Letter to Midwifery Today: Real talk about midwifery and racial oppression

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February 21, 2013 by AROMidwifery

This letter was collaboratively drafted in response to an article posted in Midwifery Today’s E-News on February 13, 2013, comparing the current-day US obstetrical care with chattel slavery and the midwifery movement with the 19th century US abolition movement. Although the piece was removed and the author apologized in a thread on Midwifery Today’s Facebook site, this letter hopes to use this incident to initiate a deep discussion about US midwifery and our history of racial oppression, which is very much alive in the present. The letter has been sent, but we welcome additional signatures here; we will update the list from the comments section at the end of each day. We also welcome criticism and dissenting views from readers interested in deepening the discussion. The original text of the article, as well as the author’s apology, are appended here below the signatures.
 
 

February 21, 2013

Dear Jan & the team at Midwifery Today:

We would like to start by expressing our appreciation for your efforts to educate midwives over the last 26+ years through your books, magazine and conferences.  Midwifery Today provides an important service to midwives all over the world, and your reach is broad.  It is for this reason that we are writing regarding the February 13, 2013 “Jan’s Corner” piece in your online E-News, formerly entitled “Childbirth Abolitionists” then retitled “Childbirth Freedom Fighters,” which drew a comparison between the contemporary midwifery movement and the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States.

After many comments from readers on the Midwifery Today Facebook page, this article was at first slightly edited, and has now been removed. Jan, you also apologized in a thread on Facebook. We applaud the removal of the article and appreciate your apology. But we are asking you to do more. You write that you regret your words, and we can all relate to that; we have all said and done things that we wish we could take back. And the intent of this letter is not to make you feel ashamed. Rather, it is to use this incident as an opportunity to open what we hope will be a deep and ongoing discussion about a very serious problem.

The publication of this article highlighted the failure of the US midwifery profession’s leadership to integrate its advocacy for humanized birth with concern for the crisis in maternal and infant health in communities of color, especially African American communities, and to understand this crisis as the legacy of enslavement and racial oppression and violence. While the article is gone from the Midwifery Today site, the discussion it has engendered is too important to disappear without a trace. It is important to us that your readers understand why the comparison between the anti-slavery struggle and the midwifery movement is wrong and profoundly hurtful. Even more than this, however, we hope to show that the struggle to provide a full range of birthing options must address our history of racial oppression if we really want to change birth in this country.

We can all agree that in many areas across the United States, there is an egregious abuse of power in hospitals; laboring women (and women in general) are oppressed; there is a lack of informed choice for the interventions that are being used; and midwives are putting themselves at risk of hostility, large fines, and even criminal prosecution and jail time for making sure that mothers and families have evidence-based, safe, holistic and informed choices about how they bring their babies into the world.  The devotion and personal sacrifice of midwives has changed the lives of many women and families.

The work we do as midwives and birth workers needs no comparison to other struggles to be validated. But it should never be compared to the abolition of the horrors of enslavement.  There can be no comparison between the meanings of “freedom” and “choices” between these two contexts.  People from Africa were forcibly kidnapped, removed from their homes and families, transported across the ocean in the bottom of cargo ships where many of them died, then sold as property to white landowners who beat and whipped them to maintain control over them. Enslaved women were beaten and raped as part of everyday life; some were subjected to experimental surgeries on their reproductive organs with unsterilized instruments and no anesthesia. If they did manage to make it to the end of their pregnancies, their babies were often taken from them and sold to someone else. This short catalog of horrors does not even begin to scratch the surface, but it should help to illustrate why current birth care practices do not compare in their scale, violence, or power differentials to the atrocities of slavery or to the legacies left behind by such brutality.

When we talk about slavery, we cannot avoid bringing along the whole history of racial oppression, violence, and exploitation that came with it, whether we intend to or not.  The impact of slavery runs very, very deep in the families of those who were enslaved.  It is a massive wound that was inflicted over hundreds of years and several generations that continues to impact the health and well-being of African Americans today, even though the practice of what is referred to as the chattel enslavement of African people within the United States has ended. This enslavement was an atrocity carried out by white families over black families.  That is simply a historical fact.  It does not mean that any of us were personally complicit in what our ancestors may have done.  But it does mean that when we talk about slavery, we must realize the gravity of what we are about to say and how it may land with those who carry those deep generational wounds.

