Day 4… It’s My Turn…


My plan was to stay up until 8am GMT +4 (12 midnight my time) when I knew the  Day 4 presentations of the Sacred Postpartum Summit would be posted… My plan was to be the first person to view MY PRESENTATION… Why? Because I have this tendency to read or look at presentations that I give and not remember saying half of the things that come out of my mouth. I wanted to watch it while our side of the world was still asleep.

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When I saw my face on the page, I got excited and a little nervous. There have been an amazing array of birth workers from around the globe on Days 1-3. I have enjoyed gleaning from these knowledgeable, capable women.

I clicked on the video  and watched it. Sure enough, there were some statements that I made that may land on different ears in different ways. Anytime a person talks about the appropriation of Black culture and postpartum birth practices in the same presentation, there are bound to be diverse opinions about it… but I stand by every word I spoke.

You can still register for the Sacred Postpartum Summit to enjoy the last three days. And if you are a postpartum birth worker, you will learn so much that can enhance your postpartum knowledge and… It is FREE! Take some time to watch my presentation (along with the others) and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Google: “Black + Women + Pregnancy”


After doing a bit of research this morning, I am left wondering: At what point do we move from sounding the alarm about “black women and babies increasingly dying in childbirth”, to becoming complicit in co-creating a narrative that works against Black women, even if it is not our intention. I believe that there is a thin line between the two. Let me explain…

Google “Black women pregnancy” or even better, read the list below… but for the full effect, find a Black teenage girl to read this list to…

-Childbirth is killing black women: ‘This is a national problem’
-Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy…
-Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis
-Maternal health statistics staggering for black women
-Stillbirth Risk is Higher for Black Women
-How Racism Makes Pregnancy Dangerous for Black Women
-Why Do Black Women Experience More Pregnancy Loss?
-Pregnancy & Childbirth Are Killing Black Women. Here’s Why
-Exploring African Americans’ High Maternal and Infant Death Rates
-Why Are Black Women In The U.S. More Likely To Die During Or After Birth
-U.S. Women Are Dying of High-Risk Pregnancy Complication
-Black mothers are at greater risk for pregnancy + childbirth issues
-Black Women Are 3.5 Times More Likely to Die From Being Pregnant …
-Why Giving Birth Is Deadly for Black Women …
-Black Mothers and Babies at Higher Risk » Black Women’s Health …
-Racism in Health Care – For Black Women Who Become Pregnant, It’s …
-Black women in Virginia die in childbirth at 3 times the rate of any …
-Black Women Face Double the Risk of Pregnancy-Related Heart …
-Why Black Mothers and Babies Have the Worst Birth Outcome in the …
-Why are black mothers and infants far more likely to die in U.S. from …
-Why black women are more at risk of death related to childbirth…
-Study Confirms Black Women Are 3-4 Times More Likely to Die During Childbirth

And these were the only links listed under “African American families” for pregnant Black women provided on a popular pregnancy site classified as  “culturally relevant information”

-Black women and pregnancy: Fibroids
-Black women and pregnancy: Sickle cell disease
-Black women and pregnancy: Obesity
-Black women and pregnancy: High blood pressure

Seriously… could someone read this list to a teenage girl and let me know what her response is? (In my mind, I imagine there would be a disclaimer given to her before speaking these types of words to her.) I had my husband google the words and read them out loud and his response was, “What?!” I can only imagine what it would sound like to a African American teenage girl.


Initially, I searched “black women high risk pregnancy” and the above list is what came up on the first four pages. (That’s as far as I desired to go.) I began to wonder if I got those results because of the words “high risk”, so I simplified my search to “black women pregnancy”. The results were about the same and all of the articles were written in 2017 and 2018. (And in case you are wondering, content analysis  is kinda my thang as a researcher, so this is intriguing to me.)

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I also searched “Latina/Hispanic women pregnancy” and saw similar topics, but articles about pregnancy traditions and culture were also shown.

And then I searched “white women pregnancy” and both the articles about the Black women and the Latina/Hispanic women showed up again. My guess is that those articles about the statistics, disparities and discrimination were using white women as a reference point.

