Happy Black Maternal Health Week (one week late)! I wrote this post with plans to publish it last week. However, a bit disorganization on my part, and supporting someone through a longggg, hard birth kept me from doing so. I apologize for my tardiness, and have decided to post regardless of being late because of the importance of this topic.
What is Black Maternal Health Week you ask? This week is “founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to build awareness, activism, and community-building to amplify the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black Mamas and birthing people.”
This week is especially important to me as a birth worker because an inextricable link exists between birth and social justice. Birth happens at an intersection in many peoples lives that creates a distinct before and after; it is always a vulnerable time and arguably more so for individuals already marginalized by the US healthcare system. This event also involves every part of a person- their background, cultural practices, appearance, spirituality, health circumstances and more. Birth leaves an impact that people remember and feel for the rest of their life.
I want to take a few minutes to recognize the importance of this week, and to highlight a few amazing individuals and organizations doing great work to improve outcomes for Black families.
Today, Black mothers and babies are more likely to die or experience harm during childbirth and the first year of life than their white counter parts. Obstetrics has a long history of harming Black and Brown people. Enslaved women suffered through experimentation without consent and without anesthesia, white male doctors silenced Grand Midwives and forced them out of practice, the eugenics movement forced sterilizations on some Black and Brown people and abused birth control to push forward the agenda of eugenics. Medical and midwifery text books lack illustrations of Black and Brown skin, which can lead to missing diagnosis, and therefore missing treatments for some conditions. False beliefs about a higher pain tolerance for Black people, or assumptions about drug use, marital status, and the intentions of a pregnancy contribute to micro aggressions that harm BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) families.
These aren’t problems of the past. America still sits deep in the pit of this crisis, and our society MUST do all we can to improve outcomes for birthing people and newborns. It’s very important to recognize that the root cause of higher rates of mortality and morbidity for BIPOC families is racism.
While uncomfortable and challenging, all people can work to practice anti-racism. I am committed to practicing anti-racism. A few ways to practice anti-racism include acknowledging our own biases, building relationships with people who don’t look like us, practicing disowning the ways of the past, and admitting when we mess up. Finally, it is so important to advocate with and uplift the voices of those who ultimately have the solution for keeping BIPOC families alive and thriving- BIPOC families and birth workers themselves.
An evidence-based solution to the Black Maternal Health Crisis is Black-led midwifery care and Black-led doula care. When people receive care from people with shared lived experiences, outcomes improve. There are so many amazing organizations and individuals working on this, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to uplift their work. Take this week as a great opportunity to start or continue your own internal work of anti racism and get more familiar with organizations and individuals combating the Black Maternal Health Crisis.
Evidence Based Birth recently published an article that dives deep into The Evidence on Anti-Racism in Health Care and Birth Work. They also have a Birth Justice page that lists a wide variety of resources for learning about anti-racism. This page also includes a list of organizations that are fighting this fight all over the country.
Jamaa Birth Village is providing Black led midwifery and doula care to families of color in the St. Louis area.
Birthing You started the Ruth Wilson birth fund to offer low cost doula care to BIPOC families in need in the St. Louis area.
M-Brace Birthing also started a fund to offer low and no cost doula care to families in need.
The St. Louis Doula Project works to provide access to full spectrum doula support and education for people in the St. Louis area.
I challenge everyone to take some action that aligns with you this week: learn about the work of the organizations above, share their work, or contribute any extra funds. Let’s honor this week and carry the mission of anti-racism with us daily through the next year.