Labor of love : Black women's birth work in the wake

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Brown, Nyesha

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Black women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy related deaths than white women. Research findings suggest race is a salient factor accounting for differences in maternal health and birth outcomes. As a consequence, Black women remain disproportionately impacted by inadequate maternal care. This project analyzes these maternal health disparities as inevitable outcomes of systemic and institutionalized racism and sexism—interlocking and cooperating systems of oppression that are detrimental drivers to Black women’s poor maternal health outcomes. Black maternal mortality, I argue, is not only an outcome of these systems, but is necessary for the maintenance of the United States’ hetero-patriarchal capitalist project — an endeavor dependent upon widespread state-endorsed violence and gendered anti-Blackness.

Doula collectives organized by Black women, such the Mamas for Maternal Justice (MMJ) collective in Austin, TX, seek to improve pregnancy and birth outcomes by providing culturally congruent care to Black women in Travis County. This project is an ethnographic examination of the political implications of doula care provided by and for Black mothers in Austin, Texas. Analyzing an in-depth focus group conducted with the MMJ collective will identify the unique forms of resistance and maternal care that Black doulas have established to combat the racist and classist conditions that perpetuate negative birthing outcomes for Black women. The data suggests that doula care is an embodied labor that serves as a buffer against the cumulative effects of racism-related stress that Black women experience during childbirth. Their unique mode of caretaking relies on the formation of intimate relationships with mothers and their families, which challenges biomedical constructions of childbirth and hierarchical circulations of power in obstetric settings. Thus, this study presents doula care as a radical mode of maternal care that is deeply rooted in Black vernacular feminism.


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