Black Birth: What Happened To Our Strength?

Welcome to the First Edition of the  Black Birth Carnival. Hosted by Darcel of  The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe and Nicole of Musings From The Mind of Sista Midwife. Our first topic is Birthing While Black: A Historical Perspective. At the end of this post you will find a list of links to the other participants. Some of these posts may contain Emotional Triggers and will be labeled at the beginning of the post.


When I think of the history of Black Birth, I picture women in the back woods, down dirt roads, with a midwife in attendance. The laboring mother was probably surrounded by family, her mother, sister, cousins, friends. I picture a strong black woman who trusts her body and baby to do the work they were meant to do together. A crossing over from girl, young lady, or woman…. to mother. Like the women in All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story. It’s a sacred and spiritual event.

While I would love to keep the positive picture in my head of Black Birth, I know that not all of that is true. I know that mothers and babies died back then. But I also can’t shake the feeling that Black Birth was a celebration, not a medical event that it is today.

It’s harder for me to picture slaves birthing in the cotton fields, and moments later with their babies on their backs, going back to picking cotton. I’m a wuss! Talking about babymoons after I birth my children. I need a few days to relax, to lie and cuddle with my baby, to establish breastfeeding. Not these slave women. Then I think of their strength. What kind of woman it must take to not only care for, and nurse the child of your master, but to go through labor, birth and nurse your own child, and keep it moving as if nothing ever happened. I think as beaten down as they were, somewhere deep down, they had a strong mental state. I imagine you would have to….to endure all that they did.

From this book –  Birthing A Slave.

“Slaves suffered extremely high mortality. Half of all slave infants died during their first year of life, twice the rate of white babies. And while the death rate declined for those who survived their first year, it remained twice the white rate through age 14.”

You can read the rest of the article at Life Under Slavery. Does the above paragraph sound familiar? In case it doesn’t…. black babies are still dying at 2.4 times the rate of white babies right now in the 21st century.

It blew my mind the first time I heard the story of how blacks were finally allowed to birth in the hospital. It was meant to mean that they had finally arrived. If a black woman could birth in the hospital you would think it was a sign of equality, but it wasn’t. Black women were and still are treated as if we are beneath the rest of society. Why did  black women fight so hard to get into a system that didn’t want them there, that didn’t care about their health, or the health of their babies?

Why do we let a community that doesn’t understand us tell us what is the right way to birth? Why do we settle for white birth being more important than Black Birth? Is it because the Black Community as a whole doesn’t know their worth? Is it because we are afraid to challenge our Doctors? Is it because  our dignity and human rights were dragged through mud, and our spirits were broken so that we would submit to the white mans way of thinking Black Birth should be? What happened to our strength? Why did we stop trusting our bodies and our babies?

It’s true that way back when we had little control over our lives, but it’s 2012.  The color of our skin does not make us any less human.

How can we stop history from repeating itself? By creating a new history, which is what I think we are doing right now. Little by little Black Birth will be seen as the beautiful, scared, spiritual event that it once was. Our women will stop birthing in fear. We will be treated with dignity and respect. We will find that strength and beauty that our ancestors carried with them.


Please take time to read the other submissions for the Black Birth Carnival. These are very touching, thought-provoking posts


Nicole – Musings From The Mind of Sista Midwife: Our History Does Not Have To Be Our Future

Darcel – The Mahogany Way Birth Cafe: What Happened To Our Strength?

Takiema – Connect Formation Consulting: Black & Still Birthing – A Deeply Personal Post

Teresha – Marlie and Me: My Childbirth Influences and Experiences: From my Foremothers to Erykah Badu

Denene – My Brown Baby: Birthing While Black In The Jim Crow South Stole My Grandmother: Thankfully, Things Change

Olivia – The Student Midwife: Birthing While Black: A Historical Perspective of Black Midwives

Chante – My Natural Motherhood Journey: Homebirth Stories