The same must be considered when we make references to the colonization of the U.S. and the brutal taking of lands from the Native Americans, Mexicans and First Nations peoples; the Holocaust; the Japanese internment camps; and so many other historical abuses of power by people of European ancestry.  To make analogies between these events of extreme violence and the very different modern-day struggle over birth choices honors neither.  Rather, it co-opts an ongoing intergenerational experience of trauma and oppression that does not allow people to heal.

Midwives have always been part of the fabric of communities. Native American peoples had midwives.  The European colonists brought their midwives.  African midwives were forcibly brought here along with other people who were enslaved.  Every population that voluntarily or involuntarily immigrated to this new “melting pot” had their midwives.  And the midwives provided excellent care to the women and families all of their communities, often extending far beyond the childbearing year.  They were our healers.

When the medical establishment took birth into the hospital in the first few decades of the 20th century, an emerging public health profession simultaneously sought to end the rich legacy of midwifery knowledge and expertise through the gradual elimination of these community midwives across the country.  The medical establishment succeeded in substantially reducing the number of community midwives in practice; those who remained continued to serve all women but were absorbed deeper into the fabric of their respective communities.  As your readers are well aware, some of us still remain underground to this very day.

As the 20th century continued and the occupation of medical obstetrics grew, those populations who had access to hospital care (middle- and upper-class white women, and later, women of various ethnic groups) began to embrace the move toward the “scientific” management of labor in hospitals and the promise of pain-free childbirth.  They were not shackled and dragged into the hospitals.

Today, we must be clear that the vast majority of women in the U.S. choose to birth in the hospital setting.  We are still in the early stages of our midwifery resurgence and many Midwifery Today readers are working tirelessly to improve access to midwifery and safe homebirth as we restore these options to our communities.  And to some extent, it’s working!  The rates of homebirth and midwifery care are increasing — but only for white women. This is meaningful and concerning, especially because there are decades of research that continue to show that women of color are being harmed and dying from maternity-related causes in far greater numbers than white women, and babies of color are sick and dying in far greater numbers than white babies.  Many of us share the belief that the midwifery model of care might make a difference in these gross disparities.  However, reducing disparities requires in part that all of us work to understand the full history of how this came to be and why it persists today.

In order to effectively do this, it is imperative for the midwives in leadership positions to be at the forefront of this education, as well as leading action to ensure that all mothers, all babies and all families have access to safe, family-centered, culturally-relevant care.  Our leaders are charged with inspiring midwives to keep fighting the good fight, but not at the expense of reopening the painful wounds of midwives and peoples of color.  Our leaders must actively and continuously examine their areas of privilege in this society — whether they be privileges of skin color, sexual orientation, citizenship, wealth/ class, religion, education, ability, age or gender identity — and it is vitally important that they do their work with a consciousness of the power that these privileges bestow.

It is incumbent upon our leaders to be aware of and to fully support those midwives of color who today are creating highly effective models of care that build upon their legacies of community-based midwifery and are essentially eliminating disparate rates of preterm birth and low birth weight.  In fact, this work represents what is perhaps the only valid comparison that might be made between the anti-slavery movement and the struggles of birth workers today: the resilience and creativity of people of color in fighting for the survival of their own communities.  Midwives and families of color have had to proceed on their own while the major midwifery organizations struggle to understand what is needed.

Midwives are putting themselves on the line in many areas of our country to address an egregious lack of access to safe care and choices for women and babies. But when we isolate the legal struggles of midwives from broader health injustices — such as outrageously disproportionate rates of unjustified interventions, increased surgical and infection rates, and deaths of women and babies of color, as well as growing lack of access to decent basic health care for working people of all colors — we drive a wedge into our own community that hurts us all.  There is an increasingly urgent need for a deep conversation about how midwifery is currently failing women of color.  Babies are dying, and mothers are being harmed.  At the same time, midwives of all colors are being persecuted.  We cannot afford to create further divides amongst ourselves or leave groups behind in any of this work.

