Birthing Justice – Saving Our Lives will be an anthology of critical essays and personal testimonies that explore African American, African, Caribbean and diasporic women’s experiences of childbirth from a radical social justice perspective. We seek writings by midwives, doulas, natural childbirth advocates, reproductive rights activists, moms and moms-to-be, sociologists, feminist and Africana studies scholars, and historians that document state control and medical violence against black pregnant women, revitalize our birthing traditions, and honor and record empowering and sacred birth experiences. We are particularly interested in essays that document activism and resistance.
Women in Africa and the African diaspora have rich traditions of midwifery and “motherwit”, rooted in the Southern states of the U.S., and in Africa and the Caribbean, that have empowered many thousands of women to give birth naturally without control and supervision by (male) medical professionals. Yet almost a century of scapegoating of “granny” and immigrant midwives, and aggressive efforts to control childbirth by the medical industry, has left many black women in the U.S. unaware of these traditions and unable to access alternatives to a medicalized and often disempowering birth experience.
Far from improving maternal and infant health, the massive expansion of physician-supervised hospital births has arguably resulted in extremely poor maternal outcomes in the U.S., when compared to other industrialized nations. Black women in particular have maternal mortality rates 3 to 4 times that of white women. In Africa and the Caribbean, the adoption of a colonial obstetric model has also undermined women’s indigenous birthing knowledge. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world due to a complex mix of factors, however development approaches to this problem frequently involve training of midwives/sage-femmes in contested Western medical practices.
Black women’s experience of the medicalization and regulation of childbirth is unique, because it has been characterized by both malign neglect and by overt state coercion. Exclusion and control have not been met passively, but have spurred both grassroots activism and covert resistance within communities in Africa and the diaspora.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Granny midwives and black immigrant midwives stories
- Indigenous midwifery knowledge in Africa and the Caribbean
- Childbirth and midwifery knowledge in immigrant communities
- The eradication of lay midwifery and granny midwives
- Founding of Black women’s birthing centers
- Doulas’ journeys
- Black women and the homebirth movement
- Black women and the natural childbirth movement
- Black women’s political/legislative activism
- Medical violence
- Strategies for addressing maternal mortality in the U.S., Africa and the Caribbean
- Personal testimonies of empowering and traumatic birth experiences
- Medical homophobia and black LGBT experiences
- Reproductive technology, surrogacy and the role of science in reconfiguring birth
- Transmen’s pregnancy and birth journeys
- Ableism and birth experiences of black women with disabilities
- Teenage and older women’s birth stories
- Birth mother and adoption “triad” birth stories
- Health insurance/Health care activism and maternal health
- Racism and classism in hospitals and the medical profession
- Capitalism and the medical industrial complex
- Globalization, poverty and maternal outcomes
- Birth experiences of women in prison
- Shackling of pregnant women
- Grassroots organizing strategies, challenges and successes
Julia C. Oparah (formerly Sudbury) is an educator, writer and activist scholar with roots in Nigeria and the U.K., who lives in Oakland, CA. She is Professor and Chair of Ethnic Studies at Mills College, where she teaches classes on the African diaspora, women of color organizing and the criminal justice system. Julia is author of Other Kinds of Dreams: Black Women’s Organisations and the Politics of Transformation; editor of Global Lockdown: Race, Gender and the Prison-Industrial Complex and co-editor of Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism and Social Change; Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology. Julia is a co-founder of Black Women Birthing Justice. Her birth justice activism is inspired by the challenges she experienced as a queer, “older” mom-to-be. She lives in East Oakland with her two-year old daughter Onyekachi and her beloved partner.
Shanelle K. Matthews is a new and online media Communications Professional and advocate working within the reproductive justice movement. She creates visibility for women of color and families on the margins who have strategically been left out of the socio-political debate on reproductive health and rights. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist contributing to media chiefly in the nonprofit sector. Shanelle earned a degree in new and online media from the Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University and is working toward a M.S. in Urban Studies; Race, Ethnicity & Urban Culture. Her areas of scholarly and pedagogical interest are structural and institutional racism in urbanism, sociological implications of disproportionate maternal health outcomes, and Black feminist theory. She was recognized as one of 225 Magazine’s Top People to Watch, selected as the Showtime Legend for LSU’s chapter of the NAACP and given “The Voice” award from LSU’s chapter of Association of Black Communicators. Her passion for birthing justice was sparked after experiencing the birth of her nephew, Gavin.
Alicia D. Bonaparte is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College. She trained as a medical sociologist with a specialization in reproductive health, health disparities, and female crime and deviance at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include the abrogation of granny midwifery, health practitioner choices among rural Southern women, female juvenile delinquency, lay healthcare practitioners, racial health disparities, teenage pregnancy, and infant mortality. Her current research examines the contemporary experiences of Black and Hispanic women in the U.S. medical establishment as pregnant teen consumers and historical experiences of healthcare practitioners, specifically granny midwives. In addition, she teaches and works on projects that focus on disparate care among communities of color such as access to and usage of the health care system. She is currently at work on a book manuscript addressing how racism, sexism, and inter-occupational conflict impacted the lives of granny midwives in South Carolina from 1900 to 1940.
Black Women Birthing Justice is a collective of African American, African, Caribbean and multiracial women who are committed to transforming birthing experiences for Black women. Our vision is that that every woman should have an empowering birthing experience free of unnecessary medical interventions. Our goals are to educate women to advocate for themselves, to document birth stories and to raise awareness about birthing alternatives. We aim to challenge medical violence, rebuild women’s confidence in giving birth naturally and decrease disproportionate maternal mortality.
For queries/ submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org