Our History Does Not Have to Be Our Future

Welcome to the First Edition of the Black Birth Carnival. Hosted by Darcel of The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe and Nicole of Musings From The Mind of Sista Midwife. Our first topic is Birthing While Black: A Historical Perspective. At the end of this post you will find a list of links to the other participants. Some of these posts may contain Emotional Triggers and will be labeled at the beginning of the post.

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Let me start off by being completely honest.  I struggled a bit more than normal getting started with this blog post.  Each time I thought about the topic: A Historical perspective on Birthing While Black…  all I could think about was my foremothers and the pain and suffering they experienced as they gave birth. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to write about it. I didn’t really know if I wanted to read about it.  At the same time I knew I helped come up with the topic, and as a result, I had to do all three:  write, read, and think about it.

From the slave ships, to the auction blocks to the cotton fields… from the Jim Crow south to the “Negros Only” side of the inner city hospitals that were a far cry from separate but equal… I had think about it…. the hard and painful reality of what it was like historically for black women to give birth in this country.  It was physically and emotionally painful.  It was dirty and lonely.  It lacked compassion.  It was unsupported and often forced. It was in a word… Ugly.

Historically, birthing while black was also accompanied by fear.  There is a saying that a pregnant/birthing woman always has one foot in the grave.  This was not hard to believe, as our history includes the reality that death during or shortly after childbirth was an unfortunate common reality. Aside from maternal mortality, many more women experienced neonatal and infant mortality.  There was always the acknowledgement that a woman and/or her baby may not live to see beyond the labor bed.  Once past the initial dangers of the post partum period the fear was not eliminated for the black mother.  She knew that at any moment her baby could be taken away from her.  During slavery she had fear that her baby would be taken and sold to another plantation.  After slavery the fear became “Will my baby be taken from me by angry mobs and/or men in white sheets?”

There is no way I can think of and write about the history of Black Birth in this country without making mention of the many midwives who supported Black Women when no one else would. There are the women we know by name:  Margaret Charles Smith, Onnie Lee Logan, Mamie Odessa Hale, and Lucrecia Perryman to name a few.  Then there are the many who remain nameless: Those who brought their skill and knowledge of birth along with them when they were forced aboard ships and transported across the Atlantic.  Under the circumstances, these women and many more like them did the best they could to provide compassionate environments for birth.  While they made things better for the black women they served, not all women had access to midwives and even with access, the amount of poverty, racism, discrimination and subpar living conditions made Birthing While Black difficult to say the least.

Unfortunately, our modern day history, while better, is a far cry from ideal.  Over the past 18 years I have witnessed black birth in an obstetrical system that is not compassionate, understanding or culturally sensitive to black women.  Racism continues to plague treatment at hospitals nationwide and in many places Black Birth continues to be physically and emotionally painful, dirty and lonely, lacking compassion, unsupported and forced. In a word… Ugly.

There are many black women who have fought back. Many who have taken control of their experience and had wonderful birth experiences. Unfortunately I see many more who still receive subpar treatment.  While our maternal and infant mortality rates are certainly not as high as they once were, Black Birth still bears the disparity burden.

Many black women continue to birth in fear. I have seen many concerned if their baby will be taken by the social services system full of inadequacies, discrimination and racial profiling. They fear their children being taken away too soon through gun and gang violence, drugs or the Just Us System.  And now they will birth and fear that their children can be taken away from them by a racist idiot on a “neighbor hood watch campaign.”

We know our history is full of hard and difficult birth.  I can tell you that our modern day history is in need of do-over.  The question I ask is what will our future bring?   We can’t control our history but we DO have the option to change our future.  What legacy do you want to leave?  What do you want the historical perspective of Birthing While Black to be for your children?

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Please take time to read the other submissions for the Black Birth Carnival. These are very touching, thought-provoking posts

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Nicole – Musings From The Mind of Sista Midwife: Our History Does Not Have To Be Our Future

Darcel – The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe: What Happened To Our Strength?

Takiema – Connect Formation Consulting: Black & Still Birthing – A Deeply Personal Post

Teresha – Marlie and Me: My Childbirth Influences and Experiences: From my Foremothers to Erykah Badu

Denene – My Brown Baby: Birthing While Black In The Jim Crow South Stole My Grandmother: Thankfully, Things Change

Olivia – The Student Midwife: Birthing While Black: A Historical Perspective of Black Midwives

Chante – My Natural Motherhood Journey: Homebirth Stories

11 responses to “Our History Does Not Have to Be Our Future

  1. Pingback: #BlackBirth Carnival Call For Submissions: Infant Mortality Awareness – Saving OUR Babies « The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe

  2. Pingback: Wordless Wed ~ We Still Birth in Fear #BlackBirth | Using Lessons from BIRTH to Create Inspiration for LIFE

  3. i love this carnival!!!

  4. Great post! I’m happy to find a blog about childbirth from our perspective. Midwifery care is something that I truly believe in(I wanted to use a midwife with my 4th pregnancy,but husband disagreed) and one day I hope to become a birth Doula. Keep up the good work and I’ll spread the word about this wonderful site.
    Shelly:)

  5. I truly loved this post and I’m happy to find a site about midwifery from the black perspective. Midwifery is something that I’m very passionate about(I wanted to use a midwife with my 4th child,but husband didn’t agree) and one day I hope to become a Doula. We need more birth options in our community. I would love to see a free standing birth center here in the Atlanta area. Well, anyway keep up the good work and I’ll spread the word about this wonderful site.

    -Shelly :)

  6. Nicole, this was an excellent post. I learn so much from you. I’m going to look up those midwives you mentioned. You did bring the topic full circle. I’m so glad you decided to do this with me.

    I honestly believe that many people are really seeing what black birth was like, and the change that needs to come. This was needed in our community. I hope that one day black women won’t birth in fear, and we will be treated as equal human beings.

  7. Pingback: Black & Still Birthing- A deeply personal post « ConnectFormation Consulting

  8. Teresha@ Marlie and Me

    you really brought it full circle. thanks for hosting this carnival. I will do my best to spread the word

  9. Pingback: Black Birth: What Happened To Our Strength? « The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe

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