Jan, you have a wide audience, which comes with large responsibilities. Many midwives and birth workers look to you and Midwifery Today as an important voice in this profession.  Because of that, we ask that you take the lead on furthering this crucial discussion. The removal of the article and the apology on Facebook were important first steps. We ask that you publish this letter in the pages of Midwifery Today’s print edition. We also ask that you publish your apology on the E-News site where the article was posted. We further ask that Midwifery Today devote an entire issue to the theme of racial disparities in birth outcomes, highlighting the highly effective ways that midwives of color are using midwifery models of care to heal their communities’ mothers and babies. Most importantly, we ask that this issue not stand alone, but initiate an ongoing effort to make the ways that social justice issues intersect with pregnancy and birth–such as racial disparities in health, disability, poverty, incarceration,  LGBTQ oppression and concerns, immigration, and homelessness–central themes of Midwifery Today publications and conferences.

For Midwifery Today to redress this incident publicly would show great courage, and would serve as a sorely-needed example for our professional organizations. This is a crucial opportunity for Midwifery Today to foster a substantial discussion in our profession about racism and other forms of oppression. And given the urgency of these issues, Midwifery Today’s willingness to be a venue for this difficult but necessary conversation could not be more timely.

We also invite you and your readership to join with us in our efforts to learn and to work together to end all forms of oppression in midwifery and the childbirth professions, by first reading the resources we have compiled on the AROM blog (aromidwifery.wordpress.com) and then joining us in our Facebook group:  Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression in Midwifery.

Sincerely,

  1. Wendy Gordon, CPM, LM, MPH
  2. Annie Menzel, CPM MA PhC
  3. Jeanette McCulloch, IBCLC, RLC
  4. Jessica M. Roach
  5. Claudia Booker, Midwife, CPM
  6. Jennie Joseph
  7. Nechama Greenwood, CPM
  8. Lena Soo Hee Wood, MEd, CD, nursing/nurse-midwifery student
  9. Thérèse Greenhow Robinson, CMT, LST, CEIM, CD, BPC, BPCA LLI
  10. Neva Gerke
  11. Annie Kennedy, Director, Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University
  12. Marijke van Roojen, LM, CPM
  13. Danelle Aurilio
  14. Elias Kass, ND, LM, CPM
  15. Monica Basile, PhD, CPM, CD(DONA), CCE(BWI)
  16. Audra Phillips, CPM
  17. Brooke Casey, LM, CPM, IBCLC
  18. Gretchen Spicer, CPM, LM
  19. Chloe Raum, CPM
  20. Meg Novak, midwifery student
  21. Amanda Heffernan RN IBCLC SNM
  22. Jennifer Linstad
  23. Dionne Corcoran CPM LM
  24. Racha Tahani Lawler, CPM, LM
  25. Emme Corbeil CPM, LM, CD(DONA)
  26. Kristin Kali, LM CPM
  27. Annie Moffat
  28. Megan Hill, CPM
  29. Beth Ebers , RM, MH, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
  30. Rachel Zaslow on behalf of Mother Health International
  31. Olivia Kimball of Mother Health International
  32. Audrey Miles Cherney
  33. Grace Hannon LM CPM
  34. Danny Scar, The Prison Doula Project
  35. Aly Folin, CPM, LM
  36. Brynne Potter, CPM
  37. Autumn Vergo, CPM, NHCM, RN
  38. Janelle Lucido-Conate, Future Midwives Alliance
  39. Tracy Hydeman, SMW, Canada
  40. Muneera Fontaine, CD
  41. Michelle H. Kinne IBCLC RLC ICCE CD(DONA)
  42. Anne Hirsch, CPM, LM
  43. Kathryn Haines, CPM
  44. Joelle Ceremy LM
  45. Sarah Davis, LM, CPM, IBCLC
  46. Judith Goldberger RN
  47. Devorah Herman, CPM, sWHNP
  48. Makeda Kamara DEM, CNM, MPH, M. ED
  49. Marnie Cockrill, student midwife
  50. Marie Carnesciali
  51. Toni Hill, CD, CBE, student midwife
  52. Nikki Plaskett, CD, LLLIBPC, RYT, CNA
  53. Aimee Fairman, CPM
  54. Jaqxun Darlin, student midwife
  55. Nicole Morales, LM, CPM
  56. Tehmina Islam, CPM, LM
  57. Kristin Effland, LM, CPM
  58. Krystel Viehmann
  59. Eve German
  60. Erin Tenney
  61. Dana Churness
  62. Suzy Myers, LM, CPM, MPH
  63. Savita Jones
  64. Brenda Burke
  65. Emi Yamasaki McLaughlin
  66. Kirsten Pickard, RN-C, BSN
  67. Susan Smartt Cook, CPM
  68. Jess Kreuger
  69. Sharon Muza BS, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE
  70. Lora Hart, Student Midwife
  71. Melanie Parsons, LM
  72. Susan Hodges
  73. Rebeca Four, IBCLC, CD(DONA), LCCE
  74. Asteir Bey
  75. Lora Clem
  76. Sherry Payne SNM
  77. Ananda Phoenix, apprenticing with birth
  78. Alisha Wilkes RN, BSN, Student Midwife
  79. Elizabeth S.K. Reiner, CPM
  80. Gretchen Ryerson LMT, Doula, Student Midwife
  81. Stephanie Lynn Tanner, CHW
  82. Brenda Francis, LPN, SM, CCE
  83. Traci Palagi, LM CPM
  84. Laura Whitley
  85. Heather Chorley, LM
  86. Margy Porter, CPM, LDM
  87. Dr. LaVonne Moore, DNP, CNM
  88. Annique Sampson, CPM, LM, NHCM
  89. Lorie Seruntine, student midwife
  90. Audrey Levine, LM, CPM
  91. Lashaan Everett, RN, BSN, SNM
  92. Mary Lawlor
  93. Geradine Simkins, CNM, MSN
  94. Elia R. Cole, BA, MPH(c)
  95. Elezya Lane, Doula, Student Midwife
  96. Michelle Maisonville, CD(CBI)
  97. Arya Pretlow
  98. Nicole Deggins, CNM, MSN, MPH
  99. Laura Perez, Student Midwife

