African American midwifery – Omited from studies.. Something Needs to Change.

To whom it concerns:

Black history month has come and passed and within the birth world that I am deeply involved in, I have come to learn that February will probably be the only month I hear about the rich history of African-American Midwives. Then usually Midwifery Organizations will usually close those gates of knowledge for the next 11 months and their social media sites will then again plaster the photos of women who are not of color having their perfect home birth. In the midst of those pictures and great stories may come up the fact that black women and their babies are not faring so well when it comes to birth. Yet that is soon forgotten when an article comes out titled “Home Births Rising Among White Women, Report Says”. Who would ever use that as a title I have no idea, yet I will admit they did a great job at grabbing the attention of readers. Yet it also reminded me of what I have stated before “the natural birth movement leaves women of color behind way behind”

I stand by this statement even more so when the article “Childbirth Abolitionists”  written by Jan Tritten who is the mother of Midwifery Today. The article shows how disconnected she is from the black community and yet how scary it is that this midwife thought this article was brilliant. Yes, she may have said sorry after being called out. Though the fact that she published the article leaves me to think that she really thought it would have been this thought-provoking piece, which was going to somehow change the birth worlds thinking. It left me feeling numb. Numb because I no longer have feelings to give and put out there when I see things like this written by people who claim to care. That part of my heart has frozen over and fallen off. You can only scream “my race does not need saving or a pity party” so many times at a computer screen. You can only argue on how forming a group for birth workers of color is not racist and sure as hell isn’t excluding anyone that we just want a safe space to talk. After a while you just aren’t surprised any more.

Yet this letter wasn’t supposed to go into those issues. What I wanted to do with this letter was address the fact that my midwifery required/recommended reading material is missing an important part of history. The mention of African-American midwives before Ina Mays time has somehow gone missing from my reading material. In fact looking at many midwife programs for CPM’S I am more likely to have to read a book about a Midwife from a foreign country than I am about reading a book about a African-American midwife.

In fact my reading list has turned into the Ina May Gaskin Party. I am not saying she is not important but I will say without the Black midwives who delivered 1000’s of babies of black women as well as poor white women, the same black midwives who passed down their skills and knowledge to their daughters and other black women of the community, who kept midwifery alive even when many women were flocking to hospitals to have their baby, there would have probably been no Ina May Gaskin.
Yet no mention of that in my books.

Nor are the names :
Margret Charles Smith- former enslaved women who delivered 3,500 babies without a death of a mother and few babies.
Mary Jane Lawson Trust – First Black licensed midwife in the state of West Virginia
Maude Callen, or the fact that many of these black midwives were run out of practicing by states outlawing midwives. Not because they cared about the mothers delivering these babies, yet due to a system full of racism and greed.

In none of my books does it speak of 1976 in Alabama in which 150 black midwives were threatened to be jailed if they continued to practice.
Wasn’t the farm formed in 1971? So I believe the “Mother of authentic midwifery” really isn’t the mother at all. Nor is this an attack on her, yet more so pointing out how I do not understand why more of her books appear on reading list yet never
Granny Midwives and Black Women Writers: Double-Dutched Readings
Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier
These stories left to be discovered at a later date if ever.

Nor is any of this mentioned when I see the many “fund the black midwives campaigns” that I have been tagged in about 20 times now.
What I do see is a campaign that tells me the mortality rate of black mothers and their babies. Then I see a link for women of color to apply for scholarships to help fund their midwifery journey. Yet when the books are ordered there will be barely any mention of the women they could relate to during these studies and that is unacceptable and needs to change.
You cannot tell a group of women that their presence is needed then turn around and omit their presence from their studies.

  A more culturally inclusive curriculum is needed in midwifery training in order to provide culturally competent care. Midwifery care is not a service of affluent white women, but should be offered as an option of all cultures and socioeconomic statuses.

I challenge schools to change their required reading list to included books about the mothers who kept midwifery alive, I also extent this challenge to MANA and NARM, even ACNM.
I also would like to see not just keeping black birth worker accomplishments to Black history month.
I also won’t limit this to just Black midwives, yet I also want this for the Native American, Asian, and Mexican/Central American whose work is not mentioned and lost in the shuffle.
Maybe my voice will be left unheard, yet I could not continue to go through with my studies while screaming to myself that this complete and utter bull.

