I think I first realized that birth work was intrinsic to the history of Black women when I thought about how many births I had attended in an unofficial capacity ,and the “work” I did before and after each birth. I realized then that helping someone during their pregnancy and after wasn’t work at all, but just a natural occurrence in my community.
Historically, Black women were not given the privilege of having an enjoyable experience with pregnancy or birth. It was literal labor and the most comfort they could rely on was the support of other, usually older, Black women. Even though this support may have been viewed as more of an arduous necessity, it was also done out of love and concern for the safety of both mother and baby.
As a doula now, it is my obligation to continue that legacy and also encourage a pleasant birthing experience, which unfortunately in 2021 is still not something the majority of Black women are privy to. In 2018, Black infants were at 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 4.6 white babies per 1,000 live births. Black women are still not afforded the same basic rights as their white counterparts when it comes to interactions with medical professionals during their pregnancies. It is my goal to encourage and help educate mothers along their journey, advocate for any type of birthing experience they request as long as it is safe for mother and baby, and be there to support them with creature comforts that are indigenous to our culture. Whether it’s a specific type of music, food, remedy or just simply the gathering of family to support them, I plan on facilitating that to the fullest of my ability.
A few weeks back, I was watching a clip of Miss Mary Cooley, who paved the way for a vast majority of midwives and doctors. I was so impressed at how naturally she handled childbirth and also how present she was for the mother. All of it was so unclinical and reassuring, something that seemed so foreign to me (the irony). I realized that’s because it is natural. Miss Mary was so noteworthy because she simply knew what to do. She trusted her instincts and, more importantly, allowed space for the birthing mother to do the same.
As Black women, we have been taught responsibility from a young age (to a fault) and have had to rely on natural herbs and resources because a lot of times that was all that was available to us. It’s so beautiful for me to see us return full circle. We have now begun to re-learn, or rather, remember what’s been in our DNA all along. These are things that can not be taught: how to love through tough times, rely on the earth and compassion for healing and to trust ourselves and our bodies without the distraction of beeping machines and condescending oration.
It will always be my goal and fight to create spaces where Black women feel acknowledged, respected and blissful when bringing a new life into this world, as it is and always will be our birthright.