Black women and gender non-binary pregnant people routinely experience violations of our autonomy, stereotyping and unwanted medical interventions during pregnancy and childbirth. Black women are at least three to four times more likely than white women to die in childbirth, our babies are more likely to be born too small or too early. Often, these statistics are explained away by blaming pregnant mamas–we supposedly don’t eat well, or exercise enough, or care enough about our babies to show up for prenatal care–or by pointing the finger at the stress of living with societal racism. What’s overlooked in these narratives is the neglect, disrespect and coercion that black women and gender non-binary pregnant people experience in the maternal health-care system and the impact on our maternal outcomes. This mistreatment is also ignored by our movements against state violence, which find it hard to center black women’s reproductive experiences, or to imagine medical professionals as perpetrators of violence. Maternal health initiatives also perpetuate this erasure by overlooking black women’s leadership and experiences.
Putting black women’s birth stories at the center changes the way we think about organizing for change. Battling Over Birth, a new human rights report from Black Women Birthing Justice, shares stories from over 100 women who recently gave birth in California. The report reveals the culture of fear and coercion that has transformed birth into a battleground, a deep lack of trust of our hospitals, and a broken maternal health-care system that fails too many black women. The report shakes up our understanding of where state violence happens, and who it happens to; putting the human rights spotlight onto a system that is often unaccountable to black communities.
Battling Over Birth also provides solutions. The report shares positive experiences by black women, and identifies best practices based on their experiences. It makes a series of recommendations, including community accountability boards to hold hospitals accountable; increased access to midwifery and doula-care; recruitment and training of more health-care professionals of color; culturally-competent, empowering prenatal and postpartum care; greater access to home birth and birth centers; and a sharp reduction in the use of C-sections.
As one of a team of community co-researchers who spent over five years listening, learning, crying and healing with black women who shared the sometimes beautiful, sometimes traumatic reality of their birth stories, I am deeply grateful to the 100 black women who courageously shared their most vulnerable moments with us. Those stories are the foundation for BWBJ’s report and we believe they will challenge, move and change you when you read them.
Join the LiberateBlackBirth Campaign!
With the release of Battling Over Birth, Black Women Birthing Justice are launching a campaign to transform the maternal health-care system in California. Join us!! Together we can ensure that black women and pregnant individuals have the right to birth with safety and autonomy, where, how and with whom they choose.
To learn more about the #LiberateBlackBirth campaign, click here!
Chinyere Oparah is a social justice educator, activist scholar and mindful leader. She is a Professor of Ethnic Studies, and Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Mills College. Chinyere is co-founder of Black Women Birthing Justice, co-editor of Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth and lead author of Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis in California.