Archives for posts with tag: United States

Tomorrow don’t miss the Celebrate Midwives! Film Festival.

This fundraiser, hosted by the Illinois Coalition of Certified Professional Midwives, is just in time for the International Day of the Midwife! Three films will be shown; all about midwifery and midwives.

Following the films there will be a panel discussion in which I will be a part of. Yay! Ain’t nothing better than talking about birth (well maybe for me, breastfeeding;)).

Check out the trailers for the films below and hope to see you there!!

Bringin’ in da Spirit is a historic look at the Grand midwives of the south and addresses midwifery in the Black community.

Narrated by Phylicia Rashad, this evocative and passionate film celebrates women who have committed themselves to holistic answers amidst powerful misconceptions about the practice of midwifery and virulent opposition from practitioners of Western medicine.

At Home in Maine

Guerilla Midwife

Jeanine @greendivasuper


In 2008, Harlem Hospital became the first hospital in New York City to gain the special ‘Baby Friendly’ recognition for promoting breastfeeding among it’s mothers–mostly who are African-American and African. Being recognized as a baby-friendly hospital/birth center includes not distributing formula as well as supporting the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, created by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), defines itself as:

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding. The BFHI assists hospitals in giving mothers the information, confidence, and skills needed to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

Baby-Friendly USA is the national authority for the BFHI in the United States. According to their website, as of December 22, 2011 there are only 125 US-Baby Friendly Hospitals and Birth Centers. You can find their interactive map here.

This video is part of the Women’s eNews Black Matetnal Health Series. Find more info on this series here.

Throughout the month of February, we will be highlighting little-known facts, inspiring histories and creative advice related to black women breastfeeding. If you are interested in contributing to this series, send us a message!

When I first began research for our month of Black breastfeeding history I was disappointed by what little information I could find. When I look up Black+breastfeeding+history I get nothing but articles after articles about Black women as wet-nurses.

A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds and often cares for another’s child. Wet-nursed children may be known as “milk-siblings”, and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of milk kinship. Wet nurses are solicited for many reason and used in many societies and cultures throughout history. Unfortunately, Black women have been the ones to become the poster child of the “profession” due to the impact of slavery and institution of wet-nursing and care-giving of their slave owner’s children.

So when I began my research for this month all I could find was this:

Slave and Child circa 1848

So, I’m thinking “I know, I know. It’s Black history month; why we gotta talk about slavery?! I so do NOT want to talk about slavery.” It wasn’t until I stumbled across the amazing blog, Mommy Too! Magazine: Celebrating Black Mothers and Motherhood, that I was hipped to some very interesting history about “sucklers,” or breastfeeding slaves, that I had never heard before.

According to the book American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as determined by the Plantation Régime by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in some circumstances breastfeeding slave were afforded some  “priviledges” (for lack of better words) in order to provide breastmilk for their children.

Sucklers are not required to leave their homes until sunrise when they leave their children at the children’s house before going to field. The period of suckling is twelve months. Their work lies always within half a mile of the quarter. They are required to be cool before commencing to suckle to wait fifteen minutes at least in summer after reaching the children’s house before nursing. It is the duty of the nurse to see that none are heated when nursing as well as of the overseer and his wife occasionally to do so.

They are allowed forty five minutes at each nursing to be with their children. They return three times a day until their children are eight months old in the middle of the forenoon at noon and in the middle of the afternoon till the twelfth month but twice a day missing at noon during the twelfth month at noon only. The amount of work done by a suckler is about three fifths of that done by a full hand a little increased toward the last. Pregnant women at five months are put in the sucklers gang. No plowing or lifting must be required of them. Sucklers old infirm and pregnant receive the same allowances as full work hands.

What are your thoughts about this?

Do you think he institution of slavery contributes to the rates of Black women breastfeeding today?

On, Saturday, October 10th (which happens to be International Human Rights Day), the Illinois Single Payer Coalition along with the IL Chapter of a Physicians for a National Health Program and the Chicago Single Payer Action Network, sponsored a Teach-in at Occupy Chicago. The teach-in not only focused on the overall heath disparities within Chicago, but more specifically on how a single-payer health care system will (or will not) address health disparities in Chicago and throughout the nation.

Community groups and organizers were solicited to join the discussion and were encouraged to provide action steps to move the movement of a national health program forward. I was excited to attend the event as I am familiar with single-payer health care program as a whole but never really sat down to think of specific concerns and or questions as to how this type of system will affect the maternal health & medical industrial complex.

