“Thank goodness there are some Black women here!” Those were the first words I heard Marianne Littlejohn say as Zee and I found seats. We all giggled at the remark. I told them I am accustomed to being one of the few or the only Black person at birth workshops and conferences I attend in the U.S. and asked if they usually have more Black women in attendance? Several of the women replied: No… It is the same way here… There are mainly white women at these workshops.
Zee had told me that the situation in South Africa was similar to that the U.S. where few Black women were involved in birth work, but I didn’t believe her. She said that even among African midwives there were cultural changes that did not allow African women to benefit from more recent practices that promote gentle birth. How is it possible in a place where 80% of the population is Black African?
It is shameful that Black midwives have played such a prominent and sustaining role in childbirth historically (only 50-60 years ago) yet they are almost non-existent in the 21st century. It is sad that for many Black women, should they desire to birth with someone who looks like them, that option would not be available. How does that happen in only half a century?
I have always believed that in a different life… Under different circumstances and in simpler times, I would have been a midwife. When my children were younger, I considered disregarding my B.S. in Mathematics and my Masters in Education and beginning my education all over again to become a midwife. At a cellular level, I know that I have been called and purposed to connect with women and girls in this way.
In my real life current situation, however, I know the bureaucracy that surrounds birth and that is not for me. Birth is considered a medical emergency by many. Women are treated as if they have an illness for which the only cure is the birth of the baby. So women may be rushed and their births medicalized to the point where many women no longer believe they can experience childbirth as more than a passive observer. While infant and maternal mortality rates have definitely decreased over the past 100 years with the medical advancements, one would be hard pressed to find a balanced and holistic approach to childbirth in many areas of broader society.
I was grateful to be in attendance at Marianne’s workshop with the other midwives and doulas. Resolving a shoulder dystocia is primarily the responsibility of the medical professional tending to the mother, still I am grateful for the additional knowledge that will allow me to be a better support for mothers. I was appreciative of the opportunity to learn with other individuals who are persevering beyond the obstacles to help women birth in hospitals, in birth centers and (if they choose) in their own homes.
Here are some highlights from the workshop:
One day, Zinzile and I ventured to Sophiatown for a mid-day snack. From what I understand, I imagine that Sophiatown was similar to Harlem in its historical context to jazz music and culture among Blacks.
A quick wikipedia glance states this: “Sophiatown was a legendary black cultural hub that was destroyed under apartheid… it was the epicentre of politics, jazz and blues during the 1940s and 1950s. It produced some of South Africa’s most famous writers, musicians, politicians and artists.” A google search could provide you with more information.
Gene asked me about the Museum Africa shown in the photos. He had looked it up on Google Map and told me it looked interesting. I did not visit that day. That will be a special destination for me and Gene on our next visit to South Africa.
While we were there, Zee introduced me to some South African cuisine… And she let me try a bit of something she ordered…
I always torture my third son Andreu when he is being picky about his food. I say: “You have to be open to trying different types of foods because when you travel to other countries one day, people may eat different types of food.” Go figure…
It was Zee’s birthday and she had been talking about this dish all day… She had such a taste for it… She told me about how kids sometimes take them to school for snacks… She tried to describe the taste to me… (I think) she said they kinda tasted like wood… I did not ask Zee how she knew what wood tasted like… And for the life of me, I cannot remember if it actually tasted like wood.
Well… Here is the menu… and the plate is pictured above… You get three guesses which dish I tasted and your first two guesses don’t count.
I’ll say this… I hear it’s a great source of protein. I tried it… Not bad… It didn’t kill me…
But um… chitterlings (or as we call them chittlins)… Yeah… still not really fond of those…
While I was at Marianne’s midwifery workshop, I noticed that all of the dolls that were being used in the workshop were brown babies. The babies were actually brown like me. I mentioned it under my breath once, “Wow… brown babies…” Some women laughed.
When I actually held one of the dolls, I mentioned it again, “Oh wow… This baby is almost as dark as I am…”
Once we completed an exercise and I had “birthed” my little brown baby through shoulder dystocia, and they had placed the doll in my arms, I said, “Ohhh… Look at you… I am just IN LOVE with this little brown baby! And all of my babies came out very light. I wish I could find these in the U.S.”
A couple of the women looked at me strange and perplexed…
Marianne said, “You know those were ordered from the U.S.?”
“What? Really?” I replied.
“Yes…” she and another midwife answered.
“I can never find brown dolls in the U.S.” I said. They went on to tell me where I could order them.
Funny thing… I can’t find the paper where I wrote down the information. I have tried Googling childbirth education resources/supplies/dolls/models… I added “black” and “brown”…
I was just about to give up, because (once again) all I saw was pink babies… But wait… I think I found one… Look at this little cutie from Birth International… I can get it shipped directly to my home… From AUSTRALIA!
If any of you that work in childbirth know where they are hiding the brown childbirth education dolls in the U.S., please let me know in the comment section.