Diversity in Birth and Parenting Organizations

When I called Shafia Monroe, president of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC), to talk about coming to the 7th International Black Midwives and Healers Conference, she commented on the lack of diversity among the leadership of birth and parenting organizations in the US, a lack that I too have observed. In response, Monroe put together a diverse panel of presidents of major US health organizations.

Monroe sees ICTC as a midwifery building organization. She said that there are not enough women of color who want midwives or who want to become midwives. ICTC has created a fast track to midwifery and has already graduated 300 midwives. The organization also offers doula training.

ICTC conducted a pilot study of 300 black women regarding how they were treated by their care providers during pregnancy. There is some evidence that birth outcomes are worse if a black woman is not cared for by a midwife of color. Ninety percent of the women in the study reported being alone during birth and none were offered a doula. ICTC intends to follow up their pilot study with a national survey. Monroe concludes that most pregnant black women do not feel supported within their community.

Jocelyn V. Sargent, program officer of the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, Loretta Ross, president of SisterSong and Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, president of Birthing Project, USA.

Loretta Ross is the president of SisterSong, an organization that has created a framework for reproductive justice, and that, with the Black Women Health’s Imperative, is working to create a national coalition of organizations of women of color. According to Ross, reproductive justice is a human right: the right to birth and parent your child in the way that you want and the right to decide whether or not to have children. SisterSong views midwifery also as a human right and gives $100,000 a year in scholarships to SisterSong member midwives.

Kathi Barber, president of AABA and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the National Black Women’s Health Imperative.

The National Black Women’s Health Imperative, originally the National Black Women’s Health Project, is a 140,000 member organization founded by Ms. Byllyee Avery at the first black women’s health conference at Spelman College in 1983. The mission of President and CEO, Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, is to raise the voices of black women as they relate to health and to “get rid of restrictions that limit who we are and what we can do.” She wants to see power back in the hands of women.

The Black Women’s Health Imperative is working for an increased minimum wage and for paid sick leave. Without paid sick leave, women cannot leave work to take care of sick children or go to prenatal visits. The median income for black women is $26,796.

Kathryn Hill-Trujillo, president of Birthing Project, USA talking to Shafia Monroe, president of ICTC.

Kathryn Hall-Trujillo is the president of Birthing Project USA, an organization that also works for reproductive justice for women of color. She wants to help women have permission to sister one another and believes that the pain of being separated from one another is an underlying cause of infant mortality. Birthing Project USA supports women in Haiti, New Orleans and all over the world.

Shafia Monroe, president of ICTC, left, and Kathi Barber, president of AABA.

Kathi Barber is the founder and president of the African American Breastfeeding Alliance (AABA) . Her organization works to un-teach about infant formula because she says that black women tend to believe that formula is the same or better than breastmilk. She also educates about the self interests of the $3 billion a year formula industry.

AABA promotes breastfeeding as a woman’s right and stresses the particular advantages of breastfeeding for black mothers. Breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality by 20%, and is particularly needed in Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICU). Breastfeeding helps contract a mother’s uterus after birth, thus reducing bleeding, which is especially helpful in situations where she is not well cared for and finally, breastfeeding reduces postpartum depression.

Barber bemoaned the fact that there are not enough black lactation consultants in the US. She reported that at a recent national lactation conference, out of 1000 attendees, there were only nine black attendees and of these, just four were lactation consultants.

Michelle-Nicholle Calaresco, director of DONA

Michelle-Nicholle Calaresco is the first multi-cultural director of the Doulas of North America (DONA). Up until recently, the number of doulas of color has not been tracked by DONA and Calaresco hopes to grow the numbers in a culturally sensitive way.

DONA offers fellowships to doulas of color and this year graduated five fellows, the fist of whom is Pat Barella. Barella has created The International Doula Registry of Professional Services (TINDROPS) to maintain standards of practice, lobby for the professional doula and educate the public. Barela was the first to seek approval from the National Uniform Claim Committee for a code for doulas. DONA wants doulas to be available to all women and hopes to encourage and train doulas to be successful at both and service and the business of being a doula.

DONA Fellow, Pat Barella, left, and Peggy O’Mara, right.

Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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3 thoughts on “Diversity in Birth and Parenting Organizations”

  1. I like that there are so many efforts going on right now to get more diversity into these fields. I think it is needed, as I have recently noticed the lack of diversity as well. I’m currently expecting my 3rd child, and recently moved to the US-Mexico border. Upon finding out I was pregnant, I expected that my child would probably be delivered by a Mexican or Mexican-American midwife because the population where we live is well over 90% Mexican and Mexican-American. I just thought all the midwives here would be Mexican or Mexican-American as well. (Law of probability, and all…) I was so wrong, though. They’re all white. That’s not a problem for me or anything. I’m white, too, plus, I just want the best practitioner, no matter what race or ethnicity they are. I just thought it was odd that in a town with almost a completely Hispanic population, there’s not a Hispanic midwife to be found. I really did not see that coming. (I will say we have lots of Hispanic LC’S, though. There’s a cool little breastfeeding clinic here in town, and all the LC’s I’ve met there are Mexican-American women.)

    I do wonder if the lack of diversity where it exists, contributes to the lack of use of the amazing options that there are in this city. We have a well established birth center here, and several very experienced and reputable LM/CPM’s who offer home birth services for the lowest fees I’ve ever paid (granted, the cost of living here is very low, which would explain why home birth is cheaper here than where we lived before). Yet, I’ve only met a few Hispanic women who use these options. All others I’ve met are white. White people make up roughly 5% of this city’s population, so that stood out to me a lot.

    The hospitals in this area are not good. The public hospital, while it has a very low c-section rate (12% to be exact. Our state’s medicaid will not pay for scheduled c-sections.), the standard of care is otherwise poor, and infections are a consistent problem. The private hospital has rooms that rival the Hilton, and staff that will wait on you hand and foot, but they also have a c-section rate hovering around 40%. These situations both put women at risk. I do not think giving birth in the hospitals here seems very safe at all for healthy women, yet there are so few who use the alternatives which are available to them legally and safely. I think lack of diversity may very well play a part. I think this is a problem for a great many minority communities.

  2. I’m betting that the issue is with poverty. I’m not sure what the current rate of poverty is among African Americans, but it’s likely higher than in the white community. If fewer black women have access to good, basic education, how can they hope to move into an ‘advanced practice’ field like midwifery? And if more black women are required to visit OB clinics when pregnant- due to medicaid- where would they even learn of the advantages of midwifery care? Heck, even the availability of choices in childbearing!

    Those in poverty- no matter their color- are used to being put through the system by those in charge. They often accept what is given and do not advocate for themselves, because they don’t know that they can. They are victims of a heartless system.

    I can say this because I’m the first generation in my family to NOT live below the poverty level. I understand how poor people think and what they go through.

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