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.


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.


What a Difference a Boat Ride Makes

6With SIX DAYS left before I leave, I have been thinking about the Dominican and Haitian women I will be serving. I am thinking about our similarities more than our differences… not just as women, but as women of African descent.

I know all do not acknowledge African heritage across the island, none the less, there are those who do. And I also acknowledge that there is no difference between those Africans that were sent to Hispaniola and those sent to mainland North America.

In an effort to break their wills and ensure dependency of the enslaved on their oppressors, it is well known that one of the techniques used to weaken familial bonds and resistance from enslaved Africans was to split up families and sell them in different places. That means that the greatest difference between myself and the women I will be serving is where our ancestors were disembarkedwhere they got off the boat.

Across the island, there are areas where, similar to the U.S. mainland, there is a variation of shades of complexions. In the case of Hispaniola, the delineations in hues and shades can be seen in the stark contrast between the people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Regardless of how these separations are made in different countries based on historical political context, culture, language, etc., I still see the commonalities. And for those who are experiencing poverty and economic depravity… I am reminded that we are (literally) the same people even in our diversity.

For me, this why your financial support is so meaningful and important. You are helping me reach out to support family during “the most powerful and most vulnerable” time in these women’s lives – CHILDBIRTH.

You can contribute to this work here –>

Here is some additional information about the work I will be doing while in the Dominican Republic. 

I will be a part of a team of nine birth professionals volunteering at Hospital Presidente Estrella Ureña in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. I and three other women will be working the night shift from 11pm – 7am shift each day.

The conditions and the treatment the women receive at the hospital is below what most would consider unacceptable. The moms and newborns have only what they walk in with unless their families provide for them. We will seek to offer material comforts through the provision of sheets for the beds, water, and some ‘luxury’ items as gifts for mom and baby. These luxury items will include a small bar of soap, underwear, sanitary pads, and a toothbrush for the mothers; and a onesie, socks, a receiving blanket and a few diapers for the newborns.

Both the mothers and their newborns are often treated in ways that many would consider inhumane. The women deliver in a room with 10 other beds, sometimes two women to a cot. They birth in their street clothes, on a plastic bed, without food or water, and with no loved ones or support at their side; and they may be separated from their babies for up to 24 hours. We will be working around the clock shifts to bring comfort, support, and love to these women and babies.

Continued blessings, love, peace and light for your path.


#DR2017 Countdown… Let’s Stay Connected!

I know… I know… I have not written a post for such a long time, but as I prepare for birth work in the Dominican Republic I realize IT’S TIME TO RECONNECT! I am writing this post to invite you to travel on this journey with me to the Dominican Republic via this blog. I would love to share my experiences with you and receive feedback from you while I am there. You can FOLLOW THIS BLOG by entering your email in the sidebar.

I will only have WiFi during certain parts of the day because of my volunteer schedule. Of course, when I was in South Africa, I hoped to be able to share more and experienced some issues with connection. The Dominican Republic is also prone to power outages, still I will do my best to keep in touch.

So many things have happened in the interim that I shall surely take time to share in due time. Right now, I have my eyes focused toward birth work I will be embarking upon in the Dominican Republic NEXT WEEK! YIKES! I will be supporting Dominican and Haitian mothers during birth in the DR from July 20 – August 3, 2017. You can learn more about the trip, the work I will be doing, and how you can support my work here.

I have been collecting material and financial donations for the past two months and the response has been OVERWHELMING! People have been SO GENEROUS toward this endeavor. You can see a partial list of the 150+ POUNDS OF MATERIAL DONATIONS that have been collected below.

Please consider making a financial donation toward this work! THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!

This is the latest #DR2017 donations update. I AM ONLY NINE (9) DAYS AWAY FROM DEPARTURE! WHOO HOO!!! LOOK WHAT YOU DID.png