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♥ Black Birth Matters ♥

“According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health.” ¹

We Need Change

I am calling on my followers to learn more about the abysmal treatment of black women and transfolks in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and what you can do to help.

“There is much evidence to document the impact that generations of imperialism, colonialism, racism and white supremacy has had on African people in general—and on Black women in particular… Black mothers, children and families… are unseen and unheard in a health system driven by the remnants and realities of institutionalized racism.” ²

According to the most recent CDC data, more than half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period, and one-third happen seven or more days after delivery. The majority of initial postpartum appointments don’t happen until four-to-six weeks after birth. These are also frequently the only postpartum appointments that occur. Anyone that has had a c-section, pre-eclampsia, depression, or is taking anticoagulants needs to be seen sooner than four weeks after birth. Black women and transfolk are far more likely to experience all of these things, sometimes more than twice as likely as white women. In one study published in 2017, two-thirds of low-income black women never made it to their doctor visit.

The high risk of death surrounding black birth spans all income and education levels. It happened to Shalon Irving. It almost happened to Serena Williams. Their education and money did not change the way that their providers brushed off their concerns and ignored them. This shows that the problem does not stem from race, but from racism.



All of this was even before COVID-19 came along and highlighted the disparities even more.

 

What Can You Do?

  • If you are a black mother or a care provider, read this guide for how to acknowledge and address racism in prenatal and postnatal care.
  • If you are a care provider, pay attention to your unconscious biases that may arise when serving black women and transfolks. Work hard to be mindful and overcome them. Talk about them with others in your field, to help them give voice to their own unconscious biases, which is the first step to removing them.
  • Support the NAABB in their mission to “combat the effects of structural racism within maternal and infant health to advance black birth outcomes.”
  • Check out the resources offered by and support Black Women Birthing Justice.
  • Speak up and speak out. Raising awareness of black maternal mortality rates helps inspire policy changes, targeted funding, additional training for providers, and other solutions. Vote for candidates that support these solutions. Talk about these issues with your friends.
  • Share the IRTH app with your black birthing friends and acquaintances, so that they know about this resource for reading and sharing reviews of black care providers. This helps black birthing people make informed decisions when choosing their care providers.
  • Have a look at the anti-racist reading list and other black maternal health resources offered by Every Mother Counts, an organization working for equality in maternal health care around the world.
  • Support National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization working protect constitutional and human rights for women of all races, but primarily focused on black and low-income pregnant and parenting women. They provide legal defense and advocacy services.
  • If you are black and have a passion for helping pregnant women and babies, consider becoming an OB/GYN, midwife, pediatrician or other medical specialist, or doula. Currently, only 4% of doctors are POC. According to a review in 2019, the mortality rate is cut in half when black babies are cared for after their birth by doctors of the same race.

Remember to Share Positivity

It’s easy to share the scary articles and statistics surrounding black birthing women and transfolks. But sharing and celebrating the positive stories is just as important. There are lots of beautiful, peaceful, relaxed, and/or powerful black births that happen every day, and they deserve to be recognized, too. Black birthing people need to see the happy stories and know that they can have those kind of stories themselves. The media likes to share things to scare everyone into believing there is no happiness or joy in the world anymore. Even Google brings up only horror stories and dismal statistics when searching “black birth”. That means it’s up to us to prove them wrong.

 

  • You can tune into the podcast Birthright for inspirational black birth stories.
  • The podcast NATAL Stories also provides positive black birth stories alongside empowering ones that tell of overcoming the issues that black women face.
  • Homecoming Podcast is a podcast focused on black home birth, working to dispel the myths that hospital birth is safer than homebirth and that black people don’t birth at home.

 

sources:

1. https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why
2. https://thenaabb.org/advocacy/

3. http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(17)30368-X/fulltext

4. https://theeverymom.com/black-mothers-are-dying-at-an-alarming-rate-how-to-be-an-ally/
5. https://www.nytimes.com/article/black-mothers-birth.html
6. https://thenaabb.org/
7. https://www.blackwomenbirthingjustice.com/
8. https://irthapp.com/
9. https://everymothercounts.org/anti-racist-reading/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw5auGBhDEARIsAFyNm9F3mczdvIMSeK4uWb5pb03WdxsoQfICIvx9Z5HLJPb0vLxEw2qtvpYaAuhTEALw_wcB
10. https://www.nationaladvocatesforpregnantwomen.org/
11. https://1410c6d1-d135-4b4a-a0cf-5e7e63a95a5c.filesusr.com/ugd/c11158_150b03cf5fbb484bbdf1a7e0aabc54fb.pdf
12. https://birthrightpodcast.com/
13. https://www.natalstories.com/
14. https://www.instagram.com/homecomingpodcast/

♥ My Homebirth Story — Freebirth ♥

 

Happy International Homebirth Day!

