Friday, September 2, 2016

Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness- Walk Locally, Demand Vocally

OK, I lied.  I'm blogging... but its for a good cause.  In just 23 short days, I will be doing my annual Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness, and I hope you'll join me.  On Saturday, September 24th, we plan to walk 6 miles from Truman Medical Center to Research Medical Center, in recognition that most Uzazi Village clients deliver at one of those two hospitals.  We plan to walk down Troost Avenue, the dividing line between Black and White in our community.  It is not a protest, it is an awareness campaign.  The purpose, as always is to bring awareness to the plight of Black life in America, starting from the day of our births.  Black babies are twice as likely to die before reaching their first birthday as White infants.  I walk to bring awareness of this largely invisible health crisis, and to bring solutions.  So this year, we will be presenting both hospitals with our two new documents: "The Doula Rules; A Guideline for Integrating Doulas into the Facilty-Based Setting" and "Birth Plan for Black Families; Toward Greater Health Equity".  Both offer viable solutions to the horrific social crime of Black infant mortality.This particular health inequity points to the unjust nature of the political, economic, and social injustice in the distribution of healthcare resources.  I encourage others around the country to plan Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness events in their own communities.  Our theme this year is "Walk Locally, Demand Vocally"  We invite our friends, families, and supporters to walk with us.  There may be other events happening in your community.  Events such as the "Improving Birth Rally" happening this Monday (Labor Day).  I encourage activists of color to participate in events such as this, to bring the concerns of our communities to the forefront.  Without our participation, the concerns and issues of our communities will not be a part of the agenda.  A group of local midwives is organizing our Improving Birth Rally this year and Uzazi Village will stand with them- to ensure that voices of color are heard.  It is our women that suffer disproportionately from high cesarean rates and VBAC bans.  We are the ones that cannot access breastfeeding help when it is needed and who are marginalized within the healthcare system. Its is our babies that die, two to one.  Why aren't righting these injustices at the top of everyone's agenda and concerns?  It is our job to make it so.  Plan a walk in your community.  Do a letter writing campaign to the administrators of your local hospital outlining the problem and offering solutions.  Make your voices heard in the policy or political arena.  Tell your stories to legislators.  Have a nurse-in at the state Medicaid office.  Highlight birth practices and practitioners that value Black life and Black business.  Remove it from those who don't.  Send the message that policies need to change in ways that positively impact Black health. If you can't be a part of these activities, send a donation to those who are doing the work.  If you plan an event, please post it on the wall of the Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness page or the Uzazi Village community page.  We want to hear about what you are doing.  Can't join us physically to walk?  Join us for our Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness Twitter Chat and Stroll.  We'll be Twittering the entire walk, including our meetings with both hospital administrations. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Final Blog Post of 2016

Dear Village,
This will be my final post for the year 2016.  I am taking time off from blogging to devote to completing my book, "Birthing While Black; how racism and white privilege kills Black babies."  We are living in very difficult times.  When I watch my TV and see thousands marching in the streets of American cities, I know change is coming.  Whether it be for the better or worse, I do not know.  All I know is that now is the time to add my voice to the conversation.  Now is the time for the publication of my book.  I will not only complete my book, but also write curriculum for my new cultural congruency training for maternal infant health organizations.  I hope to complete both by December and start offering my curriculum in 2017 as well as (hopefully) a book tour.  I am greatly disturbed by what is happening in our country, as are many of you.  This is the contribution to that dialog that is for me to make.  Thank you to those who continue to hear my voice.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Today I took a dear friend out to lunch and had the misfortune of sitting behind two white female OBs.  I couldn't help but hear them loudly exclaim that they knew exactly what THOSE women needed to do to improve their birth outcomes.   If I hear one more arrogant white person state what we need....I swear I'll explode.  Truth be told what we need is a whole lot fewer arrogant white obstetricians thinking they know what ails us.  What ails us is them.  They are our problem, along with the entire healthcare system they rode in on. This also happened last month when I attended a monthly meeting on infant mortality and listened to blatant indictment of Black women as the cause of Black infant death.  It simply is not so. All across the country I hear this, Black women, Black families, the Black community blamed for Black infant deaths.   Deaths that are entirely preventable.  Deaths that aren't prevented because Black lives don't matter in this country.  Deaths that are caused by systemically racist healthcare and economic systems that fail Black women and Black families. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and I shall.  Our hands are not the hands bloody with these deaths. Listening to those women smugly and arrogantly parcel out advice from high atop their mountain of privilege made me want to come up with my own list of demands that point out the true villains when it come to Black infant mortality.


