The U.S. is the only industrialized nation with a rising maternal mortality rate–ranking lowest in maternal mortality among developed nations. This issue disproportionately affects women of color, regardless of age or education level, with mortality rates for women of color 3 to 4 times higher than those of white women. Every day, women across the country at various stages of their pregnancy struggle to access critical support that will help guide them on their journey. Limited information and resources exist that are tailored to represent the unique challenges they face.
U.S.-based non-profit Every Mother Counts, in partnership with CVS Health Aetna, asked Critical Mass to create a video series of episodic content centered around the Doula model of care, as a resource for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx mothers in the U.S. The result was Choices in Childbirth, a unique, accessible and interactive educational content series, hosted on a free micro-site, that brings birthing professionals together from across the country and varied backgrounds including MDs, Doulas and Midwives. Together, they discuss and navigate topics from practical trimester specific health and wellness techniques to birthing options to post-partum and how to ask for what you want and need. As voices from diverse communities, they come together to form a support group. They site has become a trusted community, empowering and supporting women with information to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy. And at the center of the series is EMC’s rallying cry: access and equality in birthing, for every person, everywhere.
Collaboration and conversation formed the heart of our approach. Choices in Childbirth leveraged healthcare SMEs at Primary Maternity Care for support in the development of the curriculum to be featured within the series, and Otherness Productions for localized production efforts to support an entirely remote shooting effort during ongoing pandemic lockdowns. The up-front strategy and content development transplanted our team into the heart of birthing 101 with our healthcare experts, educating us on the ins and outs of pregnancy and childbirth so that we could more effectively represent that knowledge on screen. We met weekly with a national team of consulting Doulas and Midwives who work with the communities our content aims to support—Black, Indigenous and Latinx birthing people across the U.S.—with a keen sensitivity for community, language, and visual representation. These efforts spanned months of content planning, before pre-pro even began.
Three central ideas guided our creative execution: exploring your support system; embracing your body as a home you can trust; and reclaiming your inner circle with advocates who will fight for, protect, and teach you how to do the same for yourself and your baby. Our methodology was grounded in conversation, portraiture, and demonstration—capturing groups of diverse women across the U.S. on a 3-month shooting tour that took our team from Florida to New York to Portland. A hurricane, multiple snap-lock downs and political unrest demanded last-minute pivots on dates and nimble approaches along the way. But it was worth it; investment in upfront collaboration meant that by the time our team arrived to shoot, it felt like coming home. Communities opened up to our cameras, welcoming us into the intimate inner circle of people’s homes, prenatal exam rooms, and even deeper personal conversations.
We covered topics through conversations guided by community Doulas, Midwives and MDs in order to gain a broad perspective that normalized, empowered and educated without patronizing. The guiding voice of these conversations was supported by a crafted approach that captured a wide range of content with both intention and flexibility. This allowed for pieces to come together holistically. In post production, we worked exhaustively with our Doula consultants and layered in focus groups across the U.S. to ensure initial versions of the films landed without unexpected interpretations. The result was a balance of thoughtfully directed scenes set to an entirely custom score, combined with the spontaneity of people in their element, and ultimately a series of content that’s artistically beautiful, organic and most important, real.
Everyone deserves the right to dignity and safety during pregnancy and childbirth. A platform of awareness and education allows birthing people of color to find real support—and know their voices are heard. Through choice, compassion, and informed, shared decision-making, individuals can learn to advocate for themselves and ensure they receive the care and support they need to thrive.
Since its launch in 2021, traffic to the micro-site has been consistent—and high. CVS Health Aetna featured Choices in Childbirth across their channels and continues to promote the site as an extension of their healthcare offering to millions of Americans every day. So, too, have the local Doulas, Midwives and MDs featured within the series, utilizing the URL as a community takeaway to educate and empower those along the birthing path. Amplify your voice, amplify your choice.
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