‘Giving Birth in America: Arkansas” premiered at The Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock on Wednesday, April 26, followed by a short panel discussion mediated by Christy Turlington Burns, the founder and president of Every Mother Counts. 


Every Mother Counts (EMC) is a nonprofit organization founded with the mission of making pregnancy and childbirth safe, equitable and respectful for every mother, everywhere. The Arkansas Cinema Society partnered with EMC for the world premiere of the Arkansas short film. 


“We believe that film is an entertaining way to start important conversations, and that could not be more true with tonight’s world premiere,” Catherine Tucker, executive director of Arkansas Cinema Society, said. “We founded the Arkansas Cinema Society on three pillars: watch, learn and make. We are thrilled tonight to partner with Every Mother Counts to showcase this important film and shine a much-needed spotlight on the maternal health crisis in Arkansas.” 


While this larger documentary series features the birthing experiences in all U.S. states, this short showcased three Arkansas mothers as they journeyed through not only giving birth, but dealing with mental health concerns, the lack of paid leave and other challenges they faced postpartum. 


EMC was established in 2010 after Turlington Burns released her documentary, “No Woman, No Cry,” after she experienced her own childbirth complications. Turlington Burns learned that hundreds of thousands of women die every year due to not having the access needed to care during pregnancy and postpartum. 


“As part of Every Mother Counts’ mission, we’ve leveraged storytelling to highlight the maternal health crisis in the United States. Using short films focusing on different states, we’ve given mothers, providers and advocates a platform to share their stories,” said Turlington Burns. “Since Arkansas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, we knew it was essential to highlight this state’s maternal health crisis. I hope these stories encourage individuals to join the movement for maternal health and safe, equitable childbirth.” 


The film spotlighted efforts and initiatives put in place by several Arkansas organizations, including doula services and postpartum support through Ujima Maternity Network, the mission of Arkansas health care professionals as they focus not only on the child but also on the mother and the mission of the Arkansas Birthing Project, which serves as a community-based organization serving pregnant women and their families. 


Following the film, Dr. William Greenfield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was joined by Zenobia Harris, DNP, MPH executive director of the Arkansas Birthing Project and Sarita Hendrix, C.D. CLC., the co-founder of Ujima Maternity Network. 


Hendrix explained that she and Nicolle Fletcher, co-founder and visionary executive director of Ujima Maternity Network, are currently training to be the first licensed Black midwives in Arkansas. 


“We are really proud to be able to draw more attention to this topic nationally. When things aren’t going right, we want to really look at why. Many mothers in the film mentioned feeling unheard, nervous and scared and we want to help provide that support during pregnancy, birth and postpartum,” Hendrix said. 




Harris has worked in the arena of maternity for over two decades, and now works to ensure women can attain the resources they need to be successful mothers. 


“My work is centered around providing resources to women in need. Unfortunately there is a large racial disparity in motherhood mortality and a lot of the reasons for that are detrimental. This can be due to weathering, racism and how people are treated,” Harris said. “Black women die at two-times the rate of other women during childbirth, and that is something that needs to be addressed.” 


According to the CDC, Arkansas has the third highest maternal mortality rate in the U.S. with Black women dying from maternal mortality at a rate of 71 per 100,000 live births compared to 27.8 for non-hispanic, caucasian women. 


Hendrix and Harris both explained that they have witnessed gaps in the education, awareness, understanding and support in expectant mothers. 


“Doulas provide several different services and there are a lot of different specialities. I work a lot in planning their support, attending labors and following-up afterward as a lactation specialist. It was amazing to have my relationship with one of the mothers I worked with showcased through this film,” Hendrix said. 


Greenfield, through his roles of providing care and educating the next generation of OBGYN professionals, spoke to the hope he has for the future of birthing in Arkansas. 


“I try to teach my students that service to mankind extends beyond the exam room. This profession is about wanting to help people and most instances of motherhood mortality can be prevented. This happens at every level, through policy, system and community,” Greenfield said. “We were all born, we all have a vested interest to bring attention to this topic.” 


Greenfield, Harris, Hendrix and Turlington Burns all hope that the conversation surrounding issues relating to giving birth, postpartum support and motherhood mortality will be held in all circles of life. 


“Giving Birth in America: Arkansas” can be viewed online. For more information about Every Mother Counts, click here and to learn more about Ujima Maternity Network and the Arkansas Birthing Project, visit their respective websites. 


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