• natashaweiss

Activism in Birthwork

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

When I was a teen, I was full of passionate rage. As many others who go through this process of becoming and growing in our society- I began to see the injustice. The destruction, the pain, inequality, and lack of reparations or acknowledgement for the harm being done. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and that it was my personal responsibility to fight and “destroy the system from the inside”- words from 16 year old me.

As I learned and processed, the rage subsided, and the passion began to be fueled by compassion. A loving wisdom that I do not have all the answers, and most importantly I am not the answer. I, like everything else on this planet, am a part of an intricately woven system. So while each of our actions are pertinent to the state of our world, they do not define it.

As I went through my own journey of healing, I created a structure underneath my efforts. This passion, was now not only fueled by wisdom, but by love. A love that feels sturdy, and sustainable. And as layers of myself were revealed to me, so were the causes that I knew I wanted to dedicate my life towards.

I watched my youngest sister come into this world when I was 14. This planted the seed. I explored other avenues of activism and healing, but the romanticized vision I had of supporting people through the journey of birth, kept drawing me in more and more.

So I dove into the birth portal, and became a bona fide “birth junkie”. Reading all the books, constantly watching birth videos, talking anyone’s ear off who would listen. I had the teeniest glimpse of the state of the system, but it was incongruent with the role I saw myself in.

After a few Doula trainings, births under my belt, and a glimpse into the lives of those who have spent a significant amount of time in the field- my understanding began to shift. Away from myself, and towards the reality that is birth in the U.S.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation. This is not because of a lack of resources, or a lack of education. It is because of a lack of listening. A lack of listening to those who are giving birth. A lack of listening to the subtle and not so subtle cues of birth itself. A lack of listening to those who cry out again and again- that babies and pregnant people are dying- and their stories and the reasons why are being brushed under the rug.

The state of maternal mortality rate in the U.S. reflects the prevalence of systematic racism. According to the C.D.C. - black and indigenous people are around three times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white people.

There are a number of compounding variables that have contributed to this matter:

  • A lack of access to care. This is not because of a lack of supply, but the inability to access it, due to socioeconomic reasons.

  • People of color who are choosing not to access care, because they are not being listened to, and are being wrongfully blamed for the state of their health.

  • Pregnant people of color are often times given disproportionately less time with their medical providers, than pregnant white people.

  • Marginalized communities whose pain is disregarded, and whose concerns are invalidated. This blatant disregard for someone articulating a concern for their body and their baby, is also a disregard for warning signs that may indicate a more serious problem.

Weathering is the breaking down of rocks and minerals by natural processes such as water, acids, plant and animal activity. When applied in the context of social studies, weathering is a result of systematic racism. Over time, the daily stress of living in a racist society, wears on the body.

Weathering in people of marginalized communities can result in a multitude of health issues:

  • Chronic inflammation of the body.

  • A compromised cardiovascular system.

  • High blood pressure.

  • An impaired neuroendocrine system from the body constantly dumping glucose into the system when in a state of fight or flight. This can result in diabetes

The effects of weathering on a pregnant person can lead to serious outcomes- including blood clots, hemorrhage, stroke, eclampsia, prematurity, and low birth weight in baby.

Although death is a reality- it is on the extreme end of the spectrum. But within this complex spectrum, lies even more injustice. Immense amounts of trauma, of people who did not have their needs met. We hear stories again and again, of pregnant people who were treated as merely a body, instead of as a human with feelings, needs, and desires. Providers who acted without consent, without clear explanation. Endless tales of unnecessary surgeries, people’s bodies being touched without consent, and physical trauma from a lack of patience. As well as people who faced discrimination because they do not speak the language of the providers, or did not have the understanding to question their providers’ decisions.

This conversation is getting bigger, and more widespread. As a provider who may not have done the right thing in the past, or who may have inflicted trauma- you are capable of change. We are all here to learn and grow. Start asking your patients. Is this ok? Can I do this? How can I be more understanding, more patient? How can I best support my patients?

As a pregnant person, reach out to those in your community to find the most appropriate care for you and your baby. Understand that as a patient in the medical system, you are paying for a service. You have the right to ask questions, to request a different provider, and to get clarification and education on what is happening with your body.

I am still new to the world of birth work, and I hope to continue to learn, to be humbled, to be shown areas where I hold ignorance or lack of clarity. To face these opportunities for growth, so that I can continue to serve. As a health and wellness copywriter who supports birth workers, I aim to articulate the voice and mission of those in the front lines supporting pregnant people.

I’m not here to preach a certain way or method of birthing, or to tell any person that their fears are invalid. I am here to add one more thread to the net of support that holds up those who carry life within them- and the process they go through to bring it into our world.

Our power lies in the knowledge we carry, and the dedication we make to share this knowledge with others. To check the privileges we walk through life with, and see what ways we can give up some of our comfort so that marginalized communities can be supported. To pay attention to the times where we may be hogging the mic, and passing it off to those whose voices need to be heard.

Birth is the start of life, and within this journey, lies the chance for change. The chance to create a space for transformation- in the birthing person, and in society at large. The chance for us to listen better, to be more open, more understanding. Birth work is activism. Supporters, are working to bring about social and political change. Actively supporting the beginning of life, and working to change the complex systems that have been created around it.

If you want to learn more or support organizations actively making a difference in the field of birth work, please check out these sources.

Cornerstone Doula Trainings

Circle of Health International


Radical Doula

The book: Birth Work as Care Work