Since the restrictions of 2020 changed the experience of hospital birth so dramatically all over the world, many more women have turned to homebirth as their way of having the birth experience they want. Others have wanted to, but for one reason or another, not gotten that experience they so desire.

Some of you may know that I had a homebirth with my second. What you may not know is that I wanted one with my first, but thought I couldn’t have it because Medicaid didn’t cover homebirth midwives in Ohio, and my husband had been laid off for several months due to a natural disaster, so we had very little funds at the time. I probably could have found a way to make it happen if I’d had the support and knowledge then that I have now. I hear similar stories all the time, where the mama wanted to have a homebirth, but didn’t think she could afford it, or her insurance wouldn’t cover it.

If you want a homebirth, sometimes you have to work for it. It shouldn’t be this way in the US and other countries around the world, but it is. The important thing is that you know there are options, and if that is what you really want, you can have it. For instance, in Florida, homebirth midwives ARE covered by medicaid. There are still guidelines and restrictions put in place by governing bodies that limit the access to them for VBAC, plus size mamas, breech, twins, etc, nearly everywhere. But there are oftentimes ways around this as well. Sometimes, simply seeing an OB one time, regardless of what they tell you regarding their opinion on homebirth, is enough to satisfy the requirements. The red tape and hoops you may need to jump through can vary depending on your insurance, provider, and location. Seek out your local birth network and talk to birth activists in your area to find out more about ways you can advocate for your right to a homebirth.

Read on for more of my personal homebirth story:

 

Planning Makes it Possible

I planned to have an unassisted homebirth with my second daughter. I knew, even before I got pregnant with her, that it was the birth experience I wanted to have. I got involved in my local birth network, studied numerous books, took a course on homeopathy, attended a workshop for birth professionals, and just generally soaked in as much information about birth as I could. When I finally saw that second line, I knew I could do this.

 

Preparations

A few weeks before my guess date, a doula and student midwife friend of mine lent me her birth pool. We cleared a space in our living room for it, behind our couch. It was a cozy corner, where I hung up red Christmas lights and a double-heart light. My friend hosted a mother’s blessing for me, and I had brought home several beautiful drawings and quotes from friends, which I hung on the walls. I also put up a family photo with my husband, my oldest daughter, and myself, as well as a photo of my grandma from when she was younger, which we had displayed at her funeral just days before I found out I was pregnant. She was my rock, and I wished I could have had her there for my birth, but this was the next best thing.

Pardon the fuzzy photo, this was the only one I managed to salvage after issues with my camera. 

I’m in labor!

The night I went into labor, I had been sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband, and we were about to go to bed. I had been having contractions off and on all night, the same as I had for the past 3 months. Suddenly, I realized one of them made me sit up straighter than usual. After 2 more, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom, and knew that it was time. I spent the next 2 hours laboring on the toilet, which brought me considerable relief (They don’t call it the porcelain birthing stool for nothing!).

I called my friend around 2AM, who I had planned to have there as my doula. She told me to call her back when I wanted her there. I had no idea when I “should” have her there, but I wanted her there then. Since she clearly didn’t want to come right then, and I felt bad about it being 2AM, I just said ok and we hung up.

I went straight from the toilet to the birth pool. I just draped myself over the side of it without any water for an hour or two. Once I started feeling the need to vocalize through contractions, I had my husband begin filling the pool. We only filled it halfway for the first couple of hours. The contractions were easier to handle when the water was over my lumbar. My baby’s spine was facing mine, so I felt significant pressure in my back. I tried to hold off on filling the pool, so that the water wouldn’t get too cold too soon. I had my husband put on some music to help me relax in the meantime.

My friend called around the time we got the pool filled, and reminded me to have my husband bring me food and drink. I had been sleeping in between contractions, and he had too. He made me some scrambled eggs and brought me some chocolate coconut water, which took me a good hour to fully consume.

 

It’s Time to Push!

About 10 hours after that first contraction that made me sit up straight, my vocalizations became much louder and more frequent. My mom, who lived with us, came out of her bedroom because she could tell something had changed. Our daughter woke up and came out of her bedroom. We told her that her sister was coming. She stayed until the next contraction, but said that my vocalizations were too loud, and retreated to her room again. I began to feel the urge to push. About forty-five minutes later, she began to crown. My husband saw her forehead, but saw her pulling back in a bit in between each contraction. I went slower and panted through a few contractions as her eyebrows began to emerge. My husband told me to push, and I told him to shut up. I was listening to my body, and it was telling me that it needed time to stretch as we reached “the ring of fire”. A few minutes later, her head was free, and my husband worried about her trying to breathe under the water as he saw her mouth opening and closing. I assured him that she was fine, and she would not try to breathe yet, and she was still getting her oxygen from the umbilical cord.

