The Black Birthing Body

A look into midwifery and Black maternal and child healthcare in the United States

Anya Scott-Wallace
Mar 6, 2019 · 10 min read
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Black Midwives in the Antebellum South

History of Black Midwifery in the United States

Black midwifery can be traced back to West Africa where midwifery is a part of the culture. The tradition holds that the birth giver would be surrounded by their female relatives who would act as the midwife. Midwifery in West Africa has spiritual undertones relating to nature and the earth. Midwives are prominent members of the community. They do more than just deliver babies, they are spiritual healers in the way that they act as family counselors, nutritionists, postpartum doulas, the go-to people for resources.

The current state of midwifery

Midwifery in the United States is a complex field. Over the years different types of midwives have emerged. These include traditional midwives, certified nurse-midwives (CNM), and direct-entry midwives which consist of certified midwives (CM), certified professional midwives (CPM). Each type of midwife has unique qualifications and requirements. The CNM has a degree in nursing while also training in midwifery and they are typically based out of a hospital or clinic. The CM has a bachelor’s degree in another health-related field that isn’t nursing while also having training in midwifery.

How Can Midwifery Help the Black Community?

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Infant Mortality Rate Per 1,000 Lives Births by Race
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Infant Mortality Rate Per State (2016)

Changes to the Midwifery Structure

Before midwifery can spread through communities, there needs to be a drastic change from the inside. In the midwifery community and the healthcare system, there is discrimination and systemic racism which shapes the way that minority groups are treated. There is an appalling lack of diversity in the midwifery community. While 45.6% of the people who use midwives are non-white, only 12% of midwives are non-white. The number of midwives of color doesn’t adequately represent the population of people they are treating. Not only that, but there is also a lack of a voice from those who are underrepresented in midwifery. The core value of midwifery is to be empathetic, understanding, caring, and a listener. Though this may be shown to the birthing people, this isn’t shown to fellow midwives.

Midwifery Around the World

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