Number One: (to Black women)
Whenever you can, wherever you can, opt out of the system.  This system is not intended for you, means you no good, and is largely responsible for your poor outcomes, while blaming you for them.  Get out, however and whenever you can.  Look for alternative ways to get your healthcare.  Look for alternative providers.  Pay for your own care, after all you really do get what you pay for.  The 'free' government run system will keep us and our babies sick and dying. Get out of it if you can.

Number Two: (to Black people)
We are not who they say we are.  They pathologize us, but we are not pathology.  It is not our bodies or our culture that is flawed it their system.  Their flawed system pathologizes us.  Our bodies are strong.  Our minds are strong. Our collective will is strong.  We have survived everything they have brought against us.  We are still here.  We still survive.  Now it is time to thrive.

Number Three: (to white careproviders)
Take your white hands off my Black body.  Until you can see me, hear me, respect me, love me you have no business touching me. Every touch will be an act of violence upon my person.  You do not have permission to touch me until you can see me. Until you can look at me as a real person and not a caricature or a stereotype, you may not touch me. Until you can actually listen to the sound of my voice and hear and respect what I have to say and not dismiss me, you may not touch me. You haven't earned the right.

Number Four: (to white people)
Allieship on our terms.  You are allies when we say so and how.  Otherwise your allieship is not to be trusted. You are not to be trusted.  You do not even know when you are being untrustworthy.  You must depend on our guidance and our say so.  If you are not willing to do this, we have no use of you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Number Five: (to the Black community)
Cultivate our own maternity care system.  We must restore our community midwives.  We must invest in midwifery schools and the midwifery arts.  We must train our own to serve our own.  We are the solution to the healthcare crisis that plagues our communities.  Outsiders can only play a limited role, if any in relieving us of this burden of health outcome disparities.  We must do it for ourselves.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Colonization of Black Birthing Bodies

I attended a community meeting this past week.  The meeting purpose was to examine causes for infant deaths in our community (which overwhelmingly happen to Black and Brown babies).  Despite the fact that I was surrounded by leading professionals who were knowledgeable about all aspects of maternity and newborn care, the best they could come up with was to blame the victims (the mothers) themselves.  There was no critical examination of the role of systemic racism within policies that kept them locked out of care.  Only criticism of imagined failures of each mother as her case was presented.  When I tried to point out that there may be other factors, there was deafening silence.  I was told later by another party that my words were being dismissed by other participants because they had faith that the system was delivering good care. 
Well I have no such faith.  I have watched Black and Brown women be chewed up and spit out by the system for decades now.  Our current system of maternity care for low resource women is toxic and punitive. Privileged whites have no business judging Black and Brown women's healthcare decision making- they should be seeking to understand why they make the decisions they do.  The paternalism and assumption of rightness is maddening. 
It is self-righteous attitudes like these that keep the system from being accountable to those it allegedly serves.  The 'system' is deemed above reproach.  Black and Brown women are not.  Let's add insult to the injury of the death of a baby by questioning the mothers habits and motives.  This is why we need to focus on system's change.  No one is asking why Black and Brown women are twice as likely to be tested for drug use (when they are not twice as likely to use drugs).  In my state it takes weeks if not months to be added to Medicaid and the mothers languish while they wade through a system sorely in need of an update.  This is yet another example of hatred parading as helpfulness.  The healthcare system is full of such landmines for Black and Brown women.  They too believe the system to be altruistic, at least until they experience it for themselves.
We have got to do better.  We have got to be more intentional about examining how we arrive at certain outcomes. As I travel across the country I see more of the same.  Legions of white providers that have written off their Black and Brown patients as irredeemable, while giving themselves complete immunity for their own implicitness in those terrible outcomes.  While the lone voice of the professional of color is criticized for not bearing the party line.    Where is the hope in this?  How long will our bodies bear the brunt of suffering from white judgment and white indifference?  When will corrupt systems be made whole, so that we are enriched rather diminished by our interactions with them? 
I think it may be- when we create our own.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