Much thanks to Friend Venita LS for your feedback.


12 thoughts on “African American midwifery – Omited from studies.. Something Needs to Change.

  1. I’d never heard of Ina May referred to as the mother of modern midwifery before. I wonder who started that? It sure is inaccurate! (I was using the Gaskin maneuver before it was called the Gaskin maneuver
    I have noticed (hard not to) that most midwives I know are white. At midwifery Conferences it’s like a sea of white. Most of my clients are white, yet I’ve never turned down anyone of color, they just don’t apply. Feeling kinda lopsided. I have wondered where all the other people are & why they are not with us. Sorry I don’t have any answers. What can I do? How can we reach them? I would sincerely love to know!

  2. Thank for this. I’m a white nurse-midwifery student and anthropologists intensely interested in midwives of color and the history of birth within American communities of color. I struggle all of the time with my role as a CNM in bridging the gap between white midwives and midwives of color because I don’t think that the maternity care establishment, dominated as it is by white people, including white midwives, can solve the endemic problems of high mortality and morbidity rates in American women of color without understanding how this situation came to be and what midwives, doulas, and other birth workers of color are already doing to address this in their communities. The struggle is how to do this coming from a place of cultural humility and how to use my own position in a productive way that doesn’t fall into a tired “white savior” trope. I’m going to start with some of the books you’ve listed and keep following this conversation. Thank you again.

  3. I have heard that Ina May gives credit where credit is due about the “Gaskin maneuver,” that she learned it in Guatemala and it was originally information that the indigenous midwives there had put together through their experience. I don’t know how this technique got named after Ina May since she did not “invent’ or come up with it. Here’s a nice blog piece about it:

  4. Thank you for this blog post as so many students feel exactly the same as you and have had the same experience with midwifery education. I would ask that you send this blog post (or at least link it?) in a letter to your school, MEAC and AME who are trying to work these issues into their planning and concerted efforts to address these gaps. Yes, midwifery is largely white, upper middle class women. We must all continue to reach out for greater access and equity in the profession. Thank you again.

  5. “Motherwit” by Onnie Lee Logan is one of the most valuable midwifery themed books I have ever read; it contributed more to my trust of birth than any other book not written for unassisted birthers. More so than “Spiritual Midwifery” or any other book by Ina May Gaskin. Out of print- I hope that it will be reprinted soon- look out for it, it’s not to be missed. I like it better than “Listen to Me Good.” Are midwives of color under-represented in midwifery curricula? No doubt- people of color are under-represented in just about all fields of education, why not midwifery? You don’t have to sell me on that. Changing that racist reality in every field is a tough row to hoe, and you are part of making it happen, with your fabulous blog! But please, give credit where it is due. Know your history: Gaskin independently went about learning about birth and gathering her midwifery knowledge, empirically and through her relationship with various doctors, in the process of moving a bus caravan of tripping hippies across the country. A midwife of necessity, her efforts owe nothing to the African-American midwife. She exists independently, as do they- separate moments and movements in history, despite the similarities in timing- the only common points are the field of midwifery itself, and their geographical location in time and space. The Farm was an effort to change society by creating a separate society. I don’t recall reading anything about Gaskin consulting with and learning from midwives of color in the South, only in Central or South America. (Comments above mention Guatemala.) Midwives of color were a part of existing society in the South, not a fringe 60’s movement to change the world, and midwives of all colors were maligned, persecuted, and forced underground. I would wager that Amish and Mennonite midwives, Native Americans and Latinas are also under-represented in your curricula. Like African-American midwives, the wealth of their contributions is found in the quiet community based continuity of care and the numbers of births they attend. Of course those individual mothers and babies don’t have a voice in history, and most midwives do not have their own publishing company as part of their intentional community to back them up! So history is written by the winners and herstory by the most vocal among us. It’s ok to celebrate that, and there is no need to blame those who’ve been successful in getting the word out, with keeping down those who have yet to be heard. Keep speaking your piece, but do it with an eye for accuracy, and you’ll go further than ever before.

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