Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saving Our Communities May Entail Some Hurt Feelings

I can remember as a child, crying inconsolably.  My mother asked me, 'What's wrong?' and I answered, "You hurt my feelings." Her sassy retort?  "I'll hurt more than your feelings, if you don't stop all that crying!"

Since my last post, I have tussled with the most obstinate of allies.  Folks who are literally, 'helping us to death'.  They refuse to listen. They refuse to understand.  They refuse to give way.   All they can see is their own brilliant ideas.  All they can wonder is why we don't get on board with them.  I have used my most eloquent voice to explain what effective allyship looks like. The response? Apparently I hurt some feelings of some 'sensitive' allies. It's time to change tactics. 

Women of Color, we must rise up and lead our communities out of this mess.  No one else can do it.  We must do it ourselves or it won't get done.  I know its not fair, that huge agencies that are outside our community get millions to decrease perinatal health inequity and go decades without any positive effect from all those tax payer dollars.  Our communities continue to suffer.  Our babies continue to die.  With all the odds stacked against us, we must save our communities anyway.  Don't let your shortage of resources stop you.  Be brilliant and innovative.  We must let nothing stand in our way. 

I attended a birth last week that against all odds, ended in a much desired VBAC.  There were trade-offs.  Such as the 12 people that crowded into the mother's room while she was pushing, spread eagle in stirrups, you know, 'to help'.  They mostly helped themselves to observing another birth to help them get their numbers, but were certainly of no use to the mother who had to endure the indignities of all those strangers in her birthing room.  Then there was the 'needed' episiotomy.  Needed I'm sure because a resident 'needed' to practice doing one and another 'needed' practice sewing one up.  These and many other indignities are endured by our mothers daily in maternity 'care'.  The racism and classism is embedded in every brick the buildings are created with.

We already have brilliant examples.  If you haven't done so already, pick up a copy of this month's Essence magazine and read about Aza Nedhari and Mamatoto Village in Washington DC.  She and her team are doing amazing things with bigger plans in the works.  It is possible for us to change our communities from the inside out.  Just look to Jennie Joseph, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, Shafia Monroe and many others who are creating the change we need to bring our communities back to health and vitality.

At Uzazi Village our goal is to expand Uzazi Academie which will train local women to be birth workers including doulas, lactation consultants, and midwives.  Our prenatal clinic and birth center will serve community mothers in a culturally appropriate and humane way. I implore birth workers of color to do the work only you can do in your corner of the world.  Spread the word person, by person, that birth belongs to us.  We are the experts. 

I interviewed my first homebirth clients as a midwife under supervision-an African-American couple having their first child.  What a salve it was to my soul to hear them talk with a united voice about their desires for a homebirth for their baby.  Informed, enthusiastic, optimistic couples just like them are the best hope for our future.  She will be one less Black woman treated with all manner of indignities and used for someone else's learning, her baby will be one less Black infant subject to needless interventions and needless disruptions to their bonding process, her husband will be one less Black man treated as invisible and superfluous to the process of the birth of his own baby.  My goal is to multiply their numbers until they become the norm rather than the exception.

If you are a woman of color doing birth work in your community, join the National Perinatal Taskforce and the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color if you do breastfeeding support and advocacy.  We need to begin to create a tapestry across this country of community-led programs and community-based agencies.  We need to know who we all are.  We need to increase the national dialog among ourselves.  Please be on the look out for continuing conversations for our communities online, in Facebook, Google Hangouts.  Join those dialogs, and let us work together for the good  of our own communities.