Birthright Podcast Takes Back Black Birth Narrative

In the United States, Black mothers are at high risk for maternal death and morbidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black women (and American Indian and Alaska Native women) have a 2 to 3 times greater risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications.

Kimberly Seals Allers, journalist, author, and founder of the Irth app, decided to share stories of Black joy in pregnancy as part of the Birthright podcast to combat systemic racism in healthcare and implicit bias.

Several years ago, I began writing that I was becoming concerned that Black maternal health narratives were very doom-and-gloom-ish. The headlines were only about when we were dying or close to dying, which was dangerous,” says Seals Allers.

She acknowledges the statistics and the fact that Black women and birthers have to prepare differently than other women, but she believes there is a need for balance between pain and trauma because those statistics aren’t the whole story. It’s important to have a balanced storyteller, more balanced narratives,” she says.

Although these stories are unfortunate, Seals Allers says that hearing only negative stories about birth stokes fear and makes people feel hopeless, which worries her. Due to what many Black people see and read in the media, she has noticed that Black people can be afraid of birth throughout her community engagement work. To remind people that positive stories can teach them too, she created “narrative shifting work.”

Birthright features two types of episodes during its first season. A majority of the episodes focus on positive Black birth stories as defined by the subject matter. These stories can be learned from by all—including pregnant women as well as healthcare providers and hospitals.

It’s been so interesting to see a birth from more of a 360-degree perspective, to hear from husbands, to speak with midwives, doulas and doctors about how they perceive that birth and how they might have contributed to it.”

On the podcast, there are special episodes of healing circles in which people with negative birthing experiences meet with therapists and healers for a journey of healing. In Seals Allers’ opinion, this is a crucial point. “The fact is that not everyone will have a positive birth experience. It’s just a fact of life…However, if we can heal some of the trauma and harm that Black women carry in their bodies, that would be incredible.”

Besides sharing Black birth stories, Seals Allers developed an app called Irth that connects Black and brown people with OB/GYNs, hospitals, and pediatricians. In other words, the objective is to take qualitative experiences and turn them into quantitative data on the back end, so we can now push for change in hospitals.”

As people listen to each episode of Birthright, Seals Allers wants listeners to experience joy no matter where they are on their journey of giving birth. Joy is resistance. Joy is a form of resistance. In this country, Black people and Black women have suffered traumas that have forced them to center their joy. In our history, that is how we have survived.

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