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One of Many: A Black Woman’s Birth Story

Black Maternal Health Week

By Tasha Chambers

Note: Mission Partners is honored to share this guest blog post by Mission Partners’ senior strategist Tasha Chambers, in recognition of Black Maternal Health Week.

There are moments in life you never forget—a graduation, a wedding, the death of a loved one, and the birth of a child. By the time I was 34 years old, I had experienced all of these moments but to me, there was nothing more momentous than having a baby.

After about a year of trying to conceive, my husband and I were blessed with that experience.  

This baby, which was baby number two for us, would be the experience that I didn’t have with baby number one—a natural childbirth.

A historical lens on Black midwives

Explaining to my husband that I wanted a natural birth was not the easiest.

“Dou who?” he asked. “And, how much did you say her services cost again?”

The lack of knowledge on midwives and doulas, in my own community, is easily a result of the erasure of Black midwives and the appropriation of midwifery as many of us know it today. Black midwives brought with them, to birthings, the traditions of the African diaspora – community, singing, music, food, herbs and physical touch. It was truly a sacred experience.

Years later, that same sacred experience would be largely erased from Black culture. Black midwives, acting as both midwife and doula, would be forced to get permission from licensed doctors to perform their services. Black midwives’ homes were inspected, and they were required to take trainings for a service that was inherently their own.

Enforcing these terms was yet another low moment in this country’s history in the way it devalues Black women’s experience and knowledge.   

Struggling to find a Black midwife, many Black mommas I trusted referred me to a non-Black midwife who came highly recommended. She was the only option at that time.

Unfortunately, I was not able to move forward with her: She specialized in home deliveries, which was ruled out for me because of my previous Cesarean section. So, I went with the next best thing—selecting a doula to be my natural birth advocate in a hospital.

Yes, I am magic. And, my pain is also real.

Exhausted from Google searches and referrals, I selected a doula, a person who was not Black, who seemed to have a huge following and years of experience. With my due date rapidly approaching, I felt like she was the best option.

On April 5, 2016, my birth experience began. After about 50 hours of labor, my husband and I made our trek to the hospital for our natural birth. (Take a lesson from me: A natural birth at a hospital is not an ideal birth environment.)

Baby number two had not dropped low enough into the birth canal for delivery, and my water had not broken. My doula suggested that I forcibly break my water to speed up the process. I agreed with her recommendation, and she jetted off to another client. She sent a surrogate doula, another person who was not Black to stay with me while I labored, a disconnect from our agreed-upon birth plan.

Fast forward a few eventful hours and baby number two was delivered via a second C-section. My birth plan was disregarded. As if things couldn’t get worse, my blood pressure fell drastically and I spent two hours in surgery to stabilize.

After my blood pressure normalized, I was rolled to my room. When I arrived, the nurse began pressing on my stomach, which is not uncommon after a C-section but should only feel slightly tender with anesthesia.

This time, the pain from the nurse pushing on my stomach was so bad that I felt like I had jumped out of my body. I grabbed her hand and pleaded with her to stop. My OB-GYN tried next, and I did the same with him. I questioned why they would keep pressing on my stomach when I alerted them that I was in excruciating pain. I nearly blacked out from the pain.

The anesthesiologist came in next. He whispered: “They authorized me to give you the cheap [medicine]. It wears off quickly. I’ll give you something stronger.”

This was one of those moments I have never forgotten.

Even as a Black woman with quality health insurance, my medical providers made decisions and assumptions for me. They assumed my pain could be tolerated. They made a decision that I couldn’t afford to be comforted like others.

My pain didn’t matter. My birth plan didn’t matter. My motherhood didn’t matter.

Fighting for our birthright

While my last and final birth experience was traumatic, I was one of the lucky ones. In the US, 4 in 10,000 Black women do not survive complications before, during, or after birth.  

Data reveals that the United States has one of the worst maternal mortality rates among developed countries. Additionally, black women die from pregnancy-related issues nearly four times more often than white women.

Learn More. Join Mission Partners on Monday, May 20 for Hear Her: A Call to Action on Maternal Mortality in the U.S.