_____________________________________________________________________

Original article in Midwifery Today E-News February 13, 2013; Vol 15, Issue 4
Jan’s Corner

Childbirth Freedom Fighters
Did those of you who live in the U.S. see the PBS three-part series on the abolitionists? I hope you did or that you can get hold of it. As I watched, I realized how this anti-slavery movement parallels our movement to free women in pregnancy and birth from the jaws of the medical establishment. This plays out all around the world with some countries being worse than others. The treatment of motherbaby is often abusive—horrendously so. Perhaps nothing is as horrible as slavery and I don’t mean to downplay it in any way by this comparison, but the effects of pregnancy, birth and the first year of life affect both mother and child for their entire lives.
The abolitionists spent 40+ years working to free the slaves. First they appealed to the slaveholder’s reason—just like we are trying to do now with medical practitioners. For the past 37 years, ever since I first became a midwife, we have fought this fight. I first thought, “Okay, once they see how wonderful birth can be from the evidence coming out, they will change.” But this change hasn’t happened—things have only gotten worse. This was the same for the slaves. For us, when I first started midwifery, they hadn’t even invaded the uterus and the prenatal period. Prenatal care was simple and very good with no routine ultrasound(s).
The anti-slavery fight was magnificent, consistent, strong and dangerous—our fight is, too. More and more midwives are getting thrown in jail, persecuted and prosecuted, especially in the United States. We have so many voices and we are unrelenting in this activism. The slavery abolitionists had battles within their movement—we have these, too. Some of us want to be law-abiding and see the bottom-line as mom’s right to choose. It is, after all is said and done, her birth and her baby.
Then the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln freed the slaves. The movie “Lincoln” is about his fight to make emancipation a constitutional amendment. He knew it wouldn’t hold if Congress didn’t change the Constitution. Even after 150 years, the battle for black equality is still going on. Martin Luther King took the freedom fight to another level, but peacefully. Were it not for these milestones in history, imagine where we would be.
We who work in birth are not even at the point of an Emancipation Proclamation, but we are in the abolitionist phase. We are Childbirth Freedom Fighters. Shall we take up this new terminology? It is powerful and has a huge successful movement behind it.
— Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today


Apology in thread on MT Facebook page (2/18/13  1:42pm PST):
I was so passionate in writing about birth freedom and mothers being abused – an issue close to my heart – that I got carried away and didn’t use words and images as carefully as I should have. It was unwise on my part to make this comparison. My sincere apologies to all I have offended. I ask you to please forgive me. The article has been taken down and we at Midwifery Today have again been reminded to be more careful with the content we publish. -Jan Tritten

The article has now been removed from the E-News.

