From The Grio — For some black women, home birthing offers a chance to reconnect with their African heritage.

These women see themselves as being on the front lines of a natural birth movement, a growing, but largely underground collective of women who believe that the mainstream model of obstetrics has transformed labor and delivery into a medical procedure — and a dangerous one at that.

The African-American women who advocate natural birth come from organizations with names like Black Women Birthing Justice, Harlem Birth Action Committee, International Center for Traditional ChildbearingMamas of Color RisingBlack Women Birthing Resistance and Birthing Project USA, which describes itself as the “underground railroad for new life.”

Home birthing explained: What’s a ‘doula’ got to do with it?

Across the nation, these groups promote natural or at-home birthing, saying their goal is to teach black women what really happens to their bodies during and after pregnancy.

The movement is happening in Atlanta, where the Atlanta Birthing Project is educating young black girls on prenatal care. It’s happening in Harlem, where legendary midwife-activist Nonkululeko Tyehemba works to, as she says, “demystify” home birth. In Oakland, California, the women of Black Women Birthing Justice, under the guidance of women’s studies scholar Julia Oparah, are relating their pregnancy and birthing stories in what they call “sharing circles.”

More black women are joining the natural birthing cause. The International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC), a non-profit organization based in Oregon, is largely made up of African-American women. ICTC says its goal is to promote the health of women, and it has since become a notable midwife certification organization, and a popular entity in the natural birthing “movement.”

Award-winning singer-songwriter Erykah Badu joined ICTC as its national spokesperson. On her way to becoming a certified direct-entry midwife, she said that her three children were born in her home, with the encouragement of a midwife and a doula.

“It was a very natural experience,” Badu told theGrio.

For doulas, midwives and other advocates of natural birthing, it’s about keeping the birthing experience as natural as possible.

But what does ‘natural’ mean anyway?

(Continue Reading @ The Grio…)

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  • Whatever

    “African-American doulas and midwives often draw upon generational knowledge of an established home birthing tradition that can be traced back to Africa.”

    “Amadoma Bediako is an ICTC-certified doula and lay midwife based in New York City. An African-American woman, Bediako took an interest in the culture and traditions of the indigenous Akan people of present-day Ghana. She chose to study the child birthing practices of the Akan and incorporate them into her midwifery.”

    “After her home birth experience, Harper is now part of an enduring legacy once preserved by “granny midwives.”

    The so-called “granny midwife” was the preferred term for the many black lay midwives of Antebellum and post-Civil War America. When African women were transported to the United States as slaves, they brought their knowledge of child birthing with them. They attended childbirths and were usually well-respected figures in the African-American community, often playing multiple roles as community organizers, spiritual leaders, nutritionists, herbalists, public health activists and teachers.

    Even after slavery, the granny midwife continued to provide prenatal and postnatal services to black women, especially in the American South. They were well skilled in the craft of birth-attending and delivery, making use of natural herbs, aromatherapy, massage therapy and spiritual rituals.

    In some parts of the United States, trained nurses and doctors even tapped into the knowledge of granny midwives, but what we know today as the granny midwife eventually died out sometime in the mid 20th century when more Americans began going to the hospital to give birth.

    Now, black women, through organizations like ICTC and Black Women Birthing Justice are trying to revive that legacy.”

  • ruggie

    I’d like to make the distinction between home birthing without proper medical care or support, and natural birthing which is often in conjunction with the medical community. Jamila’s example is a good one.

    I can’t fairly compare traditional African American midwifery, done with a modern twist, to what’s going on in many parts of Africa where poverty, very young maternal age, and a number of environmental stresses are factors that make the process risky if not deadly. Also, I don’t know the extent to which the midwife community or even hospitals, are able to access certain resources.

    There is a rich history of African-American midwifery in the United States. The documentary “Bringin’ in Da Spirit” by Rhonda Haynes is a great overview.
    Black midwives, working with knowledge brought over from Africa, provided a key link in the birthing process, before the medical community took over that role. The switch from female midwives to male doctors as the point person also coincided with such practices as promoting infant formula over breastfeeding. Because of this, black women are still lagging behind in BF to this day, and now there are public service ads promoting BF to black women.

    The rate of African American baby and maternal deaths is very high in the U.S. Even when factoring for socio-economic status, college educated black parents face more infant deaths. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/25/health/new-motherhood-a-racial-gap-in-infant-deaths-and-a-search-for-reasons.html?pagewanted=all

    Could midwives play a role in closing that gap?

    African Mami, I don’t think white women are trying to get to their “African heritage”, LOL, but many white women are choosing the ancient practice of natural childbirth that goes back to their own traditions as well. There’s even a movement promoting orgasmic births — natural childbirth done to encourage orgasms during birth, now who wouldn’t want to get in on that??

    I’m not trying to reject the medical community, but rather see them as a partner to the process. It’s not abut being reckless. The main thing is that women become more empowered, more active in the birthing process and have a number of options at hand. The “African roots” connection may sound absurd but it can also be empowering.

  • A couples of things….

    1. All women have a tradition of giving birth at home across all cultures because hospitals have not always existed; furthermore, hospitals were once very unsanitary places that HIGHER rates of infant and mother mortality than at home births…until doctors learn aseptic techniques.

    There is nothing distinctly African about giving birth at home.

    2. I’m glad that women have options nowadays to give birth outside of a hospital and without anesthesia if they choose to do so. Each women has a right to choose what works best for her when it comes to giving birth.

    3. Home births are an alternative to hospital births, but there are more ‘free-standing’ birthing centers cropping up across the US where a birthing center is connected to a hospital or closely affiliated with a hospital in the area. This gives women the chance to have home-like birth experiences while still being close to physicians and other specialized medical workers if something goes wrong.

    My experience: I wanted a birth without the use of anesthesia and I wanted to be assisted by a nurse midwife. So for the duration of my pregnancy I went to a nurse-midwife who worked in a hospital for my prenatal visits; I also read numerous books about pregnancy and childbirth options while pregnant. We (my midwife and I) discussed my birth plan and when I went into labor I was admitted to the hospital; after some hours of labor I changed my mind about forgoing anesthesia because I wanted pitocin to speed up labor. The entire birth I was assisted by a midwife and only had the anesthesiologist come in to give me an epidural and sutures after I gave birth.

    P.S. I have read Medical Apartheid.

    • damidwif

      i wasn’t very nice up above. my bad

      but a couple of things. you’re right about it not being distinctly african but it still misses the point of black women utilizing it as a connection. native american women and women from europe who were here as immigrants were midwives. however, if your skin was white, you had access to power and education with which you could make the crossover into the medical model at will. black midwives were forced to do it if they wanted to continue to serve in that capacity.

      90% of nurse-midwives work in hospitals. nurses took part in the extermination of the traditional midwife. they created nurse-midwifery (which had not existed), utilizing what they learned from black midwives.

      freestanding birth centers are not to be associate with birth centers advertised by hospitals. you can find them here http://www.birthcenters.org/. they can be owned and operated by physicians, nurse-midwives, and midwives (i’m sorry but i’m too tired to make the midwife distinction).