Don’t Take a Detour Miss Harris…

In December, The Grio posted a few of articles re: doulas and home birth.  One of them was:  Home birthing helps black women reconnect with African roots. The title, the article, and the accompanying video left a LOT to be desired.  None-the-less, I was happy to see that homebirth was being discussed in a forum widely read by African American women. The way I see it, the more we talk about it, the more women will know that they have options and alternatives.

Last week, I came across another article, a response of sorts to that Grio piece:  If Natural Homebirth Brings Me Closer to My Roots, I’ll Take a Detour.  Intrigued by the title, I read it and shared the link.  The reactions to the article were strong, and we were all concerned about the lack of informed information presented in the article.

Initially, I was simply going to make a comment at the end of the article.  Then I decided it deserved more time and attention. My response follows below. But before you get to it, let me clarify that while I am a natural birth advocate and supporter of home birth, I understand that not everyone will, nor should everyone deliver at home.  And, I don’t believe we can make any blanket statements re: homebirth having anything to do with “going back to ones roots.”  The reality is, regardless of race, a woman should birth where she is safest and most comfortable. FYI, the hospital may or may NOT be that place.

Now on to the above mentioned article. Per Miss Janelle Harris… “Our foremothers may have been able to stretch out in their homes with a supportive doula by their sides, but they also weren’t battling external stressors like money and relationships and health care and family medical leave and jobs and transportation issues.  It was a different, simpler world”  

*Coughing and choking* HUH??? So I guess slavery, Jim Crow, abject poverty, segregation, discrimination, mutilation, lynchings…. None of those were external stressors.  And while I suppose picking cotton for Massa did come with a sort of “job security,” I don’t think it was accompanied by a stellar salary or medical benefits. Transportation? Yep walking was always a sure fire way for our foremothers to get from place to place.  Relationships?? Between the selling, and lynching of chosen partners, and rape from others….  Yea… a  “different simpler world.”

Miss Harris preceded that statement by saying:  “But most of Black women’s issues lie not in the hospitalization during labor, but the health risk we suffer leading up to childbirth”  There is one truth here. Yes, many African American women have health risks leading up to birth.  What I can assure you however is that there are MANY things that take place INSIDE the hospital to high and low risk mothers alike that affect outcomes. And African American women with no medical risk factors, high soci-economic status, great prenatal care and good education suffer at the hands of the medical obstetrical establishment. Don’t believe me? Check out  When the bough breaksEpisode 2 of the ground breaking PBS documentary “Unnatural Causes, Is Inequality making us Sick”

One of the things that annoyed me most while reading this article was Miss Harris’ lack of knowledge about the preparation, training, and skill sets of doulas, midwives, and obstetricians. She says:  “I don’t discredit the wisdom and ability of a doula to do what a doula does or a midwife to do what a midwife does, folks go to medical school for a reason and learn things you and I and madame doula and midwife wouldn’t begin to know because that’s not our training”

The reality is Madame Harris while it may not be part of YOUR training it is a part of MY training and you my sister are WRONG.  In fact, Midwives are MASTERS at normal birth. Obstetricians on the other hand are educated in intervention, surgery, and problems. In theUnited States1 out of 3 women has a cesarean section not all because she originally needed one or because her pregnancy was high risk. It’s often because those “folk” who go to medical school learn about surgery more than they learn about labor and quite frankly they enjoy the pay check that comes from a 30 min surgery instead of helping a mother with a 16 hour labor. As a midwife, I have taught many a physician a thing or two or three about normal birth.  Midwives not only BEGIN to know more about normal birth than OB/GYNs we FINISH knowing.  And for the record, midwives are trained and are VERY knowledgeable and skilled to handle birth emergencies.

I found it quite interesting that as Miss Harris shares her personal birth story, she tells us that she had plans for a natural child birth: “I’m not knocking natural birth. I had my daughter naturally… I didn’t pop so much as a Tylenol before she made her grand debut.  That was always the plan way before I went into labor.”  She did not share with us why that was her plan, but it leads me to believe she did some research and then made an educated, conscious decision to avoid meds during pregnancy AND labor. Kudos Miss Harris for that!!

Like most first time laboring women, after 16 hours of labor and getting to transition, during a car ride to the hospital, she found herself asking for medicine. This is not uncommon. Anyone who is in the birthing profession has seen this happen many times. Transition ain’t easy and without proper support from a doula, midwife, or family member with natural birth experience this happens often.  Per her account, she was unable to get medication because by the time she arrived she was ready for delivery.  She has no idea how lucky she was.

It’s so interesting to me that Ms. Harris labored at home without a midwife or a doula. She arrived to the hospital just in time to give birth but has a negative response to the idea of home birth. The way her story reads, a few minutes more and she would have been having her baby on the side of the road… She was moments away from a Free Birth which is in fact an out of hospital birth without a trained provider.

I challenge the notion she gives in her article that the hospital means rapid, appropriate, safe help is within immediate reach. From the article:  “When it comes to bringing my baby into this side of life, I want it done as safely as possible.  The moments when things go wrong are precious.  I want someone there who knows how to handle them. Like right there. In the room, not a hop-in-the-car or cab ride away”

I am not sure how many labor and delivery units Miss Harris has worked on but I can tell you from almost 18 years of experience, it’s a RARE occasion that any physician, except in a teaching institution is like “right there.”  I have been the person making multiple calls, and placing many pages to a physician who is asleep, out to dinner, at a party, etc who takes their sweet ole time to hop in a cab or car to get to the hospital. Most often in these cases, what is now an emergency in the middle of the night is the direct result of the medications and procedures ordered in the name of a safe hospital birth.

Madame Harris, my dear sister, you had the wonderful opportunity to labor at home.  You did not LABOR in the hospital.  You were not strapped to a bed for more than 24 hours because your provider decided to induce you before your body was ready. You were not denied movement, drink or food. You were able to ambulate, and to go to the bathroom as you wished.  While you did not birth at home you actually had a totally unassisted/unmonitored labor which is actually more radical to some than a having a home birth with a trained professional.  The great part is as a result of you staying home you were able to listen to your instincts; to listen to your body; and do what was needed to ensure your baby moved through your pelvis safely and normally.  Believe me when I tell you… in the hospital that would not have been possible.

So I say to Madame Harris and to all the women who don’t understand the realities of hospital birth… while home birth is NOT for everyone, PLEASE don’t be fooled by the false security of the hospital.  The VAST majority of emergencies that happen in hospitals happen because we cause them. We restrict movement, we give meds, we starve women, we rupture bags of water, we use continuous monitoring and ALL of these things can cause problems. Miss Harris, I ask that the next time you make a decision to write an article about the value of hospital birth you do a bit more research, and may the information you find help you to Birth Something Beautiful™

In Birth and Love


5 responses to “Don’t Take a Detour Miss Harris…

  1. I have tried repeatedly to post a comment and link to my response at the orginal article with no luck. Really wish Miss Harris herself could read this.

  2. Great response! Thanks for representing. 🙂

  3. This is wonderful. I remember posting to first article, but did not see the follow up piece on it. Thank you for sharing it here, and thank you so much for fantastic response. I hope many people read this post and really think.

  4. Thank you so much for this response. When I read the original piece, I was struck by how many misguided assumptions there were underlying her thoughts. It’s great to get a detailed response from a skilled midwife on this.

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