Black midwifery is resurging in our community helping to change our narrative. It is a joy to see that Black women have the opportunity to go through a birth experience with a midwife or doula who shares lived experiences, an understanding of the Godly work of our ancestors, and who sees their humanity. Hopefully, it means that other Black mothers won’t have to endure an experience like mine.

As a Black woman in America, my story is all too common. But in this year of 2019, it shouldn’t be. And it’s why I hope you’ll join me and the Mission Partners team on Monday, May 20 when we’ll bring maternal health experts, community leaders, and community members together, to help drive momentum towards creating change.

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On Brave Actions and Bold Speak

By Carrie Fox

Above my youngest daughter’s bed hangs a framed sign that reads “Be Brave”.

My husband and I were intentional in hanging that sign, and we remain focused on instilling its message in our children: to stand up for what is right, to speak up when something feels wrong, and to use their voices and actions for good in this world.

But on this third Monday in January—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—when the complexity of their young questions is mounting— about the world we live in, about the actions of those in power, and about the federal workers, small businesses owners and families hurting in this government shutdown— those two words “Be Brave” are far easier to speak than they can be to live.

This weekend’s protests at the Lincoln Memorial—including a now viral incident of young people hooting, hollering and mocking a Native American activist and Vietnam veteran—reinforce my sense of urgency as a parent, a business owner, a board member, a Girl Scout troop leader, and a white woman of privilege. I must be willing to do the hard work: to acknowledge and leverage my power, to bold speak when I witness injustice, and to own when I have allowed an injustice to occur if I am to raise racially-conscious, brave and bold girls. Professionally, I must expect just as much from myself if I am to build a racially-conscious business.

“Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Frankly, it’s hard to know if I have the tools that this requires. And it’s hard to know how best to translate the same lessons I’m working to instill in my daughters to our work at Mission Partners. But I know one thing for sure: we learn to be brave by watching. We learn by what we see, and what we don’t see.

Remaining silent on issues of race and injustice at home or at work is the worst we can do. And so, just as we intentionally hung that sign above our daughter’s bed, and just as we’ll intentionally mark Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life this weekend in service, there are a few other intentional changes we’re making at Mission Partners this year that I hope will inspire other brave actions, as well.

  1. We’re strengthening our skills in bringing Race to the table. Last year, Mission Partners committed publicly to advance issues of equity in our work, but this year, we’re naming it. We started this year with a frank conversation on the themes in Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, and we recently invested in Race and Identity training for all full-time employees. We hired Becky George, as our full time Director of Community Engagement, who will bring these same skills to our clients and network. And every Tuesday from here on out, we’ll feature a story on our weekly newsletter that sheds new light and understanding on issues of race in the workplace. Our personal commitment to addressing individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism will be a theme for this entire year and will extend into everything we do as a team.
  1. We’re creating new platforms to bold speak. Mission Partners last week hosted the first meeting of our Loyola University Social Impact Fellows, with 12 brave students who will journey this year together, identifying injustices around them, building the muscles to bravely explore solutions, and boldly speaking out for change. This group of undergraduate students across disciplines will work together over the course of the next 10 months to advance issues of social justice in communities where we live, learn, and work. If and when we don’t feel we have the tools, we will build them, together.
  1. We’re prepared to challenge injustices when we hear and see them. Throughout this year, Mission Partners will place a continued focus on questioning, challenging, and boldly speaking up about the systems around us. We will use every communications skill we have to advocate for social change and systems change in our communities. We’ll challenge clients when we hear words that reinforce negative stereotypes, and we’ll speak up when we see actions that reinforce racism, because we know, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

This is a moment in time to be brave and to bold speak, but it certainly won’t end at the close of this new year.  At Mission Partners, our way of working with one another and with our clients is steeped inside understanding, learning and applying a racial equity lens to all that we do- this year and every year moving forward.

If we’re lucky, our Congress will choose to be brave this year, too. But while we wait for necessary signs of progress there, it’s time right now to get to work here—to use the tools we have to bravely act and boldly speak in the name of justice.  Our kids and our future deserve no less.