From Granny Nurse to Doulas: 13 Black Birth Workers You Need To Know
For centuries black midwives have delivered generations of precious black babies. From slavery to the 1970’s black midwives, nurse-midwives, and granny midwives trekked through the mud and woods to attend births. These midwives served women who were not welcomed at white-only hospitals. Their only tools were a pair of scissors, towels, skill, and prayer.
Unfortunately, integration and stricter regulation reduced and eliminated in some. areas the nurse-midwife role in hospital delivery rooms. However, in recent years black women are increasingly becoming involved in laboring and delivering black babies again. Why? Black women are dying during childbirth at a disproportionate rate to other races. Black women aren’t being heard or taken seriously when they have health concerns. Many black women are seeking representation in their healthcare professionals. They want doctors, midwives, and doulas who understand them, genuinely care for them and share similar culture and values.
We wanted to use this space to celebrate 11 amazing African American birth workers past and present who have absolutely done God’s work and brought forth so many black babies.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason, Los Angeles, California, 1818–1891
Biddy Mason was born into slavery but in 1856, she petitioned for her freedom and she won. The U.S. National Park Service calls her a hero because she donated to several charities, founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, founded an elementary school, became a millionaire, and she was a nurse and midwife, birthing over 100 babies.
“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.” -Bridget “Biddy” Mason
Margaret Charles Smith, Green County, Alabama, 1906–2004
3,500 babies. That’s how many babies Margaret Charles Smith helped bring into the world! That number is spectacular for a woman who had none of the modern-day tools or facilities that we have today. Margaret had a third-grade education and no formal training, yet she successfully delivered babies even in the harshest conditions. Read about her incredible life in her book Listen to Me Good:
Mary Francis Hill Coley, Albany, Georgia, 1900–1966
Mary Coley was born in Baker County, Georgia. She called midwifery her spiritual calling and she was instrumental in training a countless number of midwives by starring in the instructional training film “All My Babies” in the 1950s. Mary trained under another great midwife named Onnie Lee Logan and delivered over 3,000 babies in her lifetime. Caring for moms didn’t stop after the mom after delivery for her. She continued to help by cooking and doing other chores in those early postpartum days. She was the equivalent of what we now call a postpartum doula.
Maude E. Callen, Pineville, South Carolina, 1898–1990
For over 60 years, Maude E. Callen was responsible for delivering African American babies in South Carolina’s Low Country. When you get a chance, make sure you view the beautiful photo essay about her selfless work as a nurse-midwife. This photo essay, featured in Life magazine, gave her national attention and brought awareness to the work of the black midwife. Not only did Maude deliver hundreds of babies but she also shared her gift by training other midwives.
Sakina O’Uhuru, New York, NY
Sakina owns Gentle Spirit Birth Midwifery Services and has been working in maternal and child health care for 35 years! She says, “As your Midwife, I honor the sacredness of this journey by allowing the natural process to unfold while providing one-on-one support and continuous care throughout the pregnancy labor and birth.”
Takiya Sakina Ballard, Hempstead, NY
We have another amazing Sakina. This Sakina is a Licensed Certified Nurse Midwife and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Her practice, Sakina Midwifery Service, focuses on family planning, pregnancy, childbirth, gynecology, the postpartum period, and newborn care. You have to check out the beautiful collage of Sakina’s babies that she helped birth!
Nya Memaniye Cinque, Brooklyn, NY
Nya is a Brooklyn certified nurse-midwife and the owner of Dyekora Sumda. She says, “I am humbled in the presence of the Creator’s work. That’s what midwifery is for me. The ability to assist women to do what the Creator has intended them to do, to grow within themselves and bring forth new life.”
Kiaya Carter, Doula, Cincinnati, OH
Kiaya attends the births of women in Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky. She considers herself a collaborative part of her clients’ birthing experiences. She offers “emotional, informational, and physical advocacy, encouragement and unbiased support…”. And she also captures this most important moment in a woman’s life by offering birth photography.
Adriene Dade, MD., Chicago
No matter where you are in your reproductive health journey, Dr. Adriene Dade offers care for women. She’s an OB-GYN at the University of Chicago Medicine and she specializes not only in labor and delivery but also in treating fibroids. Dr. Dade is training future doctors as the head of the resident educational curriculum.
Veronica Gillispie, MD., New Orleans, Louisiana
Doctor Veronica Gillispie is the Associate Residency Director at Ochsner Baptist in New Orleans. She cares for women who have low risk to high-risk pregnancies. Doctor Gilispie not only treats Uterine fibroids but she is the director of the Center for the Minimally Invasive Treatment of Uterine Fibroids at Ochsner.
Afua Hassan, Midwife, Houston, Texas
Afua is the founder of The Birthing Place and she has served women as a midwife for over 30 years. She specializes in water births, birthing multiples, VBAC, and helping moms and babies breastfeeding. Relationship building with the families she works with essential to her work as is building a community for the mothers who will deliver at her birthing center. All four of her own children were born at home. Watch her work here.
Dr. Natu Mmbaga, MD., Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mmbaga serves women of Atlanta as an OBGYN at Modern Obstetrics and Gynecology. She excels in her field and while at Yale she won the AAGL Special Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.
Sharon McDowall, CNM, New York City, New York
Sharon became a midwife in London before she began practicing in New York. She is a midwife at Village Maternity and is also the Director of Midwifery at Metropolitan Hospital.
Those are just a small number of incredible black women in the field of birthing babies. We hope that the number of black birth workers increases and that the number of black women dying in childbirth decreases dramatically. We hope that whatever route a woman chooses to go, whether they work with an OBGYN, Midwife, or choose to bring in a doula that they feel empowered in all aspects of their pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum journey.
Do you know any more awesome black birth workers? Let us know in the comments.