I've given a lot of thought lately to what it means to be connected in a common cause.  I can't give up on allyship, but I have grown increasingly frustrated with it.  The more I do this work, the more work I see that there is to be done.  As I sat at a table with an elderly mother to mother support group leader this past weekend, trying to communicate the concept of systemic racism and the resulting inequities that exists within organizations and institutions, I realized we had no basis for a conversation.  Our common verbiage meant different things. True communication was not taking place.  We didn't even have enough in common to have a conversation.  She looked hurt and so puzzled.  Was I saying they had not done the right thing?  Were not doing the right thing?  That's just it, I said.  What you perceive to be the 'right thing' is grounded in your own ethics and ideology, not ours.  We are not on the same page about anything at all.  What she perceives and what I perceive are worlds apart.  She was very far out from beginning to hear my message.  She was too stunned to have to accept that I did not accept 'her truths' as 'my truths.'I could tell she walked away from our conversation with a heavy heart.  She is at a precarious point.  She could just as easily reject as accept my point of view.  It is difficult to accept that your thinking for so long has been really wrong on something.  When it comes to health disparities, White people will have to accept some culpability right off the bat.  For a) establishing and maintaining corrosive and corruptive systems that harm people of color continuously and b) for failing to recognize them as such.  This fantasy world view must first be shattered.  Its a very difficult and disorienting journey, but one that must be undertaken if any progress is to be made.  If you are a White person and consider yourself an 'ally' but you don't feel as though your world has been shaken to the core or that everything you hold dear has been challenged, then you are not there.   You have not arrived and your usefulness as an ally is truly debatable.   Listen to this account I had with a friend on Facebook:

Last night I hung out with my dear friend Karen. We taught an evening CPR class together and then went out in search of drinks. I was broke (per usual) and all she had on her was her "Apple Pay". We could not find a bar that took Apple Pay so we went to a late night Whole Foods and settled for soup and soda. As we laughed and talked, the conversation turned serious, and Karen (whom I've known and loved for nearly 20 years) began to tell me how she had been challenged by my Facebook page. I know that many of my former white friends have fled my page- some not before telling me how wrong I am. Karen said at first she felt just like those that left, she felt shocked and challenged by the things I was saying, but she didn't leave. She didn't unfriend me. She stayed and continued to listen even when she didn't understand why I was saying the things I was saying. She continued to read everything I posted. She too had grown up impoverished and didn't see how White Priviledge applied to her. And then one day, it happened. After reading someone else's post on the subject- a white person's- she suddenly understood. She said from that point on she began to see the small injustices, and what was worse, she couldn't unsee it. She talked about how disturbing and unsettling this kind of paradigm shift is. For forty plus years, she thought the world was one thing, and then found out it was quite another. As time goes on she notices things on a daily basis. How we all live steeped in this racist ideology that is American culture. She is a nurse, and as I've always contended, surely there's no American institution more corrupt, more morally bankrupt than healthcare. There is plenty for her to see. Karen says the discomfort is tremendous, and worst of all, she doesn't know what to do about it. She says its as though her dreams have been shattered. The world she thought she lived in does not actually exist. She compared it to the plot of The Matrix (a movie I have not seen). She says she is trying to find her way in this new, darker reality. She lives now in this uneven shaky world, surrounded by other white people who still live in the illusion. I can understand the supreme discomfort of this, but I resist expressing sympathy. After all, I never got to be a part of the illusion. I tell her that what she has to do now is tell others. Starting with her children. And her husband. Of course they won't believe her at first (maybe not ever), they'll deny and castigate her. They'll deny that they are racist or can be racist. But she must stand in her truth and speak the truth whatever comes her way. After all, she now knows the truth, and there is no going back from it. (Like after I had my first homebirth, I could never love hospital birth again.) I was so excited to hear that Karen had 'crossed over'. I have a daily onslaught of dealing with folks who think they have, but have only done so theoretically, but never had that 'road to damascus' conversion. They have adopted an intellectual argument, but they are not truly changed. They can talk the talk, but their truest selves peak out from behind the curtain and reveals itself. Those individuals are exhausting and come in no short supply. White people like Karen, who finally at long last 'get it' are few and far between. I know when I am in their presence because they are the only White people who do not drain my energy- and those encounters are rare indeed. I tell her that her discomfort is my salvation. Only when the mass of White people have reached the point where she is at, can we begin to have a national dialog on racial reconcilliation, until that point, there is no common ground for conversation. After all how can someone in the real world share a common vision with someone living in an illusion?

