The Black Birth Renaissance
of the 21st Century
of the 21st Century
#Birth HERstory - Aunt Hattie is my maternal grandmother's, Clara Ryans Gray's, younger sister and her only living sibling. When I go visit family members in Alabama, I have an opportunity visit her and she allows us to record her. I am grateful that she is willing to talk to me about her birth experiences and life growing up in the Hale County, Alabama. The video I am sharing is from August of 2015 and she was 87 years old. She had a birthday this week and now she is 89 years old. What a gift!
When we drove up two summers ago, she was sitting on her porch working on one of her quilts. She began by listing her siblings' names and telling the story about how she lost her oldest, Clara Lee. She went on to recount her memories of the midwives that "waited" on her during her births and her recollection of how the Black midwives transitioned with the medical profession was intriguing.
You can share the birth stories and traditions from your family's past at the bottom of the page. The more our African American elders can tell us about their journeys, the more equipped we will be for our own.
(It may help to listen to this video with a speaker or earbuds. We were in a rural area recording this and competing with the insects and other aspects of nature.)
#BirthHERstory - In light of the legislation that is going forth regarding the legalization of midwives in Alabama this week, I wanted to share some of the conversations I have had with my great aunt over the past couple of years. In this telephone conversation, I asked Aunt Hattie questions about common practices surrounding birth with Black midwives during her childbearing years in rural Alabama during the earlier part of the 20th century.
Sidenote: In the south, some refer to where you spent your childhood as your "stompin' grounds". I have included some pictures of my grandparents' house where we spent each summer. In my mind, I still see the apple tree where she got her apples to make her apple turnovers. I see the corn stalks, the okra, the watermelon patch, the green beans and the black eyed peas in the field, tomatoes, potatoes... (YOU NAME IT! Lol!) I hear the cow, the hogs and see the chickens walking around in their chicken coop laying brown eggs. The roads were unpaved back then and you could tell who was coming down the road just by listening to the sound the tires made on the red dirt road. We ran paths through the woods to get up to Aunt Hattie's house and could see every constellation in the night sky. I have a fond memories of my summer stompin' grounds and now I am reaching back to grasp some of the stories that I missed about being a birthing woman in the south.
Listen to the the video below and let me know if any of this seems familiar to you or a family member. Share the stories from your family's past and traditions here on this site. The more our African American elders can tell us about their journeys, the more equipped we will be for our own.
I am convinced that part of reclaiming what has been lost, stolen, surrendered, abandoned and forgotten begins with reconnecting with the elders who are still with us to hear their stories and allow them to share the traditions that have been a part of our African American heritage. I cannot fully express how I excited I am becoming as I am receiving messages about the conversations that men and women are having with the elders about birth experiences, especially those that occurred in the southern states with Black midwives. As I receive messages about how inspired they are by hearing these women tell their stories, I instantly find myself saying, "Ask them for permission to share it on the Birth HERstory BLOG!"
I am extending that same request to you! You are invited to share birth traditions from your family on this site! It is important that we remember our African American traditions, practices, and stories. As we share the remnants of what we remember, our memories and their legacies will grow in strength. I will begin by sharing my own:
My family is from Alabama. My Dad, the oldest sibling of eight children, reminded me that all of them except one was born at home in the front room of the house I knew as my grandmother’s – Big Momma’s – house. He shared memories of his Dad (my Pa Pa) going to get the midwife “when it was time.” He told me how the women in the neighborhood (grandmothers, aunts, mothers, sisters, etc.) would assist my grandmother and care for her during her pregnancy. Then how they helped her during labor until it was time for her to give birth. He remembered these women taking long pieces of torn sheets and wrapping her stomach after she gave birth. He also said they cooked meals, cleaned for her and helped care for her children during the postpartum time.
My mother’s parents lived in a rural area that has no name except that it is in Hale County, between Greensboro and Moundville, Ala. They owned land and a farm on a red dirt road. We spent two or three months there every summer during our childhood. I never asked my Grandma about her birth experiences, however, my great aunt, my grandmother’s sister, told me about how her sisters and mother helped her when she went into labor. She said they helped her move around to help her contractions while she waited on the midwife to get there to “wait on her”. She said they always put a girdle on women after they had their babies.
My work is informed by my background – experiences, expertise, exposure, education & environment – as a woman, mother, wife, sister, educator, researcher, scholar, advocate, birth ally and legacy builder.