Personality: Stephanie Spencer

Meet the founder, executive director of Urban Baby Beginnings

3/21/2024, 6 p.m.
For years, Stephanie Spencer has worked to build a better future for mothers. A lifetime of experiences – from working …

For years, Stephanie Spencer has worked to build a better future for mothers. A lifetime of experiences – from working in the medical system as a nurse to becoming a mother herself – has contributed to her growing knowledge of maternal issues, particularly for Black women.

The things Ms. Spencer has learned are a reminder of the work that’s needed to aid mothers and families who are caring for vulnerable new lives.

“Witnessing the struggles faced by pregnant and new mothers, coupled with my own journey through motherhood, illuminated the critical need for comprehensive support and resources during this pivotal time in a woman’s life,” Ms. Spencer said recently.

To that end, in 1994, Ms. Spencer founded a nonprofit organization that’s focused on early childhood education — Urban Baby Beginnings. Maternal care, however, wasn’t a major focus of the group’s mission and Ms. Spencer wasn’t the only one worried about how expecting and new mothers were supported at the time.

When local mothers and community members shared with her their own concerns about maternal care and the need for solutions more than a decade ago, she responded by transforming Urban Baby Beginnings and its mission in 2015 to one more focused on the critical issue of maternal care.

Urban Baby Beginnings now encompasses a wider range of care for expecting and new mothers, including wellness support, doula services, lactation specialists and maternal health community hubs in locations that include Richmond, Newport News, Petersburg and Norfolk.

“Urban Baby Beginnings embodies my unwavering dedication to ensuring that every mother, regardless of background or circumstance, receives the care, education and advocacy she deserves to navigate pregnancy and motherhood with dignity, empowerment and optimal health,” Ms. Spencer said.

“It’s more than just an organization; it’s a reflection of my deepest values and a tangible manifestation of my commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of others,” she added.

Nearly a decade after the organization’s transition into its new mission, Ms. Spencer is as committed as ever, even as many challenges still exist for maternal care and the health systems meant to provide it.

Ms. Spencer has continued to see issues in connecting local and state-level organizations with health systems and building relationships and trust with families. She believes more work needs to be done to make sure there is authentic community engagement to transform how the maternal community is supported.

“Transformation doesn’t mean we have a new hospital, that’s great and all,” Ms. Spencer said. “Transformation in a community means something totally different; it’s really empowering people and giving them the resources and tools and putting them at the forefront of conversations about themselves.”

Ms. Spencer is clear that there needs to be a willingness, as individuals and a community, to engage in this matter to ensure meaningful change. And while Urban Baby Beginning’s new mission was carried out without much initial support, she has seen firsthand the benefits of the public’s growing awareness of the issues in maternal care.

With a new maternal care hub opening in Petersburg last year and further projects underway, she said more and more people in the community understand the importance of maternal care. She said those same people are helping to build a better future for mothers.

“I do think that there is a shift that’s happening, and it’s happening because the community is pushing the envelope on making sure that people understand that they are a priority,” Ms. Spencer said. She added: “But there’s a long way that we need to go to get to where I think we’re trying to, and that’s really going to require that we don’t give up, don’t get tired and that we don’t allow the same conversations to start happening.”

Meet a leader working to improve maternal care in Virginia and this week’s Personality, Stephanie Spencer:

Volunteer position: Founder of Urban Baby Beginnings.

Occupation: Executive director.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in leadership studies, Virginia State University.

Family: Three children, a grandchild and my significant other.

What is Urban Baby Beginnings (UBB): A maternal health system that provides support to pregnant and postpartum moms and their children up to the age of 2 through UBB’s maternal health hubs.

When and why I founded the organization: The inception of UBB in 2015 was catalyzed by a transformative life experience many years prior, propelling me to broaden our mission beyond early childhood education. Recognizing significant gaps in essential services for pregnant and new mothers, informed by both personal experiences and observations within the communities we served, I was spurred to action. These gaps manifested in alarming disparities leading to adverse outcomes in pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care.

Location of hubs: Richmond, Norfolk, Newport News and Petersburg.

Why UBB is meaningful to me: Urban Baby Beginnings holds profound personal significance for me due to its origins rooted in a life-altering experience from years ago.

This endeavor represents not only a response to tragedy but also a testament to resilience and the transformative power of empathy. Witnessing the struggles faced by pregnant and new mothers, coupled with my own journey through motherhood, illuminated the critical need for comprehensive support and resources during this pivotal time in a woman’s life.

No. 1 goal for UBB: To ensure that mothers are valued, supported and cared for with the highest quality of care.

Biggest challenge: Pushing to transform broken systems of care that are impacting outcomes for our moms and babies. This is hard work!

No. 1 joy I have witnessed since founding UBB: The sense of community and resiliency despite these obstacles.

How UBB is funded: UBB receives support from foundations, donations, private grants and is a Medicaid provider.

How to connect with UBB if you’re an expectant mom: Moms should go to our website at www.urbanbabybeginnings.org and select “Refer Now.”

Other ways to get involved: Volunteer, donate and share stories to help get the word out about how important it is to support our moms and babies.

The three words that best describe me: Insightful, transparent and loving.

Best late-night snack: Cookies!

My music playlist: Anything peaceful.

I love to: Watch Hallmark movies!!

A quote that inspires me: “Real change is driven by the strength of our collective voices and the convictions of our hearts.” — Michelle Obama

The best thing my parents ever taught me: The only person that can hold you down is yourself. Keep loving yourself and pushing forward. Don’t let anyone deter you from where you are trying to go.

The person who influenced me the most: My mother.

Book that influenced me the most: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama is so inspiring because it reminds me of the potential for personal growth, resilience and impact, regardless on background or circumstances. It encourages reflection on my own journey, to embrace my authenticity, and strive to make a positive difference in the world.

Next goal: To create a legacy so UBB lives on past me.