Stretch Marks: On 25 Years of Community-centered Birth Support

November 18, 2022 10:02 am Published by

By Dila Perera, Executive Director

Stretch marks; all human bodies have them, whether young or old. As a brown-skinned person, my stretch marks were always visible, even as a young child. To me, stretch marks are signs of resilience, adaptation, and growth. Those of us in the world of pregnancy, birth, and early childhood know them well. Open Arms has 25 years of stretch marks that show the paths our families’ lives have taken. We have the honor of walking with them for a precious time and supporting them as they begin one of life’s greatest journeys.

One of those families is Simone’s. After giving birth to her daughter, Penny, in April of this year, first-time mom Simone was adamant about wanting to breast/chestfeed but was having difficulty latching. After voicing her concerns at a checkup, Simone’s midwife recommended that she connect with Open Arms for help, and Simone attended an Open Arms lactation lounge the very next day. From there, she was connected with Elizabeth, Lactation Consultant, and Markia, Lactation Support Peer Counselor, for one-on-one home visits.

“If Markia and Elizabeth didn’t hand me all their knowledge, I don’t know if I would’ve continued breastfeeding. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate them!” – Simone

These visits were transformative for Simone and Penny’s lactation journey. Simone explains, “In the first one or two visits Penny and I learned how to latch. After a month or two we were professionals! You would’ve never thought there was a time when we didn’t know what to do.” Simone continues to stay connected to the Open Arms community, having recently attended our Black Breast/Chestfeeding Week Celebration with Surge Reproductive Justice.

Simone’s experience is just one example of how our services are trusted by providers and community-centered in support.

While Open Arms has grown from five people who could fit cozily into one office to over 60 staff, contractors, volunteers, and 30 doulas working alongside us, our work has intentionally become deeper and more integrated as we have learned and grown. We have added new services and support for our families almost every year for the past seven years; a family who comes to Open Arms today can receive support from a community-matched doula, as well as culturally responsive, carefully designed childbirth education classes, referrals to dozens of partner agencies, support with feeding their babies, and community-led early parenting support groups. Yet even as we’ve continued to grow and stretch our program offerings, the demand for our services continues to outpace our capacity. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made our services more essential.

Open Arms is now out of young adulthood and our stretch marks are signs of our perfect imperfection. And after 25 years, we are still learning and growing. Thank you for continuing to support us as we continue to evolve, grow, and dream about what the next 25 years will bring.