As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we are filled with gratitude for the community of all types of parents and families we support. From generations of strong, intelligent women - daughters, mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, ancestors - to those dear mothers we’ve lost, the mothers who care for others in their communities, and those who are yearning to become mothers, our call for “Letters from a __________ mother” is our personal invitation to share your stories.
Kicked off by the incomparable Zinzdi Aya’s “Letters from an (Invisible) Black Mama”, our resident storyteller reclaims the elation of birthing black babies into a healthcare system that can often cast a challenging shadow over what is, in reality, her greatest joy.
Letter from an (Invisible) Black Mama
Dear Birth World,
I am reclaiming the legacy of joyous black birthing. Not only is it my soul’s work and my heart’s desire, it is every birther’s birthright.
My days are filled with bouncing brown bundles of life, swaddled in the shared traditions of our foremothers, rediscovering the rich legacies buried by the rise of the medical complex—designed to do exactly what the statistics say.
But you can’t bury something alive. Was it Dinos Christianopoulos who said, “They buried us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”?
I feel that.
Because I see what you see, but you don’t see ALL of what I see—and am. So let me share a bit with you because we could all use a lil’ more joy, right?
Just the other day, my goddaughter took her first step at 15 months. It was wobbly and uncertain, but she didn’t look for anything to grab ahold of. No, she just welcomed the wobble with a cascade of giggles and the sound of her parents cheering her on.
It reminded me of her mother’s birthing brilliance. How she showed the hospital staff the possibilities of an undirected, unmedicated, intuitive birth by remaining in her YES. I was there to bear witness and affirm that YES anytime the staff seemed to forget.
Now, my goddaughter is (literally) walking in that same courageous energy her mama set into motion from conception to birth.
And a few months ago, while cooking with my mother, I learned that my Great Aunt Bay Sis attended my grandmother in her first two births. As I chopped cabbage in preparation for sukuma wiki, my mother begins to remember aloud, a story of the sisters welcoming life twice in a tiny, one-bathroom home.
She mused over our aunt’s “clean” spirit: never cussing or drinking, yelling or aggressing, partaking in none of the colorful rabble-rousing so characteristic of the rest of our pack—feral yet divine women.
And I wondered, Was it her voice that called me to this midwifery path? Is she the one who sends me dreams whenever I contemplate abandoning the call? The thought evokes a smile, and fortifies my way. Now I know, it’s in my blood.
And about three months ago, I received an invitation to sit with a sister who will be birthing her fifth child intuitively in the sanctity of her home.
How powerful and breathtaking is that?!
She doesn’t need anything from me; she is taking full responsibility for her baby, her body, her birth. This kind of autonomy has been a long labor for her—-over a decade of birthing, to be exact. But the invitation to bear witness and support however I can is an answered prayer.
So do you see now? We are birthing and remembering EVERYWHERE and in all kinds of ways. Our lives are not just a sum total of what your clinicians have observed. Our wholeness cannot be measured in statistics.
To be sure, I am not ignoring the obvious, but this news is not new to me—or any of the birthers I know. We have experienced, survived, surpassed and endured the unsavory side of all the -isms and -archies long before the world took notice. And even all that is just a sliver of our lives.
The shift came for me one day while I was teary-eyed and a heart full of heavy. A voice (perhaps my Aunt Bay Sis) said: “When there’s joy on the journey the way is blessed. Remember that.”
And it brings me to this Rumi quote: You have seen my descent. Now watch my rising.
And so now amidst it all, joy is my compass. Joy bears testament to my rising. Not strength, not knowledge, not science, not whatever’s trending. Joy.
Joy is the space where my body opens and my soul says, “YES.” Joy is my North Star. Joy is my gift to the birthers and families I support.
If you want to form an alliance, first be wary of reducing the fullness of our beingness to trending data. Don’t assume our story without first asking. And most of all, seek your own joy.
Fill your heart with gladness in all you do. Serve and be with those you can serve with integrity, presence and kindness. If you are a care provider, mind your mess—your predispositions, unhealed hurts and preconceptions impact the well being of those you care for, so care for yourself … well.
In celebration of life, our future children’s lives and the bountiful blessings often overshadowed by dimmer facts, I choose to fill my mind and eyes with reminders of what I am called to bring forth—-JOY.
Just as the Grand Midwives of the American South did before me—Mama Maude Callen, Mama Onnie Lee Logan, Mama Mary Francis Hill Coley, Mama Bridget Mason, Mama Margaret Charles Smith, Mama Claudia Booker, my own Mama Aunt Bay Sis and countless others who witnessed and facilitated birthing black joy amidst the swirls of life …
When you think or post about us—those who are birthing while black—-or create your next conference ask, “How does this activate joy? Is this the whole story? What’s missing in this narrative? Who’s voice is missing in this conversation? What do I need to do to bring forth more joy?”
An (Invisible*) Black Mama
*In this context, the word "invisible" is language adopted from the teachings of Mother Mother Binahkaye Joy, used to describe a mother who is not recognized as such by the world at large because her children are not earthside.
In your fertility journey, what can you/do you/did you do to cultivate and stoke joy? What birth joys have you experienced? If you could write a letter to the “birth world”, what would you say? Now’s your time to say it. We welcome your story! Send your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d simply like to share with us, we will be sure to keep your letter private and respond to you personally. However, if you’d like for us to share your words with our community, let us know - we are more than happy to.