A Tradition Worth Revitalizing
A hundred years ago, the majority of Black, Indigenous and Latinx babies in the United States were born under the watchful eye of a community midwife. For Black communities, the Grand Midwife was a heroic figure whose carefully handed down knowledge from previous generations preserved countless lives. In Indigenous and Mestizo/Hispano communities, a medicine woman, womb partara or elder wise woman served in the same capacity and was highly regarded as an expert within her community.
When medical obstetrics and university hospitals came on the scene in the 1900’s, the community midwives found themselves regulated out of existence and under persecution by obstetricians who found a strong financial incentive in monopolizing childbirth. The obstetricians used their political and social power to successfully lobby for the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, which regulated birth and moved it out of communities- and into hospitals. Birth then became a medical event to be controlled by physicians and families of color became subject to an often abusive medical system that was not designed with their needs in mind. A hundred years later, the vast majority of families of color in the United States give birth in facilities that are primarily staffed by surgeons rather than community-based care providers such as midwives. How did the shift from culturally-congruent midwifery care to medical obstetrics with the Sheppard-Towner Act impact Black and Brown families?
In the decades since the Sheppard-Towner Act was passed, racial disparities in rates of maternal and infant mortality have skyrocketed. While modern medical technology like antibiotics and anesthesia improved birth outcomes overall, Black, Indigenous and Latinx families have experienced a disproportionate burden of poor birth outcomes compared to their white neighbors. High rates of cesarean sections, pregnancy complications, discriminatory and substandard medical care, the chronic stress of racism, and underinvestment in communities of color has led to the current maternal mortality crisis in the United States. Now more than ever, our community needs birth care providers who are able to deliver the kind of community-centered care that would empower parents to have the safest, most informed birth experiences possible.
Wichita Birth Justice Society and many other birth justice organizations are advocating for a return to the tradition of community-centered birth and working to increase representation in birth professions. To this end, we are mobilizing Black, Indigenous and Latinx individuals to enter birth work.
The Wichita Birth Justice Society has provided over $17,500 in scholarships to birth workers of color since 2019. Our most recent round of scholarships provided ten individuals with professional training in perinatal doula work, breastfeeding peer counseling, reproductive health counseling and community health worker training. In investing in our community, we are building capacity for a future in which families of color in Kansas have access to culturally affirming care during pregnancy and birth.
The Wichita Birth Justice Society offers a monthly professional mentorship group for birth workers of color in the Wichita area. Professional mentorship is available to assist individuals who aspire to become lactation peer counselors, perinatal doulas, midwives, and enter other birth-serving professions.
For information on how to join the mentorship group, email Sapphire@wichitabirthjusticesociety.org or text 316-444-0236
Wichita Birth Justice Society offers academic and social work interns the opportunity to learn vital community service skills within our organization. We welcome students from all backgrounds and ethnicities to come learn and serve alongside our community-facing projects.
Are you interested in working as an intern or practicum student at the Wichita Birth Justice Society? Contact Sapphire Garcia-Lies at 316-444-0236 or firstname.lastname@example.org