[Atlanta, GA] - Statement by Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong, the national women of color Reproductive Justice collective:
"This country is failing Black mothers.
Black women in the US are as at least 3x more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes. Racial disparities exist even when socioeconomic status is accounted for. Too many Black women do not have access to the services we need to manage chronic conditions that can contribute to complications and prenatal and postpartum care is often pushed out of reach by financial barriers.
The fact is that systemic oppression pushes out of reach the services and care that we need when we are trying to plan our families, have a healthy pregnancy and raise our children in safety and with dignity. Racism is pervasive not only in the provision of health services, but also in the way that care has been medicalized to push birth workers out of the process.
There is a long history of Black women and granny midwives catching our babies and acting as healers and carriers of tradition. Their birth work is based in practices from pre-colonization and before many of our ancestors were forced onto slave ships. They were there when pregnancy complications threatened our lives and they were there when we brought life into this world - even serving as counselors when those children were cruelly taken from us in times of slavery or through government policies that deny our rights and criminalize our bodies.
Black birth workers were there to consult women on breastfeeding and doula us through labor and loss. They acted as nutritionists and helped us manage pain. They were also there to arrange support within communities when families struggled to get by as they added to their families.
Laboring and childbirth was once about women coming together to care for and support each other. Eventually, with the medicalization of childbirth, male physicians began to see midwives as competition. They created unnecessary and contrived barriers to the ability of birth workers to practice and pushed for a model of birth done by doctors only in a hospital setting. These obstacles have become even more insurmountable with rising malpractice insurance costs, and renewed efforts in recent years by physicians to once again utilize professional associations and the legislative process to prevent midwives from practicing autonomously and outside of hospitals.
While we laud the role of science and technology in helping to improve health outcomes, we must be willing to acknowledge that there are policies and assumptions that are not based on the needs of individuals. Further, this mistrust of birth workers and of mothers has fed into obstetric violence and the criminalization of pregnant women and mothers. Women have been forced to have C-sections or use drugs that induce or increase contractions under threat of abuse charges or arrest. Women have been jailed for using drugs while pregnant or for attempting suicide. Pregnant women who are incarcerated continue to be shackled while giving birth. Perpetuating a one size fits all medical model of birth is not only harming, but dehumanizing and even killing women.
Countless studies and public health advocates have emphasized the important role that midwives and doulas can play in ensuring a compassionate and coordinated continuity of care that respects cultural differences and improves health outcomes for Black mamas. We must address not only by the monetary obstacles and insurance limitations faced by many women of color and low-income women in being able to afford to pay for the services of birth workers, but also the hurdles that have been created by legal and medical systems that do not respect the insight or the autonomy of women.
Whether it is giving birth at home or choosing to utilize a midwife, every woman should be able to control how she gives birth and be provided with quality care and support. As we struggle to address the maternal health and mortality crisis facing Black women, we should look at new ideas and approaches, but we must also acknowledge the legacy of our granny midwives and the women who held our hands and healed not just our bodies, but our communities.
SisterSong is excited to host an event with the YWCA of Greensboro that will bring together reproductive justice, birth justice and public health experts to talk about reclaiming Black birth by honoring this history of Black midwifery. We are thrilled to hold this event at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. The museum seeks to memorialize the courageous stand of the Greensboro Four who launched the sit-in movement in 1960 and works to inspire the vigilance and fortify the spirit of all oppressed people to step forward in the on-going struggle for human freedom.
We know how important it is to ensure that the needs and experiences of women and girls of color are centered as part of the ongoing efforts to achieve civil rights. We are grateful to hold this important conversation in such a hallowed space and to make it clear that there is no gender justice without dismantling white supremacy and there is no racial justice without looking at the unique barriers to health and liberation faced based on gender. Together, we must address the systems of oppression that deny us each the opportunity to not only survive, but to thrive. Together, we will push back on the systems that hold us down. Together, we will work towards the health and the liberation of our bodies, our families and our communities."
Monica Simpson is available for interview upon request.
This event is being held as part of a week-long series of events for "North Carolina Reproductive Justice" week.