., while she was attending George Washington University. She volunteered at Dr. Ruth Lubic’s birth center, Community of Hope, and became a doula. There, she saw firsthand the importance a birth center could have in the community.
“I just loved it,” Valrie-Logan said. “My friend was getting prenatal care there, and I was like, ‘What is this magical place where you can see a midwife and then go to your childbirth ed class?’ One thing we want to focus on at Chicago Southside Birth Center is not only to be a place where people can get prenatal care and have a baby. We really want to have a heavy reproductive healthcare model. We eventually want to bring on a nurse practitioner who can see the whole family in the space as well. We have a space of about 2,000 square feet in the back of the clinic that would be a community garden. We know people don’t have access to food or transportation, and we want to fill at least some of those gaps.”
"I didn’t want to lose what brought me to midwifery. It was community work and it was community birth. I knew the history of Frontier, the history of getting on a horse and going to someone’s home and being with them at birth. I didn’t want to insert myself into a system that I didn’t feel was authentic to me. I wanted to really be strong in what it means to be a midwife."
- Jeanine Valrie-Logan, CNM (FNU Class 146), MSN, MPH
Answering the Call
Public service comes naturally to Valrie-Logan, as many of her family members have served in community leadership roles, such as aldermen, school superintendents, and school board members.
“It’s very inspirational, knowing that this is my legacy,” Valrie-Logan said. “I can do this. My family has done this. I have something to lean on.”
In addition to her family, Valrie-Logan also gained inspiration from a trip to South Africa shortly after she completed her undergraduate degree. The experience involved spending 6-12 months in South Africa working with community-based organizations.
“We always talk about being called. I was definitely called to midwifery,” Valrie-Logan said. “It was emergent to me when I was in South Africa, and I could see the midwives. They were organized, they were activists, they were raising families, and helping out neighbors all at the same time.”
After her time in Washington, D.C., Valrie-Logan and her husband Walter moved back to Chicago and were soon preparing for the birth of their first child. They searched for a birth center, but there were none there yet. That was in 2010, and it marked the beginning of her plans to one day open a birth center in the city.
She understands not only the impact that a birth center can have but also the impact the presence of a provider who looks like the patients they are caring for can have as well.
“There’s research that shows that when patients have the same racial or ethnic background as their providers, they have better outcomes,” Valrie-Logan said. “We plan to hire nurse-midwives who look like the community and live in the community so when, for example, someone is coming in, and they don’t have food, we know exactly what you mean because we’re a part of this same community and these are some of the resources that we have for you to access.”
“This is what concordant care looks like,” she continued. “I’m invested in what’s happening in this community. Everyone in this community looks like me. I want to make sure that the folks I’m seeing are safe and have what they need. We are envisioning Chicago South Side Birth Center as a place where we are actually listening to people and affirming people’s whole selves and their autonomy to the kind of care they want to receive. I think that goes a long way to changing outcomes for individuals.”
Valrie-Logan credits Frontier Nursing University with helping to cultivate and shape her natural inclination to community service and leadership. When choosing where to go to become a certified nurse-midwife, she said the choice was clear.
“At the time, my choices were either the brick-and-mortar at the University of Illinois-Chicago or Frontier,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose what brought me to midwifery. It was community work and it was community birth. I knew the history of Frontier, the history of getting on a horse and going to someone’s home and being with them at birth. I didn’t want to insert myself into a system that I didn’t feel was authentic to me. I wanted to really be strong in what it means to be a midwife.”
We are proud of the work Jeanine has done so far and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for her! Valrie-Logan and her husband, Walter, have three daughters: Ahimsa, 12; Satya, 8; and Nyahbingi, 4. To learn more about FNU’s certified nurse-midwifery program, visit our website.
Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers
By Jeanine Valrie-Logan and Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka
Before she launched her plan to open a birth center, Jeanine Valrie- Logan became a published author. She and co-author Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka wrote Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers. Valrie-Logan said the idea to write the book was inspired by her mother, who passed away while Jeanine was still in college.
“She had metastatic breast cancer,” Valrie-Logan said. “She always told me growing up that she felt like she was deprived of breastfeeding because she started having breast surgeries like lumps and cysts when she was 13. When she had me, they told her adamantly, do not breastfeed because that can cause cancer. This was in 1978. When she got breast cancer and was learning about how breastfeeding actually is a protective factor for developing breast cancer, she would always tell me, ‘When you have kids, breastfeed. What they told me was wrong.’ I knew I was going to breastfeed, not only because of the health benefits but also as a reparation – an homage to what my mother wasn’t able to do.”
The book came out in 2012, the same year as the first Black Breastfeeding Week, of which Anayah is one of the founders.