Nurture is excited to welcome Raena Gradford to the Nurture team as our Relationships Coordinator. Raena’s role will be to build and steward relationships with perinatal and early childhood stakeholders, community members, donors, and the public. She will also be assisting us with the rollout of the Birth and Early Parenting Resource Directory. Raena is currently earning her Masters of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. Read below to learn about Raena’s passion for advocacy and Women’s Health.
From a very young age I always knew I wanted to help others. I grew up having a strong female role model for a mom. My mom served over twenty years in the Army and was devoted to helping others. She sparked my inspiration to do the same.
When I entered college, I started exploring what that might look like for me career wise. I didn’t want to go into the military despite being extremely proud and motivated by my mom’s drive and work ethic, because I was excited to be the first in my family to go to a four-year university. Since I was the first, I was overwhelmed with picking a career path. I started thinking about a medical field like a nursing or physical therapy, but I was never much of a math and science person. I identified early on that to live a fulfilling life, my career would have to be something I’m passionate about combined with the intent to help others.
I discovered the field of human services in undergrad. I decided to take an intro class in Women’s Studies because I remembered being most fascinated by history and the women’s suffrage movement in high school. I began to learn about feminism, women’s rights, advocacy movements and gender studies, and decided to double major in women studies. A pivotal moment for me was when I took a class called “Sexing the Body” which is designed to explore the spectrum of what it means when we consider humans to exist in a gendered and sexed world. The class provided a deep dive on issues of equality and social justice surrounding sexual and reproductive rights, women’s health issues and race.
One day we attended an event where guest speaker and author Linda Villarosa shared her research on Black infant and mother mortality rates. She spoke about a Black mother living in a low socio-economic area who experienced a stillbirth that could have been prevented if her constant attempts to tell her doctor something was wrong had been taken seriously. Villarosa spoke about the importance of Doulas for mothers and their infants, especially Black women. I instantly was both frustrated and passionate. I became fascinated with all the roles and benefits doulas provide to a pregnant people in prenatal, delivery and postnatal care: women reported having smoother deliveries, less health complications and a lower rate of postpartum depression just from incorporating a doula into their care.
I learned about the significant difference in medical treatment of Black women in prenatal and postnatal care. I learned that Black women and their newborns were dying at higher rates from lack of resources, inadequate health care and lack of advocacy during childbirth. I was alarmed at how much data was available and how long this issue has been overlooked while the mortality rates continue to rise. I also began to wonder exactly how many expecting women had been made aware of the benefits of having a doula, or whether expecting mothers were provided resources to afford the cost of having a doula, as most insurances don’t cover that service. From that point forward I became passionate about helping pregnant people get the proper resources they deserve and using my voice to advocate for issues I’m passionate about. As I started my master’s degree in social work and began exploring which population I’d like to work with, I gravitated towards women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
When I found Nurture, I was excited to find an organization doing work to close the gaps in proper resources as well as providing advocacy and educational opportunities that highlight the importance of how childbirth and pre- and post-natal care can impact mothers, infants, and their families. When I applied for the position, I thought about that day in class and how we need organizations like Nurture to serve as a much-needed liaison connecting pregnant and postpartum people and their families to the proper resources, education and support they need. I’m elated to be furthering my passion and career while having an opportunity to learn and help families.