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There’s a lot of trauma that can interrupt the joy of Black births: medical racism, Black infant mortality rate, Black maternal mortality rate just to name a few.
While these are very valid experiences caused by white supremacy, I want to let folks know that our bodies, including our births, are not problems. They’re blessings that should be honored, especially during such a vulnerable moment in our lives such as bringing a child into the world.
So, this one is a nod to the Black community care practitioners in birthing spaces - the midwives, the doulas, our OBGYNs. Forward this newsletter to your friends and fam as we hype up those who are fighting to undo the legacy of racism in birthing spaces so that healthy Black parents and children can thrive.
*Oprah voice* You get a doula! And you get a doula!
Black doulas are vital to Black births.
During a parent’s most vulnerable moments, they’re the supportive caretaker who guides you through the threshold of parenthood. When your doctor or nurse isn’t following your birth plan during labor, they tell them more or less, “Nah. We ain’t doing that here, and we can nuck and buck if you want to.”
Plus they take care of your postpartum needs by making meals, booking transportation for doctor’s visits, lactation support and other services. Every birthing parent should have access to a doula, which decreases the risk of postpartum depression and improves other health outcomes, but affordability can be a barrier to receiving that care.
An Atlanta nonprofit wants to challenge the issue. Healthy Babies, Healthy Mothers of Coalition of Georgia launched a pilot program providing a doula to 175 lower-income pregnant parents – and government-sponsored health insurance is footing the bill. Check out this story by my friend and colleague Anna Claire Vollers, about how the program will improve birth outcomes in a state that has the nation’s highest maternal mortality rates.
Healing a lineage through birthing
The birthing experience is not only a healing moment for a parent. Witnessing births has been a transformative journey Andrea Richardson, a queer birth worker, pleasure doula and death doula who started Womb Care Womxn to liberate Black and brown parents by bringing holistic practices into birthing spaces. The 38-year-old St. Louis native has helped deliver three babies since she started offering her services in 2019 and is booked and busy to deliver another child next year.
Andrea originally wanted to be an educator, but a few moments lured her to the birthing space: the joy of offering her sister prenatal support during pregnancy, watching her close friends become doulas, overcoming the details of her own birth. Andrea was a premature baby who nearly died during labor. All of these moments that were tucked in the back of her mind have now become the foundation of her work. She started her labor, birth and postpartum doula training in May 2019 at Jamaa Birth Village in Ferguson, Mo. As of Wednesday, she officially became a certified full spectrum doula, meaning she can provide various forms of support during the entirety of pregnancy, including preconception, abortion, miscarriage and adoption if need be. Andrea chatted with me about her doula journey and how she seeks to empower others through community care:
Starr: What led you to become a birth worker?
Andrea: I think it was between supporting my sister during her pregnancy and my own birth, which was traumatic. I just really love birth, especially Black births. I was born premature and almost died. I was born about three months early. I think that’s what’s driving me in the back of my mind. I wish I could go back and support my mom as a doula because it was a very traumatic experience for her, my dad and my entire family.
By having positive birthing experiences as Black folks, we can not only change our lives, but we can heal our lineages. There’s support there when Black folks are like, “You deserved to be honored in this space during this sacred time.”
Starr: So I hear a lot of passion on your end when it comes to Black births. Can you go more into why Black births are important to you?
Andrea: As Black women, once we got to America, we didn’t have autonomy over our bodies. We didn’t have autonomy over our own births. We literally were owned. Our babies were owned and we couldn’t birth the way we wanted to birth. We couldn’t even conceive the way we want to conceive in a lot of ways.
I think that as a birth doula, it’s really amazing to be able to honor Black birthing folks and their plans for birthing. It’s revolutionary. When we say we’re honoring Black births, I think it really kind of reverberates from us to our ancestors who didn’t have choices on how they conceived and birth and live. We also have a history of people wanting to kill Black babies, Black women, and femmes. It’s a whole genocide. So, I feel like when I say, “I’m obsessed with black birth,” it’s like a war cry to combat that genocide that’s really happening.
Starr: So you had experienced your first birth client in February 2019. How was that experience for you?
Andrea: It was really challenging at first as a person who has experienced medical racism. So I hate hospitals. My client decided to birth at a hospital, and I had to get in a space where I was leaning on my ancestors. Being a birth doula, you have to be the most spirited, most grounded human because a lot of things are happening. So I went to my altars. I was like, “Please, help me.”
But baby girl came through! She was healthy and then I really made sure my client was okay after birth. I stayed for a couple of hours making sure there weren’t any immediate postpartum complications, like bleeding or hemorrhaging. I cried so much heading home. I couldn’t believe that God, the goddesses, my ancestors, helped me support this person, my client, and it was such a positive experience for her. It was mad healing to feel like, “Yes, this is what I was created to do. Physically, intellectually, spiritually, this is for me.” It helped me with my own fears about pregnancy and labor. The whole experience kind of centered me. I grew closer to my mom, my sisters, anyone who has experienced a human coming out of their bodies.
