As a midwife in South Florida with a practice that is 85-90% Black, it was difficult to know what to say to my clients in the wake of the murder of Ma’Khia Bryant. With International Day of the Midwife on May 5, we are reminded once again that state violence is a big factor in why Black midwives are necessary.
According to HuffPost, in a White House roundtable during Black Maternal Health Week in April, Vice President Kamala Harris linked the same racial inequities that lead to police killing Black people to how Black women suffer higher rates of death in pregnancy, and childbirth.
This devastating reality is at the heart of the Black maternal health crisis. Sadly, it is a drop in the bucket for what it means to be Black in America. Every close call, microaggression and murder adds to compounding stress levels that release cortisol and increase the allostatic load in the body, a known determinant for adverse health outcomes for birthing people and their babies.
In the midst of doing the deep emotional work that caring for pregnant Black women requires, I learned of the new Lifetime film "Beware of the Midwife." In this film, a Black couple hires a Black midwife to give birth safely in their home, but after the birth, she kidnaps their newborn. The film was released the same week the Black Mamas Matter Alliance led the nation to highlight the inequities in our broken health care system and when President Joe Biden signed the first national Black Maternal Health Week proclamation. As the co-founder of National Black Midwives Alliance and a fierce advocate for birth justice, I can only see this as blatant disrespect.
Black midwifery is a lifesaving solution for many Black families. Around the globe, nations with the best outcomes rely on the care of midwives for perinatal health. Meanwhile, the United States has notorious maternal and childbirth outcomes, despite spending more per capita than any other country.
Black midwives have an unfaltering legacy of serving Black families with their hearts, hands and souls. They have been caregivers on the plantations during slavery, in Jim Crow-era southern communities where there were no doctors and today as a safe space for birthing people to receive quality, culturally congruent care in home birth, birth center and hospital settings.
At best, the release of "Beware of the Midwife" is myopic and ignorant. At worst, it is a continuation of long-standing racist campaigns to paint midwives as dangerous in order to make midwifery care inaccessible and illegal. Malicious myths of Black midwives being “dirty” and “untrustworthy” have been incredibly harmful to the profession. The film is a prime example of implicit bias that deepens that false narrative.
To honor Black midwives on International Day of the Midwife, I implore you to take the Louisville Coalition for Black Maternal Health’s action steps:
· Search “Beware of the Midwife” at Change.org to sign a petition against the Lifetime film.
· Circulate the petition within your networks.
· Encourage other national birth and maternity-care related organizations to join the fight.
· Boycott A&E for its lack of diversity/inclusion.
· Support “Legacy Power Voice: Movements in Black Midwifery,”a film that addresses the Black maternal health crisis and the critical role that midwives play in improving birth outcomes at LegacyPowerVoice.org.
Black midwives have always stood up for their communities, and we should stand up for them, as we stand with the family of Ma’Khia Bryant and all those unjustly slain. As stated by Harris last month, “We know that folks will keep dying if we don’t fully address racial injustice and inequities in our country – from implicit bias to broken systems.”