Only when “pregnancy” or “women pregnancy” or “women childbirth” were searched independently did I see the articles about knowing what to expect during pregnancy and childbirth, pregnancy calendars, information about the three trimesters of birth and all of the other things people seek when they are looking for pregnancy resources.


I had been wondering why I had been inundated with so many Black women from around the country who have been contacting me through my website telling me about how they had read about how Black women are dying in childbirth and saying that they felt like they wanted to get involved.

There is a part of me that is thrilled to see Black women inquiring about birth so frequently. I consider this a part of them answering “the call” that is often muffled in today’s culture and society. To me, when these Black women read about their sisters dying and look for ways to get involved, it is evidence of a divine call (of which I am familiar) that is part of a mandate we have always had as Black women in the United States to save ourselves.

However, there is another context that worries me. I know many of us are concerned about raising awareness about what is happening with Black women in birth today. Still, I wonder if we are aware of what is beginning to happen to our narrative via a basic Google search.

Often Black mothers desire to seek resources from a cultural context when they find out they are pregnant. In the words of the women who have contacted me: “I want to be with and learn from women who look like me.” If they search BLACK WOMEN PREGNANCY CHILDBIRTH or any other variation, this is the same list they will see!

There is something about this that vexes me… It reminds me of the saying: “All attention ain’t good attention.” I also heard someone say: “All intentions ain’t good intentions.” This is what concerns me. Beyond the awareness, what are the other intentions for all of this attention?



Okay… periodically, I am prone to a conspiracy theory or two. Tell me what you think about this one. Follow my train of thought…

  • Black women are being encouraged to return to the birth profession after half a century of legislation and regulations that almost made them obsolete (but not quite)
  • As Black women make their comeback in ALL THINGS BIRTH, the cry of Black women is finally heard and attention is finally turned toward the plight of Black women and babies in birth.
  • At the same time that attention is being given to maternal and infant mortality, and how the results are related to systemic racism as well as other stressors that are not as easily identified, Black women are, as a group, labeled HIGH RISK.
  • One could argue that the attention that is being given to Black women and babies dying in childbirth could serve as evidence against Black women as so many other statistics are used to confirm pathology in Black people.
  • And because people feel compelled to help in any way they can, there are efforts made to make sure that Black women are always offered the “best chance at successful birth”, and that would most likely be with medical doctors, not midwives. 
  • So then who are the Black women who are moving back into midwifery going to serve? If Black women are classified as “high risk” just because they are Black, how will Black women returning to birth work mean anything more than representation for Black women in the birth field?
  • Unless Black women become medical doctors, then they will only truly be supporting Black women as childbirth educators, labor/postpartum doulas, lactation counselors, in support groups, etc.

SERIOUSLY… Talk me off of this limb… How else can I look at this? I welcome and appreciate additional perspectives about this topic. 


I do not have any biological daughters, however, I tried to imagine how I would deal with this storyline if I was raising girls. How would I work to counteract this narrative and these words that are repeated and chanted over and over again to Black women almost as if they were affirmations.

I think I would do what I have been doing with the women that have been reaching out to me. I would acknowledge the statistics. And then I would begin to speak directly to the angst that had been conjured up in them after reading so many articles that painted a picture of Black women in America that are pathologically flawed, defective and destined to be unsuccessful in birth. And I would remind them that women of African descent have always faced challenges in this country, but that one major difference between Black women birthing now and in the past is that in the past Black women had knowledge and skills to take care of themselves and each other, even when we were not allowed into medical facilities for anything other than experimentation.

I would say to my biological daughters what I said to my sisters on a stage last year at the 2017 ProDoula “Speak Your Truth” Conference:

WE SAVE OURSELVES!
WE HEAL OURSELVES!
WE DON’T NEED OTHERS TO SAVE US!
YOU ARE THE ANSWER!
ANSWER THE CALL!

I have made that same invitation to Black women and women of color through Sankofa Birth Ambassador (SBA) Workshops as they reach out to me. These workshops are designed for those who feel called to birth, but are unsure where to begin.

At the conference, I challenged the majority white audience of women about how they spoke about us and what they said about us and our historical relationship to birth culture. Now, I am challenging us to be mindful of what we are saying about ourselves and the narrative we are co-writing in our society.


