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"Nobody's free until everybody's free."-Fannie Lou Hammer

Check out my essay, "Giving Birth When Black", in the new anthology, "Ask: Building Consent Culture!"

I spent most of my adult life battling physicians for the right to access a long-term birth control method, only to constantly be denied and told that I was “too young for an IUD” and that “sterilization was not an option because I was too young and would eventually meet a nice man who wanted children.”

When I was twenty-three years old, I became pregnant with my first child, after experiencing birth control failure. At the time, I had recently left an abusive relationship with my child’s biological father and was penniless, left homeless after he had left a Greyhound bus ticket on my nightstand because he “could not deal with the situation”. I had only a small bag of items to my name. With nowhere to go, I relocated back to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where I settled onto my mom’s lumpy couch and began to rebuild my life while simultaneously preparing to take care of a small, helpless child in less than thirty-two weeks.

During this time, I began to search for community resources and completely immersed myself into all things infant and toddler related. Throughout the early stages of my pregnancy, I made decisions about where I would give birth and with whom (as a sexual assault survivor, I had my heart set on giving birth with a midwife, who I would solely see throughout the duration of my pregnancy and postpartum periods), how I would feed my child (breastfeeding for the win!), and what foods I would introduce to my small child. However, every decision I made was met with turmoil. Upon attempting to secure a midwife for my pregnancy, I discovered that no insurance in the state of Tennessee covers midwifery care. “Maybe I could pay for the cost out of pocket!” I thought. Wrong again. At nearly $3,000, there was no way I could possibly afford a midwife as a low-income woman. I cried and raged for days.

Feeling broken and upset, I gave in and began to research local hospitals and choose where I would deliver my child. Because I was on Medicaid, I only had two options of where I would give birth. I began researching the two hospitals that I had to choose between. During my search, I was mind-blown by the local Cesarean Section rates in my community. After careful research, I decided on giving birth at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, which had one of the lowest Cesarean Section rates in the community- 39.9% (yes, this was one of the lowest in the county- let that sink in).

Throughout my entire pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I noticed that virtually none of my needs, wants, or requests were made. The birth plan that I worked on for nine months was tossed to the

side once I was admitted into the hospital to induce my labor. As a sexual assault survivor, I was very clear that I did not do too well with multiple people being present during my labor and delivery, nor was I at all comfortable with multiple providers conducting my vaginal exams. Because I was under pain-relieving medication, which altered my abilities, I was especially concerned with strangers conducting my vaginal exams. I remember waking up twice during my laboring process and feeling a stranger’s fingers inside my vagina. I remember crying about it, yet not being able to move due to the pain medication I was on. I also requested to not have numerous people present during my delivery- there were five strangers staring at my vulva while I pushed. I felt silenced, ridiculed, and unsafe. I did not get to enjoy my pregnancy, labor, or delivery because my voice about my own body was not honored. Fortunately, I gave birth vaginally to a healthy baby boy on April 10, 2013 at 1:03 am. I was excited and relieved that my baby had finally arrived. But I was enraged. I was enraged that I was not given a choice of where and how I could deliver the child I carried for over nine months. “I wonder how many Black other women feel this way?”, I thought to myself. When my son was barely a month old, I began to train as a doula and dig deeper into the history of doulas and midwives in the United States. What I discovered pissed me off to the point of tears, and I have been pissed off ever since. The United States has a dark history of pushing out Black doulas and midwives who helped deliver whole, healthy Black babies with zero mortality rates. Babies born by the hands of Black doulas and midwives were strong, healthy, and their mothers were well nurtured and cared for throughout their pregnancies, completely opposite of the treatment that the cold, Eurocentric, Westernized model of medicine has to offer. When these women were pushed out of their professions by racist, sexist Westernized doctors and governing bodies, Black maternal and infant health declined rapidly. Per a recent study, every forty-eight seconds a Black infant passes away in my hometown, Memphis, Tennessee (a city that is over 60% Black). Studies have proven that the African American infant mortality rate is four times higher than the white infant mortality rate. Black women are also more likely to deliver their babies prematurely and have low-weight babies than their white counterparts. Partner this with the fact that only 59% of Black women breastfeed, compared to nearly 75% of white women. Black mothers are cheated out of their autonomy and Black babies are cheated out of their health even before they are born! It has been constantly proven that the Westernized medical model has constantly failed Black women and children, yet, despite these findings, the Westernized medical model is constantly pushed on Black women and our children. We’re discouraged from home and water births, have our family and community members pushed out of our delivery rooms to make room for medical students for “observation”, and our needs for successful breastfeeding are oftentimes ignored. So, what can we do about this? Many white birth activists’ solution for decreasing Black infant mortality and Cesarean rates and increasing Black women’s breastfeeding rates are to train and place more doulas and midwives in low-income communities. However, this solution is not a solution at all- it is merely the white

savior complex wrapped in cultural appropriation and classism. Doula trainings from governing bodies, such as DONA, are ridiculously expensive, which locks out many low-income Women and Women of Color from the profession. Also, many white doulas do not market to or cater to lower income Women of Color (especially with services that range between $800-$2500) and many white doulas feel that offering pro-bono doula services to low-income Women of Color would be “devaluing” the doula profession. But, the doula profession was devalued long ago when veteran and highly experienced Black doulas and midwives were pushed out of their professions by Eurocentric literacy tests and Westernized medical standards. From my experiences as a low-income, single Black mother, and doula and research conducted during my pregnancy, I’ve concluded that we have had the tools all along to decrease Black maternal and infant mortality rates, improve Black breastfeeding rates, and to level the playing fields when it comes to all things birth and baby related- we simply do not want to use these tools. Placing Black maternal and Black infant health back into the nurturing hands of those who know Black women and Black babies best (Black midwives, doulas, and lactation consultants) would be far too easy and would give Black women the agency and autonomy that has been stripped from us constantly over the years. When I think of the state of Black maternal and infant health, I think of the enslaved Black women who were victims of highly unethical medical experiments conducted by James Marion Sims, who ironically, was credited as “The Father of Gynecology”. I think of Henrietta Lacks, a poor Black tobacco farmer, whose cells were taken without her knowledge and used to make medical strides in vaccines, cloning, and in vitro fertilization. I think of enslaved women, who had their babies ripped from their breasts and had their slave master’s children forced upon their breasts to feed, while their babies starved to death. I think of Sybrina Fulton, Valerie Bell, Lesley McSpadden, and hundreds of other Black women who gave birth to beautiful Black children despite these circumstances, yet had their babies taken from them due to white supremacy and police brutality. I think of the thousands of Black women who did not (and still do not) have access to adequate prenatal education, healthcare, or even a choice of where and how they choose to give birth. Black women are owed endless gratitude and compensation for our physical, mental, emotional, and mental labor and our babies are owed the world- but the only ones fighting for ourselves and our babies are other Black women. As white and non-black People of Color, before you reach out to Black women to support your causes, I challenge you to ask yourselves, “Did I hire a Black doula for her doula and education services and compensate her for them? “Have I offered to support a Black woman on her quest to becoming a doula or midwife? “When was the last time I marched for Black women and children? When was the last time I advocated for black maternal and infant health? When was the last time I put myself on the line the same way that Black women have done for me?”

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My Writing

Check out my published articles and resource guides! 

January 15, 2017

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February 14, 2017

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