I have been grieving since the decision was made on Mike Brown. Since I got the news that Akai Gurley was gunned down and that there would be no charges for the murder of Eric Garner. It pains me to think of Amadou Diallo, who was killed when I was in high school in my own neighborhood, walking distance from my after-school program. #BlackLivesMatter is personal to me. And the personal is political. Because not only could these men be my brothers, I could have a son of mine shot because he has dark skin. I can be one of them. I am mourning the murders of Tarika Wilson, Aiyana Jones, Miriam Carey, Shereese Francis, Shantel Davis, Sharmel Edwards, Rekia Boyd, Tyisha Miller, Yvette Smith and countless other Black women who have been killed by police officers. I am enraged that Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Ken Holtzclaw was release from jail as he faces charges for sexually assaulting 7 different African American women while he was on duty. As a midwife, I am sick of knowing that not only are Black women being shot and killed, we are also being annihilated quietly at the hands of medical professionals.
I have been in an increasingly mounting state of utter rage since I realized that Black and Latina women have terrible outcomes in maternal and reproductive health. I can still remember how the information hit me like a ton of bricks during my birth doula training in 2010. African American women are four times as likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. Research states that the infant mortality rate ranges from 4.8 per 1,000 live births for Central and South Americans to 7.3 per 1,000 live births for Puerto Ricans. My Quisqueyana roots’ island has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, seven times higher than the United States. We are more likely to have a C-section, and have low-weight premature babies. We also have the highest rates of infant mortality and morbidity. We have more complications. We are subject to receiving terrible care and not getting informed consent when we are getting reproductive and maternal care. Just this summer, it was brought to the attention of the United Nations that the United States is in violation of a U.N Convention on racism in healthcare. This is a serious matter. It is the number one reason I decided to become a midwife. Because it is an act of resistance and because women like me need a health care provider who understands the nuances of being Black and is interested in their health.
There are midwives who are aware of the disparities affecting women of color. It is not enough and we need more midwives to attend us. Especially because of the historic dismantling of Black granny midwives in this country, it is our responsibility to understand how this made low-income Black and Latina women subject to being sites of experimentation by obstetricians and gynecologists. I personally do not consider hospitals safe for women of color with uncomplicated pregnancies for a couple of reasons. African American and Latina women are likely to be living in poverty in this country. Low-income communities often have sub-par hospitals so the care they can get is not culturally sensitive and at times cruel and abusive. Furthermore, the trauma that can be experienced in a hospital sets the stage for the bond between mother and child, thus producing a cyclical dysfunction in our families that is not being nurtured by our current medical system. Black mothers do not often have the resources and support necessary to them to be able to have healthy pregnancies and postpartum periods.
Additionally, I am deeply insulted by the fact that I need to be licensed to practice midwifery. I am even more pissed off that I cannot legally practice in New York because I don’t have a masters degree but will be able to do so in New Jersey. Why is this infuriating? Because it was through the implementation of licensure that granny midwives were wiped out. It disrupted the tradition of apprenticeship that our ancestral mothers brought with them from the African countries we were stolen from. I will get my license but reluctantly so, as it is a reminder that I must continually practice Sankofa and go back to fetch the knowledge that was stolen from us at the hands of the American medical system. I also cannot bring myself to get a masters degree in midwifery. I have had to jump through one hoop to get this far and stay as close as I could to apprenticeship. I am not doing it again.
To promote birth outside of a hospital birth is one of the most radical things I can do for my women. They have been bamboozled by modern medicine to hand over their bodies without receiving the respect they deserve. The racism that they are likely to face in their routine gynecological and maternal care is alarming and quite frankly, I am sick of hearing the stories. I would be remiss not to mention forced sterilization on women of color, such as the infamous “La Operacion” that deceitfully sterilized Boricua women in Borinquien; women of color have also been sterilized while incarcerated and probably without consent. African American and Latina women can benefit greatly from the midwifery model of care that would give them a much more sympathetic ear and care centered around them. To have more midwives of color in our communities would further provide health care professionals that understand their reality and can help advise them on their health. We can promote the uncovering of knowledge that is still being held in our grandmothers and mothers by supporting community health plans and meeting spaces. Our future generations depend on us being radical about our bodies.
Radical comes from the Latin word “radix” meaning “root”. The root of many human dis-eases begins at birth. Racism is a stressful condition to live in. When a person is in a state of chronic stress, they are susceptible to illness because their bodies are out of balance. Stress causes hypertension, which is one of the dis-eases African American and Latino people suffer from. It is not a coincidence that living under the conditions we do and having this be our state of being for generations is continuing to keep us sick. For people of color, we must not only address other systematic ills such as the gunning down of our women and men but also understanding how this genocide begins in the womb.
I stand for justice and for respecting Black lives. I think so much of the mothers that must bury their children when they are murdered. Black and Latina mothers must carry the burden of fearing their child might be killed. Our hearts are broken in a way that most won’t understand. What justice is this that we must explain to our children at some undetermined point that they might lose their lives to a reckless cop? Often, when women of color around me see the violence threatening to snuff us out, they are reluctant to have children. While that is an understandable sentiment and I don’t judge the choice, a conversation I had made me aware that we need to do the opposite. Remember the infanticide that would occur on the Transatlantic Slave Trade when our ancestral mothers wanted to save their children from our current fate; remember the other infanticides when we got to this side of the globe. Remember the forceful sterilization that has happened and is happening to women of color around the world. Remember we have the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality in this country. This is a full-on genocide. The reason I have no tolerance for neutrality is because this has been going on for 522 years now. I’m sick of this shit. To get us to psychologically subscribe is part of that. They are not only murdering us on sight but also before we even get here, and choosing to birth is an act of resistance. I encourage us to love our children shamelessly and deeply. Fight to preserve our lives. Demand and seek better healthcare and birthing options. Resist. Revolt. Rebel. I will do my part to expose the inequities and create new possibilities for my people.