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.


Being DARK when Complexion Matters

There is ONE DAY before I leave for Hispaniola, but can I be honest about something? I have had some experiences in other countries that have made me a bit apprehensive about what the experience will be like doing this work in the Dominican Republic… especially when told that the Haitian women are treated a bit harsher than the Dominican women.

I already hear some saying, “Why are you even concerned with color?” or “It is only an issue if you make it one…” I would encourage you to expand your exposure to experiences broader than your own.

As I travel, I am finding that before I speak, people classify me. It happens in the U.S. as well, but it is different when I travel abroad. These experiences have spoken volumes to me about how I view myself, by the way… especially after growing up with people asserting how much continental “Africans don’t like African Americans.” One reason why I have embraced and emphasized the identifications that include “African” is because (while on the continent) before I opened my mouth, continental Africans embraced me as African and tried to figure out where I was from on the continent.

So far, my passport has been stamped in two countries: South Africa and Qatar. Gene and I traveled through Qatar last year on our way to South Africa and decided to spend the night. Gene IS ADVENTUROUS so he wanted to get out and walk around. I was noticeably the darkest melanated person outside of a gentleman working at the hotel.

I noticed that people looked at us a bit as we went in and out of stores. We went to what was the equivalent of a Currency Exchange to get some money because Gene wanted to go into shops and try some authentic food. We happened to be there during their prayer time, so we had to wait for the tellers to come back to their posts. We don’t speak Arabic, so it was quite the experience finding someone that could help us.

Anyway, when we arrived at a dessert parlor, Hadhim Dates & Treats, we chose our desserts and as the young man was checking us out he said to me, “You from Nigeria?” My husband explained briefly that we were from the United States. Hmmm… I began to understand that he saw my husband as one who may be from the area (somewhere in the Middle East), but saw me as an African. He assumed that my husband had gone and gotten him an African bride.

The next morning, we caught our flight and continued on to South Africa. Anyone who is familiar with South Africa’s racial classifications knows that there are people who may have the complexion of my husband or darker that are not classified as Black, but Coloured. (Coloured people are lighter complexioned or mixed race people, and had certain privileges Black Africans did not have during Apartheid.) That was a different experience for Gene. He was even told that he could identify as Coloured if he wanted to… He didn’t like that… It left him feeling out of sorts.

We even noticed that when Afrikaans people (and others considered white in South African) heard our “American accent,” they were enamored by it and us. They admired that we were from the United States. And before our eyes we watched these individuals change their interactions with us and begin to smile and treat us better than our South African family that was hosting us. We didn’t like that either. We are no different than Mama Maureen and our family that hosted us. We are the same people.

In both of these contexts in foreign countries, I understood that my deep complexion caused them to identify me as a Black African and my relationship with Gene as an interracial one.

I am not sure what context I am likely to face when I visit the island of Hispaniola. Hispaniola was the first island inhabited by European explorers and there is a unique dynamic that occurs there between the left one-third of the island and the right two-thirds of the island. Haiti is on the left side of the island and there is very little variation in skin tone compared to the Dominican Republic on the right side of the island which has been a country of people mixed with European, African, and Native American blood for centuries. Haiti and the Dominican Republic sit side by side on an island with histories as juxtaposed as the phenotypes of the people in the two countries. (Haiti has a rich history that influenced land acquisition in the U.S. that you can read about HERE.)

I wonder what THIS experience will be like for me… or will I experience anything noteworthy  at all? Will I be identified by my dark complexion and be classified based on the social contexts of the island of Hispaniola? Lol… I am sure they will know soon enough when I struggle to communicate beyond saying, “Mwen rele… Andrea…”

I am OPEN to this new experience.
I am OPEN to broadening my understanding about people and their cultures.
I am OPEN to learning more about myself and how I can best position myself in this world.

And I will let you know if being darker in complexion mattered for me in the DR, too.

Oh yeah… If you would like to contribute to the birth work I will be doing with Dominican and Haitian moms and babies, you can do so here –>

I have almost reached my goal! Thank you for your support!

Home Alone…

“I am gonna miss you so much,” he says.
“What am I gonna do while you’re gone?” he says.
“Oh, I am going to miss you SO MUCH MORE, Babe…” I said.
“What will you do in this house all by yourself?” I said. “You don’t even have the boys here…”

You get FOUR GUESSES as to what Coach Gene has planned while I am away helping Dominican and Haitian women BIRTH BABIES in the Dominican Republic… While I am resting up from WORKING HARD on the night shift every night from 11pm -7am, his daylight hours WILL BE FULL!

I swear, he was acting SO PITIFUL and I was feeling SO BAD for him.

I was all like, “Babe… you gotta ENJOY this time! What would you do if you were a CELIBATE, single man with no kids?” I should have known he was up to something when over the next few days he got a twinkle in his eye and a pep in his step.

YOU GUESS what he has planned:
A. Going on several golfing trips
B. Taking a motorcycle refresher course
C. Taking a Conceal Carry Course and Gun Training
D. Going horseback riding at a local ranch

Go ahead… guess… you won’t get it wrong.

This joker… And here I was thinking that he needed his friends to set up play dates or something. He has plans and will be living LA VIDA LOCA! I was even trying to fuss about him spending money… Nope! He was like, “It was only $20…”

But seriously, I am happy for him! He has worked SO HARD for his family over the past 23 years of our marriage. He is such a WONDERFUL HUSBAND AND FATHER… I am so grateful he will have this time alone… where he only has to be responsible to and for himself.

I know every time he leaves me somewhere by myself I LOVE IT!!!! As a home school mom for 13 years and being consumed with the needs of my family 24/7 most of our marriage, I have come to recognize that self-care is a most valuable commodity.


Oh! Just remember… DO NOT BUY a horse… a motorcycle… or any of the other stuff… JUST ENJOY!


Dr. Doula