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45 thoughts on “Letter to Midwifery Today: Real talk about midwifery and racial oppression

  1. Eve German says:

    I just want to thank you for this letter, and for the organization, collaboration, and work that preceded it. I am fairly new in ally work and I am still learning how to speak accurately, kindly, bravely, and effectively about the oppression and racism that I see happening around me. This letter shows me how that is done. I feel like I know how this work works now, and I want to thank you for that.

  2. Emi Yamasaki McLaughlin says:

    Please add my name to the signatures – Emi Yamasaki McLaughlin

  3. Kirsten Pickard, RN-C, BSN says:

    Please add my name to the signature line! With all due respect to Jan, this really calls for far more than an apology. This article (which contains a proposal to take on an identity) is not an impassioned slip of the tongue. This is a written piece that was published online. I’m sure it was reread for content and grammar at least once. To me this represents exactly what is failing in the subconscious mind of white Americans everywhere. The exact blind spot that allows disparities to continue. I agree that what this article calls for is a serious, in depth look at our personal, political and collective beliefs about race and privilege. Anything less would be making a statement that this is ok. Apology or not!

  4. Susan Smartt Cook says:

    Susan Smartt Cook, CPM

  5. red clover says:

    Please add my name: Jess Krueger and thank you!

  6. Sharon Muza BS, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE

  7. Lora Hart says:

    Please add my name to the signatures.

    Lora Hart, Student Midwife

  8. Mel Parsons says:

    Thank you for your work. Please add Melanie Parsons, LM

  9. Susan Hodges says:

    Please add my name. Thank you for this letter. As a white person, I needed to read it.

  10. Rebeca Four says:

    Please add my name, Rebeca Four, IBCLC, CD(DONA), LCCE
    As someone that identifies as a woman of color and who lives near Jersey City, NJ, where gentrification has served to silence the highly detrimental effects of disparity in health care for women, babies and families of color over the movement of home birth and doula care for the white population or the upper income demographics that has swooped into the neighborhoods, I am often trying to start this crucial conversation.

    There are loud cries for choices and changes in practices, but only as it relates to the sector of the demographics that carries private health insurance and who can afford out of network costs for home birth and doula care options. There are no cries from this same movements of home birth, midwifery care, breastfeeding support and attachment parenting overall, over the African American babies that are dying disproportionally and the Hispanic women who are undergoing an un-imaginable rate of c-sections that are medically unnecessary (our County was recorded as having the highest c-section rate in the US in 2010 at 44%). Thank you for this important and thoughtful response.

  11. Asteir Bey says:

    Please add my name to the signatures as well. Thank you for the time in writing this letter.
    Asteir Bey

  12. Sherry Payne says:

    Please add my name: Sherry L. Payne SNM

  13. Thank you so much for writing this! you offer a potent passage into the new paradigm with your words and call to action. Please add my name: Ananda Phoenix, apprenticing with birth

  14. Alisha Wilkes says:

    Alisha H. Wilkes RN, BSN, Student Midwife
    Please add my name to the signatures.

    Thank you for this well written response.

  15. Elizabeth Reiner says:

    This is a very thoughtful and articulate letter. I would like to join the signers.

    In Peace,
    Elizabeth S.K. Reiner, CPM

  16. Gretchen Ryerson says:

    Please add my name. Gretchen Ryerson LMT, Doula, student Midwife. Every body should read this. I needed to. Thank you.

  17. Stephanie Lynn Tanner says:

    Stephanie Lynn Tanner, CHW

  18. Brenda Francis, LPN, SM, CCE says:

    Please and my name to the list of signatures.
    I am thankful for your response, and this discussion MUST continue!!
    I am a Student Midwife currently attending a program that has never graduated an African-American student . And my fellow classmates have made numerous comments that leave me furious and extremely frustrated. I truly believe this is a much needed dialogue.
    Praying for change,
    Brenda Francis, LPN, SM, CCE,

    • AROMidwifery says:

      Hi Brenda, thank you for your comments. What an incredibly difficult and painful situation.

