On September 23rd I had the opportunity to attend the Decolonization of Birth Conference in Brooklyn, NY. I didn’t attend in the capacity of product vending but as a volunteer.
Something in my heart told me that it would be more beneficial for me to volunteer and give of my time as a support person rather than having a table to vend. I saw so many signs during the week of the importance of giving back. I also wanted to do this in light of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico. Instead of feeling helpless I could connect to others related to a mission of hope and action.
What I learned from attending was more than I ever expected.
The first workshop I supported was about the notion of radical self-love and how it looks and feels for women-of-color. Words and thoughts such as time for reflection, saying no, expressing one’s intent without fear of repercussion, learning to put space between people, places and things which cause one to feel heavy or give one negative feelings, and understanding that one doesn’t have to always be the caretaker for everyone came up. The participants were asked to share from two sides. Not only as an expectant birth mother but as a doula, or midwife, or nurse who supports those in the prenatal and postpartum process.
Decolonization is a term which means to undo colonialism and its misconceptions of people of color by reclaiming languages, heritages and cultural practices by non-European identified peoples and groups. Colonialism is a term associated and used to describe the historical atrocities that took place which are directly related to the expansion of European nations into Asia, Africa and the New World. Colonialism and the people behind the expansion of it; knowingly participated in war and conquering strategies that resulted in committing genocide and created inhumane laws related to how conquered peoples’ education, economics, cultural and religious practices would be conducted. More importantly, colonialism affected the long standing prenatal practices which had existed amongst all of the peoples living in those lands. How babies were birthed and if they would be able to be taken care of by their mother or father was all governed by the conqueror’s laws.
So why did I choose to volunteer for this conference?
Anyone who knows me knows that I care about the the laws related to the holistic practices surrounding birth, pregnant mothers and how their caretakers are treated throughout their journey into motherhood.
I learned about ways in which hospitals undermine the mother during the birthing process and ways in which doulas and midwives are treated in medical institutions where the labor takes place.
I specifically learned how womyn are taught to distrust their own bodies during labor and how in doing so the economic gains of hospitals is increased. Such can be seen in the statistics of cesarean sections in the United States. I learned how non-profit doula and birthing organizations are provided with money only under certain stipulations that are based on quotas and check-boxed agendas in the donors x,y,z lists versus looking at the whole experience from the new mothers' and the doulas’/midwives’ perspective.
I learned how many organizations that service mothers have to say no to certain funding due to the unreasonable amount of checklists/guidelines they would have to adhere to and by saying no, how the repercussions may have the consequences of that not being able to service who they truly want and need to.
I learned that saying yes to a donor or partnering with a particular hospital can mean that you get to service more women; particularly women-of-color. Yet, if your doula/midwife/birthing center or organization doesn’t meet the donor’s x,y,z checklist then it could mean you have to pay it all back. Even though the demands are unreasonable. I also learned how many doulas/midwives provide their services for free because there isn’t funding for them to be paid.
Most importantly, I learned how doulas/midwives have been historically treated if they are Indigenous, Black, Latino etc. After slavery was abolished in 1865, propaganda posters were spread in newspapers and many doulas/midwives were in posters with words underneath their photographs as unclean,makers of rat pies, and other demeaning adjectives to instill a sense of fear that these doulas and/or midiwives were unclean and uneducated. What happens to people when they see distasteful representations of a particular group each and every day? I will let you answer that one.
While the history of these actions to perpetuate uneducated and unclean stereotypes were heart-wrenching to hear; you could definitely see that the people in attendance whether they were doulas, midwives, nurses, obstetricians, professors, womb healers, herbalists etc. were there to create community and to bring the rights of prenatal care back to the communities most affected by the colonization of birthing traditions.
As a mother and small business owner it was such an honor to attend this event. Mainly because no matter what ethnicity or title someone I spoke to had had, there was a deep commitment to start a conversation on the empowerment of Women-of-Color’s/ and non-cisgender peoples’ rights to have a baby as they see fit. By giving my time in volunteering I was given back so much more.