By Joyce Angela Jellison Hounkanrin •
“Do you want her?”
The white nurse’s name was Millie and she proposed this question with regard to the impending birth of my daughter.
I had voiced one fear.
I was scared to give birth, (a co-worker had shared with me she had fallen off the bed while giving birth), and given my then knowledge Black women are dying across the country giving birth, I was understandably terrified. My child’s father had left me alone, because he said he was tired of the hospital and there I was in a cold birthing suite where I could literally hear the cries of another young woman down the hall and bouncing off the cold linoleum floors.
I did not want to die or my baby to die. I was scared to hold my new baby or even meet her. I had been prepared and not prepared. She looked at me with disgust; a 24 year old Black woman, who dared to not straighten her hair and was in her hospital, screaming for help and proclaiming fear. I never answered her question. Giving birth was one of the most traumatic experiences of my adult life. It should have been an healing experience, reconciling my womanhood with motherhood.
My soul burst forth and therein was my justice realized; only in my splitting in two was there an ability for me gather all of what I need and less esoterically, I need uplifting in all of my spaces; home; work; education, loving and mothering – as a Black, Muslim woman, none of my spaces have supported my life but I have supported others without fail. It is expected as we are being knitted beneath our mother’s hearts that will be in service to the world and that we will learn to curve under these expectations without asking our needs be met – instead we will remain on the breath of prayers. It is imperative that Black women seek care and loving in sacred spaces reframing Blackness in places that have fragmented the American experiences through colonization and institutionalized racisom.
Researchers posit that half all of the women who gave birth in 2014 were women of color and there is little ethnic and racial diversity among obstetricians and midwives (Hardeman, & Kozhimannil, 2016). There is a need a for the health care profession response to a heterogeneous and diverse population (Hardeman, & Kozhimannil, 2016). I would argue this response is latent and heterogeneity has always been present. Black women have been interwoven into the fabric of this country prior to formalization of the medical profession, therefore we must consider indigenous practices as imperative to our well being as these practice and spaces have held us before and beyond colonization.
Black doulas are rooted in the sacred; research supports women of color have a commitment to supporting women from their communities (Hardeman, & Kozhimannil, 2016). There is additional evidence that linking doula support to improved birthing outcomes (Hardeman, & Kozhimannil, 2016).
The mismanagement of Black women’s pain and in this skein, our joy, is salient; it literally corrupts our spaces and in this, our peace. We are the hands that have fed the world; and those hands have been metaphorically amputated and still expected to feed the world, cradle its dead; wrap it in mourning shroud and offer it to Allah in prayer.
Hardeman, R.R., Kozhimannil, K.B., (2016). Motivations for entering the doula profession: perspectives from women of color. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.12497
Joyce Angela Hounkanrin is a lawyer, and Ph.D student living in Bronx, NY. Her fifth book When They Split My Soul Flowers Sprung Forth: A Black Womxn‘s Journey to Transformative Healing was released in May 2020. She is the Director of Sis Our Space, an organization intentioned on uplifting and expanding the intellectual traditions of Black Women.