Knoxville, TN – Maternal-fetal outcomes in East Tennessee rank among the worst in the nation, and a new nonprofit aims to change that.

“We are seeing so many pregnant women who are at a total disadvantage in terms of being able to carry a baby to term and then raise that baby in a healthy home,” explains Alissa Claxton, Executive Director and Founder of Open Heart Doula.

Whether it is due to drug addiction, difficult family situations, language and culture barriers, or extreme poverty, many women in East Tennessee are at risk for giving birth to premature, sick, or low birth weight babies, and these mothers are also more likely to be involved in child neglect or abuse situations.

“The word doula comes from a Greek word meaning “bondservant” or “slave” in Greek, and that is the posture we take with our clients,” says Claxton. “We pour ourselves into serving these mamas to give them everything they need so that their families can thrive.”

Established in 2009, Open Heart Doula, a group of birth educators and labor and postpartum professionals, supports women from pregnancy through well after the baby is born. Offering healthy pregnancy classes, labor and delivery support, and in-home help during the weeks after delivery, the doulas at Open Heart are responding to the maternity crisis in Tennessee by serving the very women who are most at risk. This care has been proven in numerous studies to reduce rates of caesarean sections, childbirth complications, NICU admissions, and postpartum depression.

Open Heart’s referrals come from medical providers as well as ministries like Hope Resource Center and The Restoration House. “We are establishing strategic partnerships with other nonprofits, service providers, churches and individuals in order to broaden and deepen everyone’s impact on these vulnerable lives,” says Lauren Cowart, Community Relations Director. “We are also in a season of aggressively pursuing sources of funding so that we do not have to turn any woman away.”

Open Heart also runs The WellHouse on Middlebrook Pike, a community resource center offering counseling, breastfeeding help, chiropractic services and a variety of classes. A classroom space there is available for rental for parties, showers, or classes.

On Saturday, March 5 from 5-8 pm, Open Heart Doula invites the community to their Second Annual Daddy-Daughter Dance Fundraiser at The Foundry. Tickets and more information are available at All proceeds from ticket sales and donations fund Open Heart Doula’s work with vulnerable women.