      To continue this dialogue, please join our Facebook group, Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression in Midwifery; racial equity and antiracism training in midwifery education are critical issues of discussion, including by a number of student midwives. It sounds like you have much insight into what needs to change, and it would be awesome for you to connect.

      All the best to you.

  19. Heather Chorley, LM says:

    Please add my name.

  20. Laura Whitley says:

    please add my name.

    Laura Whitley

  21. Traci Palagi says:

    Please add my name. Traci Palagi, LM CPM

  22. Margy Porter says:

    Please add my name, Margy Porter, CPM, LDM.

  23. Thank you so much for responding to this–the letter was well written and expresses my sentiments.

  24. Annique Sampson says:

    THANK YOU. Please add my name Annique Sampson, CPM, LM, NHCM

  25. Lorie says:

    Thanks for this article!!!! Please add my name: Lorie Seruntine, student midwife.

    This is also my first time learning of this blog, and it thrills me!! I’m still exploring and researching the history of midwifery in my hometown of New Orleans, and am not ready to do full-fledged workshops, but I hope to put some together in the near future. For now, it is engaging my fellow student midwives in my program in these types of dialogue. Thank you again for this, and if y’all ever come down this way please look me up. Do y’all have a FB page?

    • AROMidwifery says:

      Hi Lorie from New Orleans! Our FB page is Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression in Midwifery. It is a closed group, but I you can request to join–we hope that you will!!

      Any problems with the process, feel free to contact Annie Menzel at anniecmenzel@gmail.com

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  26. Audrey Levine says:

    Please add my name at the bottom of this letter, Audrey Levine, LM, CPM. I’m really grateful to those who wrote this powerful and eloquent response to Midwifery Today.

  27. Quietly, a CNM says:

    You have misrepresented the analogy that Jan used in her piece – she was comparing two MOVEMENTS, she compared midwives and other birth advocates to abolitionists, in that we find ourselves increasingly in a struggle against a great and increasing harm being wrought against women and babies (of all colors and ethnicities).
    Here is her analogy: Anti- motherbaby birth abuse activists are to culturally institutionalized oppressive birth practices as abolitionists were to the institution of chattel slavery. In explaining her analogy she both honored the work of abolitionists and anti-slavery activists and fulsomely decried the evils of slavery.
    In her analogy she pointed out several similarities between the two movements, including that “the slavery abolitionists had battles within their movement, and we have these too”.
    Your lengthy rebuke of this sister-in-arms,which unfortunately misrepresents her well constructed and honoring analogy , promotes a divide within our ranks that will only weaken us.
    I agree with Jan, my colleague and sister midwife : “The anti slavery fight was magnificent, consistent, strong and dangerous – our fight is too” I encourage you to reconsider your letter and your demands – you risk wounding one of our own in your zeal to press your cause for racial justice.

    • Dear CNM. As a signer of the letter, I believe its intent was noble and sent with love, and not with the intent to wound. It is true it might make readers feel uncomfortable but this is uncomfortable work (I know this personally!). While I think it would be a tough piece to write, I can absolutely agree that it may have been Jan’s intent to compare two movements. The finished piece, in my opinion, did not read this way. I think that having someone on staff or even a friend to review pieces that might be culturally insensitive would avoid something like this happening in the future. I see this letter as a way to start a momentum for some real change in addressing the racial disparities in the home birth movement and the letter reads as such: “the intent of this letter is not to make you feel ashamed. Rather, it is to use this incident as an opportunity to open what we hope will be a deep and ongoing discussion about a very serious problem.” It is a bold and courageous letter and it does seem to be inspiring some wonderful conversation.
      with love, Kat Haines, Midwife

    • jaqxun darlin says:

      Hi, Quietly CNM,

      Thank you for thoughts. I hear you are concerned about divisiveness within the midwifery community, among other things. I actually see our letter as an attempt to increase connection, dialogue, and respect around an issue that is already divisive.

      To me, not addressing this Jan Tritten’s piece about the abolitionist movement would have caused more harm to many more “sisters-in arms” who were hurt by this letter than the discomfort that some midwives may feel when reading.