Starr: What would you like the future of Black birth work to look like?
Andrea: I’d really love us to go back to finding joy. A lot of black births are very traumatic. Being here is a very traumatic space for us, our bodies, our psyches. I’d really love us to go back to just go further back into our lineage and find joy in places where there isn’t trauma surrounding birth. I want us to go back to a space where we can find rituals that are unique to our lineage, to our families, and really become in love with birthing. Our lives really depend on it. We can really stop the generational spell of trauma.
Reclaim your birth
Home births are on the rise and Black people are causing the increase.
Can’t believe I am saying this, but looks like the pandemmy did some good. Worries about catching COVID-19 caused homebirths to surge nearly 20 percent in 2020 – the highest percentage in 30 years. Black parents saw the biggest increase in home births, with a 36 percent jump from 2019 numbers.
The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention haven’t released 2021 and 2022 data. But I talked to Breanna Wright, a mother from Birmingham, Ala., who went through labor alone in her bedroom when her second child, Reign, was born in May. Home birth wasn’t part of Breanna’s birth plan, but it was an experience that continued the metamorphosis of motherhood for Breanna.
“With every birth, a new woman comes. We’re shedding a layer of ourselves. It’s literally a life or death experience,” Breanna said. “When I say death, I don’t mean physically. There’s a duality of life. What I learned in this experience with Reign was that it wasn’t about me getting back to my old self after her because a new me had formed. I think that’s why moms may not be able to find their joy after birthing a baby.”
When Breanna was pregnant with her first child, Ali, her expectations around birthing were forged by fear and uncertainty of others. She was 23 at the time and was absorbing the pain as other parents shared their all the traumatic birthing experiences. One person advised her to get an epidural as soon as she got to hospital because she wouldn’t be able to handle the pain. Another told her that she may get a C-section because of her tiny frame.
“I was hearing stories about birth taking control of the woman instead of the woman controlling the seas because that’s how I kind of look at birth. A contraction is like the waves of the sea,” Breanna said. “Either you’re gonna weather this storm through the night on this ocean, or you are gonna drown in it. So my first birthing experience, I kind of drowned in it.”
Those “what if” situations amplified Breanna’s anxiety when she went into labor with Ali. She didn’t trust herself or her own body to know when to push. After getting an epidural, Breanna waited overnight for her doctor to arrive at the so he could tell her when to push.
“I was so disconnected from myself that I trusted (my doctor) with my body as opposed to myself and we’ve been having babies since before the hospital was built,” she said.
While Ali’s birth wasn’t traumatic and her now 6-year-old son is healthy, Breanna said she didn’t want to feel that powerless again. So when she was pregnant with Reign, she hired Black women as her OBGYN and her doula. They added a sense of comfort to her birthing plan because Breanna wanted someone who looked like her and who could understand her experience as Black woman.
“The first time I went into my doctor’s office, she had her ancestors on the wall, like her grandmothers,” Breanna said. “It made me feel like if I wanted to sit in a doctor’s office, I would rather sit here.”
She created a birth plan that not only includes doing a water birth at a hospital, sound bowls and low lighting. She wanted a sacred space to bring new life into the world.
But her baby had other plans.
Reign’s due date was supposed to be May 28th, but Breanna started feeling contractions the day before while she was at home. Breanna called her doula who advised her to time her contractions as the doula made her way up the state from Florida. At first, Breanna thought she was just experiencing pre-labor pains. But things became more intense within a few hours. She battled swells of nausea, intense cramps and irritation. She tried to soothe her pain with a bath, massage and some tea. She called her boyfriend, who was running an errand in another town at the time. She was calling on her ancestors for strength. And cursing Eve for eating the apple. Her doula, who was battling Memorial Day traffic, was guiding Breanna over the phone. While trying to find comfort on her bed, Breanna’s water broke and her doula was advising her to push due to the pressure she was feeling.
A familiar anxiety crept up in Breanna. She thought it was too soon to push and that she was going to tear open. But she didn’t make the same mistake she did with Ali. She trusted her body. Her boyfriend made it to the house just in time to help her as she pushed. And he caught a healthy baby Reign in her hands.
It was the most intimate experience Breanna said she has had in her lifetime. It inspired her so much that she wants to expand her wellness and empowerment business, IBWright, to include doula services.
“I just want women to know that they can reclaim their births because I was able to reclaim my birth,” Breanna said.
Reclaim your peace and spread the Black joy! See ya next week!