If you happen to be one of those women who ended up on this post because you googled BLACK + WOMEN + PREGNANCY and feel “the call” to get involved in birth so that we can move forward in our efforts to save ourselves, I CAN HELP YOU WITH THAT! (Send me a message on DrDoula.com)

And if you are a sister who is already doing the work and remaining steadfast in the mission of our ancestral mothers who healed our communities and sustained our families with their work as herbalists, midwives and healers with other “knowings”, I stand with you. Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment as you ANSWER THE CALL and provide a light for the paths of those who follow.

 

 

The Mis-Education of Birth Culture


“White people! White people! White people!”
“Why am I angry?”
“Why don’t I wanna deal with white women no more…?”
“I am angry because they act like I don’t exist…”
“That’s not my truth…”
“You won’t even acknowledge me…”
“You say you love me, but when you come to me, everything you tell me is about how frail I am and how weak I am…”
“If it was a man… that’s foundations for abuse and to continue to accept that…….”
“Some of the things being said sound… abusive…”
“Would you want to live with someone… would you want to be with someone, if they only saw your flaws?”
“If your only narrative that you can find moving forward has to do with ‘Black Maternal/Child Health and Mortality’… if you don’t find more that you can say… you ain’t my friend… I’m not gone play with you no more… ‘cause you don’t love me…”
“You say you think I’m great, but you don’t…”
“If you say you love me, don’t abuse me.”
“If you say you love me, I’m expecting to hear you talk about my greatness.”
“Just tell the truth.”

PDvideothumbnailIf you are surprised to see those phrases as the first words of my post, you are no more surprised than I was to hear the words coming out of my mouth as I watched the video from ProDoula’s “Speak Your Truth” Conference. “Why?” you may ask. Well, because (if you know me) then you know how measured I am with my words. If you know me then you would know that those frustrations I vocalized during the conference about birth culture in the U.S. are usually reserved for my closest and most intimate companions. And usually the only audience that I allow to hear my innermost TRUTH about these types of things or how I really feel are other Black people.

How appropriate that the conference was titled Speak Your Truth.

So here is another bit of TRUTH that I have only shared with my husband. (Not even Randy Patterson knows this.) When Randy first asked me to be the Keynote Speaker at the conference, I was hesitant. Again, you may ask. “Why?” Well, because I had vowed I would never talk about Black maternal and child mortality again. I had ZERO aspirations of talking about dying Black women and babies for an hour.

First of all, I know that there are scores of women of African descent that are championing efforts. They are constantly working to make sure that inequities and inequalities in birth culture that propagate negative outcomes for Black women and babies are addressed properly through legislation, the medical system and any other area needed. But I also noticed something else that has crept into birth culture.

What I noticed is that at first (as recently as five years ago) birth culture was fighting the use of language that specified African Americans’ challenges in birth, then SUDDENLY it became acceptable to speak about it as a major reason that birth culture needed to be overhauled. And SUDDENLY that was ALL the majority culture wanted to talk about when they talked about Black women. Our STRUGGLE had become normalized and accepted as OUR NARRATIVE and OUR TRUTH by many. That is only the smallest part of our story.

But I never told Randy all of that when she asked me to be the speaker. In fact, we chatted by Skype several times over the summer, before and after my volunteer birth work in the Dominican Republic.

I mentioned being hesitant earlier in this post, but I did not tell the full reason why I was cautious. The complete TRUTH was that I was concerned that there would be a point where ProDoula might request to know exactly what I planned to say during my Keynote.

I ran scenarios in my mind of what I would do or say if anyone demanded to know what I would be speaking about… None of the scenarios ended well. I can’t say I had a cause to be cautious about sharing it with Randy outside of my own personal baggage. So why was (is) that so important to me?

  • Because I value my investment into my mind and my intellectual property is one of my most prized assets in life.
  • Because my experience and history has shown that Black people do not always get credit for their work when they share it. (i.e. The Patent Office).
  • Because I do not desire my thoughts and words to be censored.
  • Because I know that my TRUTH requires some statements like those found at the beginning of this post.
  • Because there was no way I was going to justify myself and my experiences at a Conference called ‘Speak Your Truth.’