      Racism is a critical issue in midwifery. Well-meaning midwives regularly do or say things that contribute to perpetuating structural and institutional racism. It is harder for women of color to find clinical placements as student midwives (often not explicitly because of their skin color, but midwives often speak about how important it is to find students “who their clients feel comfortable with”). Midwives unintentionally say things that hurt people of color and other marginalized communities, and Jan’s letter is an example of this. This alienates people who may be seeking midwifery care, because they may not feel that they can find respectful and sensitive care among midwives who do/say these hurtful things. It also alienates student midwives from marginalized communities, who may not see how they can possibly find their way through the maze of judgements and challenges they face in seeking their education. Not to mention that culturally sensitive midwifery care is proven to improve outcomes for women and babies of color, yet in much of the country, this culturally sensitive midwifery care is unavailable.

      I get the impression from Jan’s work that she cares about theses issues, too. It is from the spirit of collaboration and community among midwives who care about eliminating racial disparities in midwifery care that this letter was written. We all make mistakes, and none of us expects to be perfect in the work of activism or midwifery. Receiving feedback and constructive criticism is learned skill, but one I certainly think is important for the future of midwifery. We are inviting dialogue here. Thanks for participating.

      Jaqxun

    • Elias Kass, ND, LM, CPM says:

      As Jan is comparing the movements, she notes the divides within the movement. Surely every movement has internal schisms — that friction is what helps propel change in multiple directions, and suits the fact that not all of us want exactly the same thing or work in exactly the same way. More importantly, the divide is already there. Talking about it doesn’t create it, it just sheds light on it and allows us to have conversations about it. Talking about this piece and this letter doesn’t create or promote a divide, it creates an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow. Most importantly (in my mind), it is way less hurtful than remaining silent while midwives of color experience the dismay of reading the original piece, which is how this letter came about. They were wounded in Jan’s zeal to press her cause. It’s up to us as white midwives to address Jan as one of our own.

  28. Please add my signature, thank you!

  29. Mary Lawlor says:

    Thank you very much for this excellent response. Please add my name to the letter.

    Thank you,

    Mary Lawlor

  30. Elezya says:

    I would appreciate my name being added to list. I believe that the practice of midwifery is on the brink of great change. Each discussion brings us closer to understanding. The challenges ahead in this journey of healing the wounds of inherent oppression and providing service for women so desperately in need of midwifery care; Opens the door to roll up our collective sleeves and truly accomplish the work needed to do so.
    Elezya Lane Doula Student Midwife

  31. Thank you for taking the time to draft this letter. Please add my name to the list of signatures.

  32. Friends, I have successfully been away from all technology for 12 days and have returned to find these important conversations.

    Please add my name to this skillfully articulated letter, with my acknowledgement of the hard work there is yet to be done, and my commitment to continue doing it personally, organizationally, and inter-organizationally.

    In solidarity,
    Geradine Simkins, CNM, MSN

  33. Please add my name to the letter.

    Michelle Maisonville, CD(CBI)

  34. Arya Pretlow says:

    Please add my name to the list of signatures. Arya Pretlow

  35. […] and Anti- Oppression Work In Midwifery – Letter To Midwifery Today: Real Talk About Midwifery and Racial Oppression. This powerful letter was collaboratively drafted by 97 BirthWorkers from around the […]

  36. sistamidwife says:

    WOW! GREAT letter. Thank you so much for it…. I know I am sooo late but please add my name
    Nicole Deggins, CNM, MSN, MPH

  37. […] likening childbirth advocates to abolitionists and childbearing women to slaves which caused a very strong reaction among people who (rightly) feel the affects of slavery were *way* more harmful and difficult to […]

  38. Laura M. Perez, Student Midwife says:

    Good work, AROM folk! I’d love for my name to be signed onto this, too!

  39. Thank you for this powerful letter! Please add my name; Selena M. Green, CPM

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Jeffrey Allen Nall, PhD

Professor, Public Speaker, Social Critic

Radical Doula

Where social justice & birth activism meet

Mamas of Color Rising

poor and working-class mamas of color organizing for revolutionary social change in austin, texas

Using Lessons from BIRTH to Create Inspiration for LIFE

Musings From The Mind of Sista Midwife

Midwives of Color

Information for Midwives of Color in North America

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