The event began with a brief but truly thorough overview by Steve Whitman, PhD, Director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute, about the history of racial segregation and access in Chicago, health disparities amongst whites and blacks, and his research over the last 28 years. As highlighted in the event announcement on the Illinois Single Payer Coalition website:

Chicago is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, with one of the worst records on health disparities by ethnicity and economic class. Responses by major public and private institutions have been ineffective at best, and at worst actively sacrifice public health to the interests of big corporations. Wall Street’s demand for ever higher profits for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies exacerbates disparities instead of addressing them.

Chicago has some of the worst health disparities in regards to maternal and child health. With the countless advances in medicine and improvements in technology, the medical industrial complex has continued to fall short in its ability to adequately provide evidence-based, scientifically proven care to lower income and racially oppressed people. According to the research Steve presented, in 1995 many of the 15 health outcomes his work focuses on were equal when comparing blacks and whites. 15 years later, in 2005 when they re-investigated the current data, 11 of these 15 measures were worst amongst Black people; including ones specific to maternal and child health.

Three of the 15 measures used in his research, Low birth weight, infant mortality, and no-prenatal care, were specific to maternal and child health. His research concluded that after the 15 year difference, Blacks ranked highest for all three measures. The most shocking and most well articulated realization that I have ever heard about the criminality of this segregation is, when you look at all of these measures and look at the “excess death” (meaning those preventable deaths due to lack of access) he says about 3200 Black people died 2005. These excess deaths are due to no other reason than racism. If you do the math, that’s about 9 folks a day. Breaking it down even more, 3 Black babies die each week due to this racism.

According to the 2005 publication of The Birth Outcomes and Infant Mortality in Chicago report compiled by the Chicago Department of Public Health Office of Epidemiology, the following data shows how desperate Chicago (and nationally) is for attention to these disparities in birth outcomes.

  • Out the highest amounts of births in Chicago, Blacks rank #2 after Hispanics*
  • % of births with no prenatal care; Blacks rank highest at 3.3%
  • % of births that were premature; Blacks rank highest at 16.1%
  • % of singleton babies born with low birth weight; Blacks rank highest at 13.2%
  • % of infant mortality; Blacks rank highest at 14.7%
  • % of neonatal mortality; Blacks rank highest at 9%
  • Lastly, there were 4 maternal deaths in the year 2004 and all 4 were Black

Knowing this information and overstanding the need for immediate action to reverse 15 years (really more) of the harm imposed by the medical industrial complex, what is in store for us within a single payer health care system?

In thinking about access, race, and the current state of affairs for maternal and child health care (i.e. birth justice) I can’t help but have a few questions about how this system will support low income, mothers of color.

One of my greatest concerns about a single-payer health care system is how will this program increase mothers of color’s access to those “evidence-based” practices that I mentioned earlier?

How will this system make maternal and child health more accessible to our communities (i.e. low income, POC, limited-no access to services, birth workers, and/or midwives)?

How will it provide options to poor and marginalized women to make decisions about their pregnancy, birth and parenting without the policing of their bodies and/or reproduction?

How will policies change to support birth justice within the medical industrial complex as well be provided to our sisters in the prison industrial complex?

How will a single-payer system allow greater opportunities (including financial) for birth workers (midwives, doulas, lactation specialists, childbirth educators), healers, and practitioners of color to achieve education and/or certification (if they choose) and practice?

How will this kind of health care reform close these gaps in disparities and improve outcomes for Black women thus improving community health?

Will holistic and modestly cost public health interventions and preventative care (i.e. massage, acupuncture, yoga, etc) be accessible and covered under a single-payer system?

To add, will the midwifery model of care and out-of-hospital midwifery practices be seen as an adequate and viable option for consumers or will the “standard of care” continue to be based on profit-driven, insurance company rules and regulations and not based on evidence and research?

Will a single-payer health care system hold space for increased accurate, client-centered, public health promotion and communication around most importantly, breastfeeding, SIDS, nutrition, fathering, postpartum depression, pre-conception health, and accessing prenatal/postpartum services?

Lastly, in contrast, will Obama’s Health Reform fill in any of these gaps and concerns I have mentioned in discussing a single-payer system?

Well, I am waiting… (crickets).

The International Center for Traditional Childbearing, the Midwives Alliance of North America, and Citizens for Midwifery all have statements that include recommendations** for some kind of health reform (mostly recommendations for Obama-Biden’s Health Reform); many of which can be applied to the single-payer system as well.

I challenge the administration to really step up and address the social and economic barriers that directly affect the overall health of Black and Brown people and in addition make the birth outcomes of those disproportionally affected a continued priority.

It’s clear that what we have now is not only broken but absolutely criminal and barbaric.

*Language provided by the researchers

**Resources for your enjoyment:

International Center for Traditional Childbearing President’s “Healthy Babies are Everyone’s Business”

Midwives Alliance of North America’s “Reforming Maternity Care in America: Recommendations to the Obama-Biden Transition Team on Maternity Health Care”

Midwives Alliance of North America’s Working Group Recommendations

Citizens for Midwifery’s “Maternity Care: A Priority for Health Care Reform.”

National Association of Certified Professional Midwives’ “Maternity Care and Health Care Reform: Opportunities to improve quality and access, reduce costs, and increase evidence-based practice”

Physicians for a National Health Program’s “International Health Systems.” Check out the Cuba and South Africa profile, written by me back in 2004.

Taken from the Office of Minority Health

So, I’ve tried to stay away from Twitter as long as I could but recently I’ve been obsessed with it. I have to say being able to follow other like-minded mamas (breastfeeding, cloth diapering, vegan, possible homeschooling) has truly been God-sent.

It was during one of my manic-induced tweeting fits that Sista Midwife reminded me that September was National Infant Mortality Awareness Month!She tweeted:

Hey folks…. if you didn’t know… September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month.

And then another:

Spread the word folks!! We hav 2 wrk 2gether to #decreaseinfantmortality. Healthy babies is EVERYBODY’s business #incaseyouwereconfused

As a birth worker committed to vocalizing and advocating for a critical look at disparities in birth outcomes amongst Black or African American women, I immediately began to think about what I want– no! what I need to do— to increase the awareness. I knew my upcoming weekend would help me figure out what that could be.

This past Saturday my day was full of birth business. It started with the ICTC IL-Chicago Member Group Meetup. Every month the IL-Chicago members of ICTC or the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (the only national organization for midwives, healers, and birth workers of color) meet to discuss birth work and health disparities, to plan our events, and to just plain o’ commune. Yes! It’s so refreshing to meet new sisters every month who are passionate and filled with the desire to change “birth” in our communities.

The babies, the stories, the sharing, the revolution…it all happens there. I’m always happy to met and commune with such powerful Black women. To get more info about ICTC IL-Chicago Members Group, events, and meeting times, please contact ICTC State Representative, Rayna Brown at

From talking about birth I moved to celebrating a life. 

After the meeting I went to the memorial service for a dear colleague, Christina Santiago. When life comes to a full circle we are left with death. Death is something I still have a hard time with. Christina’s service was beautiful and the words folks shared about her were so loving and so intimate. She was such an asset to the community, so funny…so amazing. 

I am so grateful to have known her.

The last stop on my informative day was the More Business of Being Born screening hosted by the Illinois Council of Certified Professional Midwives and .:Seeds:. Literary Arts Journal. I was asked to be on the panel alongside several other local birth workers and activists. The turnout was very impressive. It was great to see so many folks supporting the fight for the legalization (and hopefully decriminalization) of Certified Professional Midwives in Illinois. I was so honored to have been invited to speak and used the opportunity to advocate of mamas of color who desperately need birth options.

Needless to say, after a fulfilling day, I am still unsure about what I will do about bringing awareness to infant mortality.

I just hope by writing this post I’m at least moving in the right direction…

What will you do about infant mortality?

A good sista-friend of mine is having her first baby in a few months. She asked me about my birth experience and inquired about what I read to prepare myself for natural birth.

Needless to say there are tons of books out there to be read on the subject of natural birth. When I was pregnant I bought some that I thought might be interesting. Some of them I actually read; some I didn’t.

I went through my personal collection again and prepared the following list for her on the topic of natural birth (just click on the photos for more info):

Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally by Janet Balaskas

Janet Balaskas is the founder of the Active Birth Movement and has a birthing center in London. I read this book after I had baby. It’s all about preparing your physical body for natural birth. It breaks down prenatal yoga movements and describes how these actions and being active during labor will assist you in giving birth. I really liked it. It totally makes sense to move during labor. Movement helped me tremendously to get my baby down and out.

Birthing from Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation by Pam England and Rob Horowitz

Birthing from Within is a childbirth preparation course that uses birth art as a way to empower mamas to birth consciously. This is the childbirth preparation class that my partner and I did. I loved the artsy aspect to preparing for childbirth and it creatively helped us acknowledge any fears we were having about birth and parenting. We definitely left the class more confident with the choices we had made and ready for baby to arrive. I absolutely loved, loved, loved it!

HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing by Marie F. Mongan

Marie F. Mongan created this birthing method. You can check it out on the HypnoBirthing website. I used the Rainbow Relaxation CD to help me practice the techniques. I even listened to it during labor. I believe I started listening to them too late into my pregnancy (at 34 weeks). It didn’t give me a lot of time to really get into it.

Women that I have doula-ed for that have used this method really had peaceful and fast labors. I highly recommend it. You can buy it on the website or on Amazon.

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices by Sarah Buckley and Ina May Gaskin

I bought this book early in pregnancy. I have to be honest–I didn’t read that much of it. It has a lot of good information, don’t get me wrong. I just think I was looking for “something” else.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Ina May Gaskin is a world renown midwife and was one of the founding members of The Farm. The Farm started as a caravan of school buses traveling across the country. During their travels, the community delivered numerous babies and felt that there was a dier NEED to be able to birth their babies. With the help of a local doctor, they taught themselves how to deliver babies. Sounds like a revolution to me!

I truly love this book. I read this before I became pregnant. It has BEAUTIFUL birth stories and gives me warm fuzzy feelings. It is a great read for anyone wanting to read about the emotional side natural birth.

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices by Aviva Jill Romm M.D. and Ina May Gaskin

One of the U.S.’s first Certified Professional Midwives (CPM), Aviva Romm has been a homebirth midwife and herbalist for over 20 years. I really enjoyed reading this book. Anyone looking for more info about natural pregnancy should consult this book.

Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives by Deepak Chopra M.D. and David Simon M.D.

Deepak Chopra. What more can I say. I love him. I read this during my pregnancy. I really liked this book. It made me feel all peaceful and free (lol). I would read this on the public transportation on the way to and from work. It kept me from killing someone (again; lol).

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer and Rhonda Wheeler

Again, I have to tell you that I did not read this one either (smile). This book has really good information though for folks that need that. I think how it describes interventions and caesareans are truly accurate. May be a good book to look at.

Holistic Parenting from the Pan-Afrikan Perspective by Iya Raet

One of my favorite books. Iya Raet put together a book that truly needed to be published. I am ravenous for books that specifically talk about raising conscious and vegan Black children. I still refer to this book often and recommend it to all my Black mamas that I doula for. There is no other book like it. Check out Iya’s blog here. You can also find them on Facebook.

We need more books and community for our babies. Seems like some of us need to get to writing (wink, wink fellow bloggers). I look forward to hearing what books you all referenced in pregnancy.

Please share!!

it’s another wonderful friday.

it’s exceptionally beautiful weather here in chicago today. i have been driving around the south side all day visiting house representatives, letting them know about the Home Birth Safety Act–SB3712. i am so high right now thinking about the beautiful sister birth workers that have come before me. i was honored and privileged to meet an elder birth worker in spite of all the running around. i ended up sitting a speaking with her for about an hour. she made me remember why i’m on this path to midwifery. we so need it in our community. i can’t wait to build with her again.

i wanted to share another powerful image of goddesses at work. this photo is from a old issue of Life Magazine of two breastfeeding mamas and their other children on the front of a rural hospital.  this is for all the granny and traditional midwives. thanks for your life work, wisdom, and inspiration.

RBGs stand up!!!!

feed your babies right!

September 18, 2010 is a day I will never forget.  It is the day that I realized I had made the most important decision in my child’s life—to have her at home.  My daughter was born peacefully at home with an Illinois midwife.

I stand by this decision and know that it is better for me and the women in my community.  I know allowing for culturally competent, licensed professionals to attend women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum will stop the disproportional rates of infant and maternal mortality in the Black community. Black babies are 2.4 times more likely to die as infants compared to non-Hispanic white babies.  Also, Black mothers are 4 times more likely to die than non-Hispanic white mothers.  I know wholeheartedly that this must change.

Many of my sister friends know this as well.  That’s why they are choosing  home birth for themselves and their families.  Many of them are working with unlicensed, underground midwives.  Underground midwives cannot legally carry oxygen or anti-hemorrhage drugs; both important for saving lives.  They do not have privileges to perform certain newborn screenings nor can they file birth certificates.   If a mama in their care needs an emergency cesarean section, an underground midwife cannot call ahead to a hospital and ask to have an operating room ready.  She will not be taken seriously because she is not part of this defunct healthcare system–neither are many Black women.

Many of my sister friends are also choosing to do it themselves—having “unassisted” home births (which has increased in Illinois by 10% last year). Should they have to go to the hospital with an emergency, these same women are also challenged by hospital staff, policed, and threatened with  DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) intervention.  Black women and their parenting will continue to be scrutinized if we do not change the system.

This is why I am sincerely requesting that the Illinois Black Caucus vote YES to the Home Birth Safety Act, currently amended to SB3712, when they see it next week in Springfield.

We need licensed, Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) to work in our communities to make sure we are getting the appropriate care we need to keep Black mothers and babies healthy and alive—to improve our increasingly devastating outcomes.

This is birth justice…

Jeanine Valrie, mama of Ahimsa Logan

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