On Wednesday October 16th Black Women’s Blueprint held a national call for community mobilization around the issue of black maternal health care. We were joined by care practitioners, activists, advocates for reproductive justice, domestic violence and sexual assault counselors, educators, and others committed to the defense of black women’s bodily autonomy. This call was premised on the fact that maternal health care is in crisis, which for many black women has resulted in trauma, loss, and violations that are, in the words of BWB executive director Sevonna Brown, “part of a continuum of violences that we have survived as black women for generations.” Brown went on to assert that the epidemic of clinic shut-downs, lack of resources, sexual abuse, re-traumatization and maternal mortality, having been assessed in the Sexual Abuse to Maternal Mortality Pipeline report released by BWB in July of 2019, now requires a community wide response grounded in a liberatory, black feminist framework. She added that this response calls for skill sharing and learning exchange programs, the re-opening of clinics, training and workshops on black women’s sexual and maternal healthcare, as well as full participation of healthcare practitioners, doulas, and healers who will play a vital role in placing the tools necessary to address the situation in the hands of the community.
After Brown’s opening statements, Black Women’s Blueprint had the pleasure of welcoming birth equity advocate and co-founder of the Spirit of a Woman Leadership Development Institute Shawnee Benton-Gibson to the national call. In addition to discussing her own work and answering questions, Benton-Gibson generously shared with everyone her recent experience of the transition of her daughter due to complications relating to an emergency c-section. She touched on the history of sexual trauma both she and her daughter had personally experienced, and framed that trauma within the context of the long history of sexual abuse against black women beginning with the trans Atlantic slave trade. In drawing this connection she illustrated the reverberation of this trauma across generations and into the present, affecting all aspects of our lives as black women, including our reproductive health. Benton-Gibson summarized her work as a practice of identifying this reproductive trauma, and performing the healing processes necessary to break those cycles of violence that allow said trauma to fester, a practice that has heavily informed BWB’s own advocacy.
Several interesting points were raised during the question and answer portion of the call. One participant inquired as to the most effective means of informing younger black women of the urgency of the situation regarding reproductive justice. In response, Benton-Gibson offered that even for advocates such as herself, a significant amount of medical information is not widely known or made available to the public. This was the case regarding her daughter’s c-section and the resulting pulmonary embolism - despite being as well informed as she is due to the nature of her work, she was shocked by the immediate impact it had on her daughter’s health. Benton-Gibson proposed that education need not happen exclusively through activist spaces, and that such discussion can and should happen on a community level, with neighbors, friends, and family members, so that essential information can be made readily available regardless of one’s level of involvement with the medical field. Executive director and co-founder of BWB Farah Tanis added that parents and guardians also need to be pulled into the conversation in order to create a truly intergenerational movement. This in turn, she expressed, can transform the culture in such a way that said conversations could happen openly, and enables us to more easily stay informed throughout the entirety of our reproductive lifespans. Another caller brought up the fact that there is a dearth of healing spaces that center the voices of women of color within the traditional training grounds for mental health practitioners. Benton-Gibson echoed this concern, adding that the lack of therapy designed specifically to address black women’s trauma is directly related to the lack of black therapists, healers, doulas, and health practitioners currently working in the field. The relatively small number of black women caretakers means that advocates like herself are often spread too thin and cannot always show up when they are needed. The movement for reproductive justice therefore, needs to build support networks for these caretakers that will allow them to recharge and heal from their own trauma.
Burnout and fatigue, along with several other of the issues raised during the call, will be the subject of several upcoming webinars BWB is executing as part of our next steps towards combating sexual abuse and maternal mortality. We held our first installment November 4th and are releasing a follow up series that will offer a wide variety of information, skills, and strategies for addressing the current crisis, including medical and bystander intervention training, mobilization training, community-based childcare education, case management skills for doulas, midwives, and birth-workers, and more. The nine part series will also include information on the BWB Sistah’s Van, which offers all of the services listed above as part of a mobile healing unit. We encourage everyone to take advantage of the seminars and find a skill or lesson they can use to help address their own needs, or provide care to a family member, friend, or neighbor.
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