This conversation is everything.  But it cannot be had until you are a puddle on the floor, or balled up in the fetal position with despair.  Only then can you be sure you have seen the light.  Until you as a White person reach this point, you are not helping me, you are using me to help you.  You are siphoning off my valuable time and energy to your own advantage.  Keep learning and listening- to and from other White people until understanding comes to you.  Until then, we are not even speaking the same language.  I know what I am asking takes humility.  White people are used to being right about things and its disorienting to hear about your mistakes from a person of color.  You'll have to get used to that.  You'll have to get used to a great many things in this new world of true equity where your thoughts and ideas take a back seat to others.  It will be odd living in a world where Whiteness is not centered, and the lens through which all reality is viewed, but you will get used to it. When you come out on the other side, you'll find me waiting.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Other Side of Adoption

Yes, I know I'm only the birth mother.  I realize my story is of less interest.  That I am much less important to the adoption story than the heroic and self sacrificing 'others.'  I understand that in the popular narrative, my role is to be 'brave and selfless' and place my baby into the hands of others more capable and competent than myself- and then go away, fade into the background, forever.  But I didn't go away forever.  I found my son, after 31 years of seeking him. just a brief year and a half ago.  Since that time, my life has become a roller-coaster of emotions.  I've long wanted to write about my reunion journey, knowing full well this is not the version of adoption that people will want to hear about.
A week ago, I spent my son's 33rd birthday with him.  I traveled to the city where he lives so that we could have our first official birthday celebration together, since the day of his birth.  He wanted to celebrate with his old and new family members and assembled an assorted crew that included his bio dad and myself, his bio dad's wife and daughter, and his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.  Tossed together like some exotic mélange of Black and White, young and old, we formed a family of sorts, our commonality being our love for and deep devotion to my new found son.  As we sat in the restaurant he had chosen, and laughed, and joked, and shared stories, another family walked in.  Two White parents and two Black children.  I would not have noticed them, but my son pointed them out to me.  He asked me what I thought about that family.  I told him, they appeared to be a family formed by adoption and I did not think about adoption as I have previously thought.  A few days later, he asked me to expound on that statement.  We talked a good long while about the adoption process from my point of view.  A birth mother's point of view.  A Black birth mother's point of view. 
My own adoption experience has caused me to feel a very deep sense of betrayal.  My son did not have the life I thought adoption would afford him. The entire situation has left me feeling abused, abandoned, and misled.  Don't misunderstand.  Our reunion has been beautiful and wonderful.  I love the man that my son is, and I understand that the life he lived has made him thus, but it was a life I would not have chosen for him (did not choose for him).  Yes, I made the choice to give him up, and in doing so, gave up the rights to influence what kind of life he would have.  Even so, the popular narrative about adoption is a lie.  Birth mothers are only good and noble till they sign over their babies.  Then they immediately transform into drug addicted crack hoes whom their babies are better off without.  In the popular narrative, I'm the stupid, knocked up birth mother.  Having come back into my son's life, I'm not supposed to have an opinion, or feel anything but gratitude for the life he was given.  But I do have an opinion, and I do feel things other than gratitude. 

This journey has been equal parts sadness, joy, regret, and gratitude.  I love my son, with a deep yearning and longing that I lack the vocabulary to even describe.  I have endured his curiosity, his anger, his sorrow, and have now I think earned his love and respect.  When I tell him I love him at the end of our weekly calls, he now says it back.  I know there has been longing and yearning on his part as well.  He and his bio dad live in the same city and  see one another frequently.  My son has become a regular fixture in his bio dad's home. He is well loved by his bio dad's wife and daughter.  We have all tumbled together to become enmeshed in one anthers' lives.  It is good.  It is satisfying.  It is all that I hoped for and more.  But it does not erase the lies that adoption tells.

