Birthing Black babies during a pandemic

Tanafer Camara of TLC Consulting and Maternal Healing does her daughter’s hair. – Photo: Brittsense

by JR Valrey, Black New World Journalists Society

“Disparities in maternal health, mortality and morbidity was an issue before COVID-19 and is potentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are already starting to see that African American, Indigenous and Latina women have died in childbirth as a result of either complications of COVID-19 or negligent and disparate care as a result of reduced in-person visits, even when the patient was at high risk,” said Tanafer Camara, a lactation consultant, post-partum healer, doula and maternal health strategist who works in a public practice at Highland Hospital in Oakland and also has her own private practice, T.L.C. Consulting and Maternal Healing.

“Before COVID-19, many women of color already felt they did not receive optimal or even standard care. Racism in care has long been an issue and affects every aspect of care. For this reason, I chose an all-Black team for my prenatal care.”

In a lot of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed Black society’s thinking about what has been considered normal for the last 60 years in the ways of socializing, farming, eating, schooling, protecting ourselves and now birthing our babies.

We should reflect on how Black women were having babies when Jim Crow laws would not allow Black mothers in this country into white hospitals. Now that that threat is compounded by the economic virus of capitalism, the psychological virus of racism and the biological virus of COVID-19 to create a deadly combination, Black women and Black families have our backs against the wall.

“One of the most significant challenges has been changes to regular prenatal care and the limited number of support persons allowed in the hospital during childbirth. Before COVID, I had already planned a home birth and care with licensed midwives,” said Tanafer Camara, who is also an expecting mother due in August.

“I’ve had to have some of my visits done virtually. Also, I’ve had some ultrasound appointments cancelled and rescheduled, due to staffing shortages and reducing the number of patients in the waiting room. I’ve also had to wear a mask during those appointments. Pregnancy groups that I planned to be a part of like Black Infant Health, are now virtual as well, which really affects the group dynamics and the ability to bond with other pregnant women.”

In the post Obama era of the 21st century just like in the preceding eras, Black mothers have never stopped dying at staggering rates. “A Black woman is two times more likely than a white woman to die during her pregnancy, labor or within the first year after the birth due to preventable causes. Right now, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is 37.1 per 100,000 and for white women is 14.7 per 100.000 live births,” said Asatu Hall, a midwife and doula for over 20 years.

“Well, sadly, the overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for whites, Asians and Latinos. My friends who work as nurses and providers in the hospital have confirmed this.

“So our Black community continues to be the last priority in terms of outreach, education, testing and treatment of COVID-19. Most of us mothers have to work, so mamas who are nurses, front line staff in markets, in-home care providers, working in stores, banks, bus drivers, doctors, lactation experts and hairdressers are putting themselves at risk to feed their families.

“Now what if you’re pregnant?” said Asatu Hall, director of Sacred Grove Traditions, a grassroots organization empowering women and girls about holistic health.

Asatu Musunama Hall, MPH, Mama Tutu, with her son

“When you are pregnant, your amazing body naturally lowers your immunity so that your body doesn’t attack your baby as a foreign virus or bacteria. However, we have this new epidemic COVID-19, and mothers are going into the world with lowered immunity, coupled with the stress and the anxiety of being pregnant during this time, and all of this puts pregnant Black mothers more at risk for poor outcomes.”

The United States and the Americas were built on an unequal two tiered system almost half a millennium ago, with colonialism, chattel slavery, mass incarceration, lack of healthy food, lack of health care, and genocide being the favorite tools of the societal masters to keep the captive population in submission. No one in their right mind should think that COVID-19 pandemic is going to change that political dynamic.

“As a result, more families may seek out-of-hospital options for childbirth, and have to learn to assess and manage their own health needs. Disparities could potentially become greater with the shift to tele-health or virtual care as some communities and people may lack access to technology or knowledge of how to adapt to these new modalities,” said Tanafer Camara.

“Some high risk patients may slip through the widening gaps of an already broken system. However, there is hope in that there are many people and organizations working to change that. The work of maternal equity has been well under way, and we have been doing our best to adapt and adjust during this pandemic to continue to support and meet the needs of the community.”

The Bay Area’s Black birth workers are essential workers who deserve to be applauded for seeing us through this special time with vital information and learned techniques.

“From the birth workers I have spoken to (midwives, doulas, lactation specialists etc.), we are encouraging mothers to shelter in place, practice social distancing in addition to the recommended wearing of masks and gloves and washing hands frequently,” said Asatu Hall.

“We are advising mothers to stay home if possible and avoid people and crowds that are not in your immediate family and household. Treat yourself as if you are a newborn baby and limit your contact with folks who may be high risk which we don’t know because many people do not have symptoms.

“I personally advise folks to focus on their immune system, take vitamin C and Zinc, limit stress, take walks, dance and rest,” said Asatu Hall. “Prenatal visits are spaced out and many have incorporated zoom visits, telemedicine and phone check-ins. To protect our clients, we wear masks and gloves during in-person appointments and our standard gloves and hygienic techniques during births.”

Mid-March, when the quarantine started, seems like a lifetime ago, considering how quickly expectations and societal behavior has changed. At one time, in the not so distant past, having a home birth was considered radically “Afro-centric” or “Bohemian” or “Hotep-ish.” Today, you can be risking your life needlessly if you try to have a baby the way that your mother had you, in a hospital.

“If the mother is healthy and expecting a normal birth, her family should absolutely consider a homebirth. Homebirth is completely safe with an experienced midwife who has been trained and specializes in homebirth,” said Asatu Hall, a practicing midwife and doula who has delivered hundreds of Black babies.

“The hospital is not the environment, at this time, for healthy mothers and natural normal birth. It is a place for high-risk births where mothers have access to specialized staff, medicine and emergency equipment if needed. Also, one needs to consider the high number of COVID-19 cases that enter the hospital and the providers who are exposed to COVID-19.

“I would say protect yourself, pay attention to your immune system and what you can do to keep yourself and household safe. It’s common sense but it can be overwhelming for all us so keep it simple. Stay home and go out when you need to, wash your hands and keep your nose and face covered. Limit who comes into your space and keep your environment sanitized. Eat well, rest, drink water, and keep yourself mentally and spiritually balanced.

“If you have symptoms, don’t wait if your home remedies are not working so that you don’t infect the little ones or elders in your household or families,” said Asatu Hall.

In these current times of the mainstream media being controlled by six corporate oligarchs who are tangled up on Wall Street with big Pharma, the Black community wisely is cautious about trusting the above named entities when it comes to looking out for the health of the Black community in general, and Black expecting mothers specifically.

“You have the power to deliver a healthy baby at home. Your great great great grandmother did it probably, and the same strength is within you. Eat well, rest, drink water, and keep yourself mentally and spiritually balanced.

“Entertain the idea of talking to a midwife and doula and having a homebirth. Homebirth is an empowering, revolutionary action. If you are high risk or not ready for a homebirth, get a doula who can help guarantee a natural birth and avoid a C-section,” said Asatu Hall.

You could get in touch with Tanafer Camara at urbanmatriarch365@gmail.com and with Asatu Hall at 510-672-7926 or at https://sacredgrovetraditions.org/services.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.youtube.com/blockreporttv. All stories written about COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.