By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — It is no exaggeration to call Kindred Space LA an oasis.
The interior of the Hyde Park birthing center is spacious and light with high ceilings, brick and wood walls, and frosted-glass windows. The furniture is artful, yet inviting enough to look nap-worthy.
It is warm, cozy and inviting — a tone that co-owners Kimberly Durdin and Allegra Hill set for the work that they do there, providing home birth services and hospital birth support, conducting childbirth and lactation classes, and facilitating support groups for parents and families.
It is a dream that the two midwives brought to life last July when they opened the business, and a vision they are trying to grow for a safe and welcoming place for women in the area to birth children.
“We wanted to be in South L.A., because our mission has always been to provide midwifery services to underserved communities — particularly communities that are experiencing the most infant mortality,” Durdin said.
Black newborns are three times more likely to die within a year of their birth than white babies, and Black mothers die in pregnancy, during childbirth or soon afterwards at a similar rate, compared to whites. Durdin said the rate can be up to 12 times higher, depending upon the state.
It is these statistics that have propelled both women in their work.
Hill was a midwife when she and Durdin, a lactation consultant, met several years ago at a
birthing center that has since closed. They struck up a friendship and realized their work was complimentary, so each mentored the other in her specialty.
In 2018 they founded a birth education and lactation business in Ladera Heights, which quickly became popular. They facilitated a full roster of parenting groups that provided information, support and other resources, including lactation education.
“Last year at this time we were still in that space and having a plethora of group meetings, and getting busier and busier,” Durdin said. “We were loving every minute.”
They had planned to found a birthing center, and had begun looking for a location in January 2020.
“I had graduated midwifery school in December 2019, and I was studying for my licensing exam,” Durdin said. “We figured we’d start looking for spaces, but we didn’t see anything we liked and put it on the back burner when we got so busy.”
Last March 10 was a busy day that included the commencement of a new support group for mothers and a photography session with parents and their newborns. The next day the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold, and businesses began to shut down. Hill and Durdin were left with no choice but to do the same.
“Everything we did was group-based, except for private appointments,” Durdin said.
As they sheltered in place, Hill and Durdin found themselves busier than ever, as current and new clients clamored for support.
“Our phone never stopped ringing that week,” Durdin said. “We probably received 5-10 (out of) hospital birth inquiries per day for months from that point on. A lot of people were running scared. Many would never have thought of an out of hospital birth before.”
They switched their in-person sessions to virtual ones, gave up their rented space, and began pushing again to find a location for their birthing center. They hired a realtor who was good at finding hidden gems, and eventually, she found the building on Southwest Drive. Though it was close to Durdin’s residence, she and Hill balked at first.
“I had seen [the businesses] that had been here before,” Durdin said. “I said ‘no way,’ When I first lived here, it was a pot store. Then it was a bail bonds place, then it seemed boarded up. The person who bought the building changed the whole facade.”
When the landlord’s deal with another prospective tenant fell through, Hill and Durdin’s realtor swooped in and toured the space. She sent a video to them.
“It had everything we wanted — water hookups, a washer and dryer, the right square footage,” Durdin said. “It was considered a work-live space. So we signed our lease and moved in by July.”
Durdin said she and Hill consider the opportunities presented by the pandemic as a sort of divine timing, as both the area where they used to do business and where they are now are among the areas with the highest Black infant and maternal mortality rates in the area.
“We moved into the very area we wanted to serve,” Durdin said.
Kindred Space support and education services can begin at conception. The most critical portion of their care comes after birth, which Durdin said is largely neglected in mainstream medical care.
“The postpartum is a forgotten time period, especially as Black people,” she said. “We have been telling our community the lie that once you have the baby, things go back to normal. A lot of women are going back to work two, three weeks after birth. Six weeks is too early to go back, in our opinion.”
Durdin said women need support to shake off the societal pressure to go back to work quickly, and take time to heal and recover from birth instead.
“Why women are dying is that they’re trying to do too much too soon, and they don’t know what medical issues to look for after birth,” Durdin said. “The only visit they’re getting in mainstream care is seeing a physician six weeks after birth. But a lot can happen after birth.”
Complications can include hemorrhaging, and a condition called preeclampsia, characterized by a rise in blood pressure during pregnancy that can result in organ damage.
“If moms don’t have an awareness of what to look for, that’s where we lose them,” Durdin said.
They see clients four times after birth, and if all is well after six weeks, they can take comfort in being a guiding force.
“Knowing we’ve helped folks in what can be a challenging part of their lives, especially with the pandemic and the fears of going to hospital anyway — it feels good to be able to be able to provide that alternative,” Durdin said.
She and Hill are focusing on providing higher quality service to fewer clients for now, as they slowly build their business. They plan to bring on more midwives, which will help them ease their own workloads. They have also started raising funds for the fees it will cost them to become part of the Medi-Cal and managed care systems, which will make them more accessible to clients.
“One of the reasons why it’s challenging to start [a business] like this is the amount of malpractice insurance we have to have to be considered to be in network,” Durdin said. “In order to be in network and provide access to our community, those are the places we’ve had to put our money where our mouth is. You have to have someone to help you fill out applications. You have to have the budget to play the game.”
Out of the $300,000 they are seeking via their gofundme page, “KindredBirthCenter,” they have raised more than $139,000. They will press on until they reach their goal, while at the same time working hard — virtually, for now — to provide services from their new location.
“We’re so proud of it,” Durdin said. “We’re one of the only birth centers in L.A., and we’re the only one in South L.A.”
Funds can be donated to Kindred Space through https://gofund.me/1b80ffeb.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.