Midwives and Racial Implications

People who do not belong to minorities often have difficulties understanding why people of color see discrimination when they see none. Here is an example that I hope can be helpful in bridging that gap. It used to be that midwives in the US delivered all babies. During slavery they were black or Native American women. Around the turn of the 19th century as the medical profession changed with what is called the medicalization of childbirth—partly because it saw in births a source of revenue—they discredited the use of these women, saying they were witches and their deliveries were not safe. These doctors as it’s easy to deduce were white males.

In the UK half the babies are delivered by midwives. In Scandinavia it’s three fourth. In France it’s almost the same. In the US it’s 10%.  And some believe it may have some relationship with the fact that maternal mortality in the US is higher than it is for other developed countries. The percentage is slowly changing in the US, and midwives are used more and more and they are now often used as an adjunct to medical births.  As it currently stands the US is still anchored into the idea of medical birth, even though about half the counties in the country do not have proper medical birthing services. They are usually in rural areas and poor women as well as women of color are of course most affected.

Regardless of current trends, the history of midwifery in the US and its implications are part of our reality. I can’t help but wonder how birth delivery and the health of women in general would have unfolded had racial discrimination not played a role.

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