One of the wonderful things that my passion for natural birth has brought into my life is the chance to meet women from all over the country who otherwise I would never know. I always come across women who are re-shaping and improving the birthing climate here in America and around the world.
At my most recent Birth Boot Camp birth instructor training I met just such a woman and I want to share the work she is doing with as many people as possible. Melek is working to reduce cesarean sections and increase VBAC among black women and I think we can help her do it by sharing this message everywhere. I am embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that black women were facing this and I ashamed of myself for not knowing or doing anything about it.
I asked Melek if I could interview her and help get the word out. Her work and her words are powerful. You will love her too! (And if you happen to need a birth class in Austin TX — call her!)
Spread the word. We can make a difference in birth, but we need to all make an effort.
Tell me your story. Why do you personally care about birth?
Honestly, I never imagined my life would turn out the way it has. Pregnant with my first baby in 2008, I was a law student planning a career in the legal field. After a pretty typical obstetrical experience with my first baby which led to a cesarean that was likely unnecessary, my journey into the birth world began. I did a lot of research about birth, learned about why my birth may have ended the way it did when I had originally planned a natural, out of hospital birth, and educated myself about how I could help change the outcome of future births. I was led to midwifery care and while I did have a CBAC (cesarean birth after cesarean) with my second baby, the individualized care I received from my midwives was eye opening and life changing. I went on to have a vaginal birth after two cesareans with the same midwives who supported me in my second pregnancy.
I care about birth because I believe that women should have access to evidence-based care and practices which promote the healthiest outcomes for both mothers and babies. I didn’t fully understand the implications of my primary cesarean on my future reproductive health and birthing options, and I work hard to be sure that other women have access to accurate and balanced information about the risks and benefits of all the decisions they make.
What is “Black Women DO VBAC” and why did you start it? What is happening with Black women and VBAC or cesarean section that is different than what is going on with other women?
Black Women Do VBAC! is a project I started earlier this year when I realized that, while searching out VBAC stories to read when preparing for my own pregnancies, I hardly ever saw stories from women of color. I also came across a VBAC calculator which dramatically reduced my predicted percentage chance of success for having a VBAC for no other reason than the fact that I am black. I often see this calculator discussed in VBAC support forums and, while women are reassured that they absolutely can have a VBAC even with a low percentage of predicted success from it, I believe that the combination of not seeing or hearing about other black womens’ VBAC stories coupled with the knowledge that this calculator reduces their chance of success because they are black can be extremely discouraging to a Black woman planning a VBAC.
The research does show that black women are less likely to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean despite higher rates of trials of labor after cesareans. However, for too many, this is a stopping point. Research also shows that black women have lower rates of uterine rupture, the complication most feared when discussing the risks and benefits of attempting a VBAC. Why aren’t more Black women having successful VBACs if we are less likely to experience this complication? More research is needed and, unfortunately, the discussion thus far has not uncovered any single (or multiple) definitively identifiable cause(s). In my opinion, a huge part of the discussion needs to be raising awareness within the community about the risks of cesarean sections, particularly multiple cesareans, to mothers and the benefits of vaginal birth, even after one or more cesareans.
How can other people get involved and help this cause? What is your contact info?
You can get involved by sharing your story if you are a Black woman who has had a VBAC! If you are a person who knows a Black woman who has had a VBAC, encourage her to share her story with us! Really, spreading the word about it is the biggest thing. With the help of social media, outreach is so much easier than it has ever been, and I truly believe that just reading stories of women who have done it can inspire other women to explore their options as well.
Your website has some great birth stories featuring Black women. Can you tell us what your top three are and why?
Oh my gosh, that’s a hard one! We have some awesome stories and I really appreciate every single one. I have to say that I loved the story a mother shared with us who had a VBA2C (and then later a VBA3C) in the 1980s. A lot of people don’t know the history of VBAC and how so much of it is really politicized and how that can influence the public perception on its safety. It was very cool to read a story from a mother who had a natural birth after multiple cesareans back in a time when that’s just what you did. We also had a story from a mother whose doctor scheduled her for her fourth cesarean at 39+ weeks pregnant, she declined and found midwives to assist her and had a natural birth after 3 cesareans. We also just got a story from a mother who had a VBAC after a special scar (classical incision), which is pretty incredible!
What is your vision going forward? What do you want to see change regarding Black women, birth, and VBAC?
I would love to see more Black women having VBACs! Actually, I would love to see fewer Black women having primary cesareans, which we are more likely to experience than other ethnic groups as well. It will take time, but I believe that by raising awareness, targeted outreach and ensuring that women have access to reliable and accurate information, we can effect change.
Melek planned three natural births and after two cesareans, her dream finally came true when she gave birth to her youngest son naturally in 2012. Melek also works as a doula and natural childbirth educator and is passionate about informing women and couples about the benefits of natural childbirth and breastfeeding. An inactive attorney, she also works to inform mothers of their rights in childbirth, especially VBAC mothers, who often face barriers other mothers do not. You can find Black VBAC storiesresearch about Black women and VBAC on Melek’s website, Black Women DO VBAC!