Making birth experiences for Black mothers more positive

The theme of this year's Black History Month is "Black health and wellness" and there are many medical providers who are working to change the fact that for Black women in particular, giving birth is far too often a dangerous, even deadly experience.

Anisha Johnson of El Sobrante gave birth to a son last month. 

Justice was named for the birth justice his mom has been working for, for years. 

"He is a child who was just meant to be here," said Johnson, "he already has a great purpose on his life and we are so in love with him."

Johnson says she chose to have a Black midwife, and a home birth for this pregnancy after a "traumatic" hospital experience with the birth of her first son. 

"I was induced," said Johnson, "it was a very, very hard birth, a tough delivery, a lot of interventions."   Johnson's midwife, Gingi Allen, says many women come to her because she is a Black woman, and mother, herself. She says many are also seeking a completely different kind of care than what they've had in the past. "Whether that's from white care providers who are not understanding their language, who are discounting them, blatantly racist or rude... there are a lot of people seeking care because they don't want that experience anymore," said Allen.

For years, surveys have shown how some medical providers discriminate against people of color... and there is mounting evidence that having a medical provider who shares the same race or ethnicity as the patient leads to better health outcomes.

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in March of last year, shows nearly three times as many Black adults reported having been discriminated against or judged unfairly by a health care provider compared to white adults. 

Around the same time of that study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled racism a "serious threat to public health." Many American medical schools are now putting an emphasis on anti-racist training. In 2019, the CDC said Black women with at least a college degree had a pregnancy-related mortality rate more than five times that of their white counterparts.      

Brittni Chicuata, of Oakland, had all this and more in mind when she chose Allen for the pregnancy and birth of her now 1-year-old son. 

"There is something ancestral about reconnecting with our bodies," said Chicuata, "for Black women, since we came to this country we haven't had autonomy over our bodies... and that type of narrative that we don't feel pain that we don't have a say continues to this day."             

Allen says there is something so special about caring for women in their most powerful and vulnerable moments: she says she just tries to get out of the way and let the mother and baby lead, at the birth. 

She sees her work as an important way of supporting the Black community. 

"Being black is beautiful," said Allen, "that's just that affirmation that we do feel good when are together and when we are with someone who is saying you are beautiful."       

For her part, Anisha Johnson wants every mother to have what she had, with the birth of baby Justice: confidence in knowing she was safe, cared for and in control, saying, "It is the happiest day of your life you want to walk out of that labor and delivery room feeling celebrated -- it's your baby's birthday!"