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ParentMap 2018 Superhero Dila Perera: The Healer

A Q&A with the executive director of Open Arms Perinatal Services

Published on: March 30, 2018

Dila Perera
Photo:
Dila Perera and her daughter Anzara. Photo credit: Will Austin

Every new parent knows that pregnancy, birth and the early months of a baby’s life can be some of the most challenging times in parenthood. Add in complications, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation and things only get more difficult. Having support is essential to surviving.  

But not everyone has it, particularly women of color.

“Mothers and babies of color are sometimes two to four times more likely to die in childbirth or to die in the first 28 days of life here in King County, depending on their race,” says Dila Perera, executive director of Open Arms Perinatal Services

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women of color to receive less support from perinatal care providers. Last year, tennis star Serena Williams made headlines when she almost died after giving birth when her health care team refused to take her concerns seriously. It’s a situation many women of color of all economic situations can relate to. “This is simply not something we should tolerate in the 21st century,” says Perera.

That’s why Perera is such a fierce advocate for at-risk families in the Puget Sound area through her work with Open Arms, a nonprofit focused on supporting women through pregnancy, birth and early childhood parenting. Each year, Open Arms serves more than 300 pregnant women and their infants by assigning doulas to families in need (the organization primarily serves Medicaid-eligible families in King County, with its service growing in Pierce, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.)

Though Perera has worked in public health and advocacy locally and internationally, she says she still believes “small organizations, even when working with minimal resources, are the most effective at creating lasting and transformational change.” Supporting new mothers and infants through Open Arms is the most rewarding work she’s done, Perera adds. 

It’s not hard to see why: The support her team provides saves lives.

What’s the most misunderstood part of your job?

It can be hard to believe that in a community with so much wealth that some families can thrive and others face incredible challenges, especially when it comes to health, pregnancy, birth and the loss of a child. A healthy beginning for children should not be something that some parents have to wish for. It should be a right.   

What’s one small action our readers can take in their own lives to make positive change happen?

We live on through our children and through children in our lives. Even if you are not a parent, you were a child once. Do your best to enrich the life of one young person in our community. If you are a parent, do your best to nurture your attachment with your child, which will then carry on to future generations.    

Best advice for kids with big ambition?

Tell them you will do what you can to help them do what they want to do. Help them think through the steps they need to take to reach their goal. 

How can our local readers get involved with Open Arms?

There are a variety of ways you can support Open Arms, from becoming one of our highly qualified, culturally versatile doulas to donating to attending our April 5 fundraiser, Resilience and Community Begin at Birth.

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