In this moment, I hate adoption.  I hate all that it stands for.  I hate the lies it tells about me, and I hate the lies it told my son.  I hate the lost years that I will never get back.  I hate the lost memories that will only be told to me in past tense stories.  I hate the lie that I did the right thing.  I don't know that.  I will never know if in fact I 'did the right thing.'  There is only what did occur and what I did do.  But I don't know that it what the RIGHT thing to do, or the BEST thing to do.  I had several choices.  I chose this.  I don't blame anyone else for the choice I made. But there was deceit in it. I bought into the propaganda that adoption would make everything okay.  I will never be okay again.  Along with what I've gained comes its close companion, what I have lost.  Knowing my son now, shows me in vivid detail, all that I have lost.  All that I have gained in no way makes up for what was lost.  I am left to sit here and mourn my losses silently, since all I should be expressing outwardly is my profound gratitude. I am grateful, but I have sorrow to match.
Moving forward is where my hope lies.  I look forward to knowing him, and creating our own memories.  He is my son, I am his mother. We begin there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Reluctant Revolutionary

Just returned from a weekend retreat at a retreat center in central Missouri.  I met with the faculty of the future Uzazi Academie.  We are still in need of a midwife to teach the second and third year courses, but we have the first year covered.  Starting a CPM program is a large vision to hold, but so it a birth center and a prenatal clinic.  There is so much going on all at once.  I may be involved in creating a certification process for midwifery instructors and preceptors.  I am humbled by this work, but it must be done and no one else in my local community has stepped forward to do it.  Our community needs midwives now!  We need birthworkers from within our own communities.  Where are the Black nurses, midwives, doulas?  We need them now, and if they don't exist- we must cultivate our own.  There are marvelous women of color around the country doing great works- but there is so much more to be done.
Our retreat was full of making prayers and calling upon the Ancestors for wisdom.  There were five of us for the entire retreat with three more stopping in to join our circle for just a little while.   We had gatherings around the fire circle, with our facilitator, Sister Morningstar.  We gathered herbs, walked the creek, did journaling, feasted on delicious vegetarian meals, had drumming circles sang\songs, told stories, practice Village Prenatals, brain stormed and just took an opportunity to bond with one another.  We talked about what type of school we wanted to create and what our future students would look like.  We discussed the future of midwifery and where things are headed in the US.  We talked about how this systemic racism has sabotaged communities of color and set them up for failure.   We don't have high infant mortality rates because our bodies don't work, but because the system does not work for us.  We are creating a new system, one that works for communities of color because it comes from communities of color.  The Revolution is Real and we invite others to join us in this work.
We are recruiting women of color who want to become midwives, lactation consultants and community health workers.  A change will come when we create it.  We are creating it now.

Last weekend I did my Walk for Black Infant Mortality Awareness.  I walked 10 miles on both Saturday and Sunday from Columbia MO to Jefferson City MO to bring awareness to this issue.  I was accompanied by some amazing women- from across the state of Missouri.  I am building a coalition of women who want to change the way birth is viewed and  'managed'.  'Expectant management' is no longer a viable philosophy for caring for birthing women.  We must throw off patriarchal systems of oppression, that view women as broken and birth as something to be controlled.  The current system of birth is literally killing us.  Black women and babies suffer untold trauma and horror at the hands of the current system.  We cannot continue this way.  We will not continue this way.  The way forward is full of hope.  We have nothing to else to lose since our lives are not held sacrosanct.
How can you help?  Spread the word.  Foward this essay.  Tell women of color you know about our work.  Support the work of Uzazi Village with a donation today.  We are in need of support to keep the work going.  We are in need of workers and interns.  I could really use an executive assistant. Invite me to come speak to your group about Health Disparities in the Black Community or come here  and share your talents with us.  There is so much work to be done and the workers are so few.  Challenge the status quo where you are.  Push for change in your local hospitals and clinics.  Speak truth to power.  Demand a place at the table, and then fearlessly speak your truth.  If we don't speak up, nothing will change.  If we don't begin to make a change, nothing will change.  Women and babies will continue to needlessly die.  The Revolution is here and now.
Donate here: