Friday, September 21, 2012
Our Bodies, Our Babies—Our Responsibility
by Devin Bailey-Nicholas
On the subject of birth in regards to Black women, there is a necessity to reclaim, remember, and reignite the passion for art and science of childbearing. If we continue to allow those from outside of our community to dictate our needs and throw out lazy solutions to cure the health disparities that disproportionately effect us, our babies will continue to die and our bodies will continue to be unnecessarily cut on and mistreated. In the United States, the infant mortality rate is 7 deaths per 1000 live births, lagging behind the majority of “First” world countries. Our maternal mortality rate isn't any better at about 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Now check this, the infant mortality rate for Black babies is 2x that of their white counterparts. The Black maternal mortality rate is 2.7x that of white women. Don't believe the hype that this is simply due to teenage, uneducated, poor & nutritionally deficient pregnancies. Unfortunately, Black rates of infant and maternal mortality are at the same rate regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds. As a matter of fact, a Havard educated Black mother has a higher chance of her baby dying before the age of 1, than a white mother who has never graduated high school.
Accordingly, there are many factors that affect these rates, one of the biggest factors is stress—especially from institutional and systematic racism. Long term stress due to oppression, prejudice can effect pregnancy by releasing a hormone from the brain that can cause premature contractions (please see “Unnatural Causes” documentary, “When the Bough Breaks” segment). Remember, premature babies (babies born before 37 weeks gestation) are at a higher risk for dying before their first birthday.
So, what do we do? We flood our respective communities, lodges, churches, mosques, temples, fraternities, sororities, biker and social clubs with information about birth. We must discuss our options in where we birth: home, hospital, birthing center? Do we want an OB-GYN, Midwife, Doula? Do we want to do a free/unassisted birth? What ever we choose, we must be informed. Individually we educate ourselves, so collectively we save our mothers and babies. We must encourage breastfeeding, because not only does a breastfed baby have a better chance to make it past the age of 1, but breastfeeding has been also been linked to lower the risk of breast cancer. At this time, the number of Black women with breast cancer are climbing.
Another thing our village must do is support our pregnant mothers no matter the age, no matter how many children they have. Open the door for pregnant mothers, give up your seat from pregnant moms, and congratulate them. Don't bring unnecessary confusion, drama, and gossip to the ear of a pregnant woman—she is baring life, she doesn't need to hear or see death and violence. Nurture pregnant and new moms with nutritious foods for prenatal and postpartum recovery. Visit new babies when families are ready, not when you want to see the baby. If you stop by a new mother's home bring a meal, or offer to cook. Tend to the older children for a while so mom and new baby can get some rest. Help a new mom wrap her stomach or clean her staples/stitches. It's time for our community to do the work and be the village everyone keeps talking about, by taking responsibility for each other.
Get involved! International Center for Traditional Childbearing www.ICTCmidwives.org
Birthing Project USA www.birthingprojectusa.org
Devin Bailey-Nicholas is a mother of 2, wife, ICTC trained Full Circle Doula, Traditional Healer, and Founder of Community Birth Companion, a grass roots non-profit org working to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates in Opelousas, LA. Communitybirthcompanion.org