FREE certified lactation counselor (CLC) training

What an incredible opportunity! The Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone and Ancient Song Doulas are sponsoring a free training to increase the number of CLC’s in Brownsville and Bed Stuy Brooklyn. Please pass the word far and wide!

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Black & Still Birthing- A deeply personal post

********TRIGGER WARNING*********
This post covers the sensitive topics of pregnancy loss and stillbirth

While I don’t usually post such personal and painful stories to this blog, I was compelled to participate in the Black Birth Carnival. My story is more common than people realize, and I work to raise awareness about stillbirth in my offline life as well as online. I’m grateful for Darcel and Nicole for providing this wonderful platform for Black women to tell our stories around birth.

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.

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On December 2, 2003 I went to a routine 37 week appointment during my first pregnancy and my midwife could not find the baby’s heartbeat. I was sent to the nearest hospital for an ultrasound and it was confirmed when the technician looked at me and said “I’m so sorry. The baby is gone.”

There are so many things I could write about in relation to this experience- how my life was forever changed with those two sentences, the impact of grief on me, my relationships, my understanding of myself as a woman, or the bittersweet experience of saying “hello” and “goodbye” to my first child in the same moment, for example. However, I want to take a moment to reflect on what it meant for me, a Black woman, to stillbirth my first child in the context of my family and community.

When my husband and I found out that our baby had died, everything became a blur and yet crystal clear at the same time. What I clearly remember is that in what felt like seconds (I was in the throes of shock, so it was closer to an hour that had passed), my mother, stepfather and grandmother appeared. Shortly thereafter my mother in law, father in law and sister in law were in the room and people were taking turns hugging me, crying with me and caressing me. Although labor had begun by that time, my midwife decided to augment my labor with pitocin, and I quickly began to contract painfully. I relied on all of those support people who took turns holding my hand, helping me squat, and encouraging me to vocalize. I progressed at lightnening speed and exactly one hour and twenty minutes after the pitocin drip was begun, I birthed my son, Nazir. He was, tragically, stillborn. After he was born, my family was there to see him, hold him and cry over him.

My grandmother said a prayer over my son-her first great grandchild- and they all held me and my husband solemnly in the light of their love.

The moment of my son’s stillbirth was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Birthing a child you know has died can literally drive a mother crazy. Burying a child is something that can break a woman’s spirit- permanently. Figuring out how to piece yourself back together into some semblance of who you were and adapting to the new identity of “mother of a stillborn child” is almost too difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The only thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other and have faith that you WILL survive, you WILL come through your grief intact and you WILL find some way to thrive in life again.

Black women have lost babies throughout history to all kinds of violent and tragic circumstances. In the US, in particular, we have birthed babies into slavery, knowing that they could be and often were sold away never to be seen or heard from again. We have birthed and continue to birth babies in the context of a racist, sexist and classist country which denies us full access to high quality prenatal care, foods, air quality and information to the latest research about healthy pregnancy and birth options. A recent study showed that Black women experience stillbirth at a rate of more than twice that of White women. These statistics are not new- but the research has finally begun to catch up to what many of us know to be true anecdotally- so many of us know someone who has lost a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After my son’s stillbirth, person after person said to me “That happened to me.” Or “My daughter/sister/mother/aunt went through the same thing.” I knew I was not alone.

For me, as a Black woman, the key to my survival of my stillbirth and its aftermath was the support of my family and community. They rallied around me, not only in the days and weeks after my son’s death and birth, but months and now, years later. Today, eight and a half years later, my mother cried as she attended a ceremony to commemorate the passage of a NYS law which allows parents of stillborn children to obtain a Certificate of Stillbirth. She talks about her first grandson and his place in her heart and that heals me and brings me comfort.

So many of us are stillbirthing…still birthing…it is birth, though our children were still…and I hope that when we do, we are able to find support and extend support in whatever way we can. Community support- however that looks for each woman- makes a real difference on our birthing experiences and beyond, no matter how they play out. We are not alone, nor should we ever feel that we are.

The contradiction
of feeling
you move your way
down and through my body
with a force and energy
so great
I thought I would
break in two
while knowing your
spirit
had already left this world
just literally took away my
breath
I felt the life force within
me
as I held on to
my mother, your grandmother
on the left
and
my grandmother, your great grandmother
on the right

There were other women too
who watched your work
and also held the slightest
of hopes…

This circle of women enclosed
us tight
encouraged us to do our
heavenly dance

I did the best I could
with what I knew
and now I realize
that I knew more than
I ever imagined
You moved through
and I listened
I questioned
I wondered
and still you moved

So I understood
and let you come
You fell from me
quietly
gently
peacefully
holy
loved fiercely
I looked at you
with wonder
and pride
amazed by the
silence in the
room

I held you close
and beheld your
beauty-
so you are the one who had brought
me such Joy!

Your father was
close and he too
held you
and
together
we began
to parent you as
our spirit child
our angel baby

We are humbled by
this choice that was
made by G-d and by you
How strong you must
understand us to be

Though the pain is
great and the tears
are near
we are forever blessed
to have known you
and to have touched you
and to have birthed you
and to have loved you

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

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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