 

I did it!

At almost exactly one hour from the first push, she was free. I had spent the entire labor on my knees, hanging over the side of the pool because my body wouldn’t allow me any other position. I was so relieved to finally be able to sit down properly. My husband helped me bring her to my chest. She was covered in vernix. He brought us a blanket to put over her to keep her warm against my chest, as the water had gotten colder than I had realized. This was when I finally decided to call my friend and tell her to come over. We spent a few more minutes in the pool, giving me a chance to rest. Once I had delivered the placenta, we placed it in a bowl, still attached to our baby, and moved to the couch, where we laid on chux pads together, with the bowl near my head.

My favorite photo ever. I feel it truly embodies the tranquility and connection felt after a homebirth. 

(yes, I wore a Wonder Woman camisole as my birthing gown)

Breastfeeding Begins

I placed her on my belly and allowed her to do “the breast crawl”. It only took her a few minutes to find the breast, but she needed a lot of help with latching. My first had needed help, and I just thought it was similar, her mouth was too tiny and my breast was so big that it was hard for her. I later found out she had tongue and lip ties. But with a little help from me, she was able to get enough colostrum to fill her tummy and she drifted off to sleep peacefully on my chest.

So teeny tiny in comparison!
Drifting off after a nice meal ♥

 

A Happy Ending

About two hours later, my friend and my midwife showed up and worked together to get me cleaned up and baby checked out. My friend brought a cord burning box and some candles. Around 10PM, my husband and I decided it was time to go ahead and burn the cord. We tied it off with some string left from the anklets I made for myself and my daughters at my mother’s blessing, then we got it situated in the box and began to burn through it. It took a lot longer than we expected, and dripped a lot, so we were glad we had the box to support the candles and catch the dripping.

A sacred family moment

 

The Less-Pretty Details (TMI WARNING!!!)

There were a few things I didn’t include in the actual story itself. I feel these need to be mentioned, however, to show that even the most beautiful experience can include trying times.

 

My Tailbone Broke

After about half an hour of pushing, I felt and heard my tailbone break. My mom asked me what happened, and I told her my tailbone just broke, and she told me that there was no way it broke. I began to lose my patience with everyone after that, and used some colorful language when telling both my mother and my husband that I was doing things my way and they needed to stop trying to tell me what to do. After a few weeks of postpartum agony, my chiropractor did an x-ray and proved that my tailbone had indeed broken, and it was due to a deformity caused by a childhood injury. This felt very vindicating.

 

I hemorrhaged 

After delivery, my friend showed up before my midwife, and urged me to get up and go to the bathroom. I had tons of chux pads ready so that I wouldn’t need to worry about this. I didn’t feel I had the strength to get up, and she had to support most of my weight when I finally relented and went. As soon as I sat down on the toilet, I dropped two big clots, and started to fall asleep. My mom panicked and started to call 911. Thankfully, my friend was able to wake me and get me up and back to the couch and hydrated, and my mom told them it was a false alarm. I drank copious amounts of coconut water over the next hour and took several doses of homeopathic remedies. This helped me regain my strength and begin to rebuild my blood volume. I personally think I should not have gotten up when I did, and could have avoided such trouble if I had listened to my body telling me to wait a little longer, rather than my friend urging me to get up, but there is no way to be sure of what was actually the best thing to do in that moment, or if the hemmoraging could have been entirely avoided either way. Had the coconut water and homeopathics not shown effective, the next step would have been to cut a small piece of my placenta off and stick it in my cheek. The placenta contains hormones that signal the uterus to contract, which would have helped to stop the hemmorage as well.

 

The Afterpains

One thing no one seems to mention when preparing for birth is the afterpains. The contractions after delivery felt so much stronger to me because I had nothing to push against them anymore. They lasted for nearly an entire day, with the worst of them happening over the first six hours or so. Taking homeopathic Sabina helped greatly, but the pain was still pretty intense. My midwife did a massage on my uterus to try to help it contract (part of the reasoning behind the “breast crawl” as well), and it HURT. I was not prepared for that at all. Clearly, I had missed a few things in my research!

 

If you would like to learn more about your options for homebirth, with or without assistance, here are a few great resources to check out:

American Pregnancy Association

Birthing Better

Midwives Alliance North America

The Unassisted Baby