This was all happening in the late Spring and early Summer of 2017 after statements had been made that were offensive to many African American birth workers about the topic of Black maternal and infant mortality. Some Black birth workers had decided to be DONE with white women in birth work and their organizations, especially those who proclaim Ina May Gaskin to be the ‘Mother of Midwifery’ and other white women as the originators of birth support in this country.

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Randy never asked for specifics about my speech. And the fact that she didn’t ask made me even more nervous, because I knew as her friend that she was trusting me with something that is extremely precious to her: the membership of ProDoula.

As if that wasn’t enough, when I arrived at the ProDoula Conference, I was (literally) cornered by a few of the Black doulas. There were a couple who stared me in the eyes and said matter-of-factly, “You know YOU are the reason we are here, right?” “Ummm… huh, really?” was the best answer I could muster. They had no problem repeating what they had said and explaining themselves further. Another Black doula later said, “I am here to see if you are the REAL DEAL or if ProDoula just brought you here to get us to come.” Blink! BLINK!*

 

How was I to respond to that? These sisters had come with a certain expectation and NOW I was REALLY NERVOUS! How can one talk about Black women in birth without talking about the STUFF that is usually only reserved for family? When I asked them if they had my back, I meant it as a serious question. In retrospect, I believe I was able to speak TRUTH because of the energy I felt from those melanated women who had stood up front on that stage. I could feel them holding me up. I knew that they understood that for Black women, our TRUTH is not always welcomed, because it disrupts the fallacy of what many in the majority culture have been told is the TRUTH.

I have watched the video Erica created a few times now. I am finding myself referring to the speaker as “she” and “her” as opposed to “I” and “me”… It’s a little strange hearing myself say so much of my TRUTH so publically. I am still amazed that the ProDoula membership received me and my challenging message so well.

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The other piece of OVERWHELMEDNESS occurred after I left the conference. Randy called me a week after the conference ended and told me that Erica would like to come for a visit to get some additional video of me. YIKES! Both Randy and I have stayed in each others homes before, so the visiting was not a huge deal. What was a MAJOR deal was that THERE WAS MORE that Erica wanted to film of my life. I wondered what she could possibly hope to see or observe in my everyday life that could enhance what I had spoken about at the conference?

I will be honest. I have worked with many people who have not had the capacity to retain messaging through the editing process. I had no idea what to expect from Erica’s work, even though I understood that my almost two hour message would need to be edited down to a manageable length.

I sat with my husband and watched the video. Afterwards we looked at each other and said, “She did it…” I cannot fully express how it feels to know that even through the editing process, Erica was able to preserve this very challenging and necessary message, so that it can be shared with a larger audience.

When Randy asked me to speak at the ProDoula Conference, she only made one request. She said (and I will paraphrase a bit) that she didn’t want the ProDoula members to simply hear a keynote speech, but that she wanted to provoke them to action once they left. She acknowledged ProDoula’s effectiveness in equipping individuals to build sustainable businesses, but she also said she wanted to mobilize them in a different way. She said, “I want them to feel something after they leave the ProDoula Conference and I believe you are able to make that happen.”

There are seldom times when organizations with non-Black leadership are willing to promote a message that is important to Black people without making an effort to censor it to make it palpable to a more mainstream audience. ProDoula has remained true to form and trail blazed along a different path.

The last message I received from Randy today said: Let’s just get the message out there every and any way we can!”

Randy (because I know you will eventually read this post),

  • For the confidence placed in me to SPEAK TRUTH to the ProDoula membership…
  • For the honor you placed on the descendants of women of African descent who managed and maintained birth in this country for hundreds of years…
  • For the investments you chose to make that allowed the message to be preserved…
  • For the part you, Jerry and Erica played in helping share a message of TRUTH with a broader audience that may never have an opportunity to hear it…

I speak these blessings over you:

  • May your businesses continue to grow and prosper.
  • May your platform expand with each effort you make to leave birth better than you found it for all women.
  • May you be granted the deepest desires of your heart as you seek the highest good for others.

ASÉ! (IT IS SO!)