Navajo midwives work to establish first Native birth center in the US

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Nicolle Gonzales in a video for The Changing Woman Initiative Fundraiser

Over at Colorlines, I wrote about an exciting new initiative led by two Native midwives, Nicolle Gonzales and Brittany Simplicio, to open a Native-run birth center for Native women in the New Mexico region.

Nicolle Gonzales is a 35-year-old certified nurse midwife (CNM) with three kids ages 9 to 14. She’s Navajo (or Diné, as Navajo people refer to themselves), from Waterflow, New Mexico, and has embarked on a journey to create the nation’s first Native American birth center. “I’d like to see a nice building with pictures of our grandmothers, cedar welcoming you into the door, and moccasins for babies instead of blankets,” says Gonzales. “I want a place where women and families feel welcome.”

Gonzales is among only 14 other Native American CNMs in the United States. She and Brittany Simplicio, another midwife who is Navajo/Zuni, began raising money for a nonprofit that will run the center, Changing Woman Initiative (CWI), last year.

Indigenous women face incredible health disparities and barriers to supportive and humanizing care during pregnancy and birth. I was really surprised to learn that 70% of births at Indian Health Services (the agency run by the federal government that provides most care to Native people in the US) are attended by CNMs. But very few of those midwives are Native themselves. Gonzales says she’s one of 14 Native American CNMs in the entire US.

It’s one major issue with the midwifery and birth center movement–just bringing the midwifery model of care isn’t enough. You also need to bring culturally appropriate care along with it, and sometimes the best way to do that is with midwives who are from the community they are serving.

Gonzales’ project is being supported by the National Association of Birth Centers of Color, and I hope we see more initiatives like this in the future.

You can support their work by donating to their online fundraiser!

And read the full article here.


Remarks from SQUATfest: Birth activism as part of the movement for reproductive justice

In early August I had the honor of speaking at the SQUATfest conference. It was a first of its kind gathering that brought together doulas, midwives and other birth activists interested in radical politics. It didn’t have a central theme, but I knew that it was going to be a unique space.

I gave the talk below to the attendees on the morning of the second day. I have a lot more to say about the gathering, and the topics I addressed below, which I’ll do in follow up posts. Makeda Kamara gave an absolutely earth-shattering and life-altering keynote address the following day. I don’t believe that it was recorded, but if you ever have a chance to read Makeda’s writing or see her speak, you have to do it. She has incredible wisdom about midwifery, as well as racial justice movements in the US and abroad.

The gathering was inspiring, but it was also another reminder that there is much work left to do, even within the “radical” parts of our movement, particularly around questions of racial justice and dealing with white privilege.


The reason I started my blog, Radical Doula, in 2007, was because I couldn’t imagine a room like this one existing. I had been a doula for a few years, and as my own identity and politics developed, I looked around me and felt alone.

I felt alone as a queer and genderqueer person. I felt alone as a Cuban-American, a Latina, a child of immigrants. I felt alone as a reproductive justice activist and someone who supported access to abortion as well as access to homebirth and midwives. I felt alone as someone who approached my work as a doula as social justice activism.

I remember one of the first, possibly the very first, conversation I had with another doula who felt similarly. Christy Hall, who is here today, and I met at a reproductive justice conference, and the memory of crouching in the corner with her, infant in arms, talking about being doulas with radical politics is seared in my brain.

So very much has changed since that first conversation all those years ago. The fact that this gathering is happening at all is a major testament to that change.

Needless to say, I no longer feel alone. Instead I’m in awe of the incredible growth in the doula movement, and particularly in the movement of doulas who see their work as part of a broader social justice vision. For so many of us, this work isn’t just about improving a few select people’s experiences with pregnancy and birth–it’s about changing the systems altogether.

This is no easy task. And while the growth and expansion of the doula movement is really good news in many ways, it also presents its own unique challenges.

What I wanted to talk about today is how I see our work as birth activists as part of the broader reproductive justice movement.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, reproductive justice is a movement that was established by women of color in the reproductive rights movement who wanted a framework through which to see their organizing that better mirrored the lives of the people in their communities. It’s an intersectional framework that acknowledges the complexity of people’s lives and the many issues that affects them.

One way I describe it is building a world where everyone has what they need to create the family that they want to create.

While abortion still tends to most of the attention in this work, I think birth workers, are also perfectly suited to be part of this movement and to utilize the framework to support our own efforts.

So what does it really mean to understand our work as doulas, or midwives, or birth activists, as part of the movement for reproductive justice?

First it means we put at the center of our work those who face the most challenges.

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Call for Submissions: Saving Our Lives: Black Women, Pregnancy and Childbirth

Black Women Birthing Justice, a group based in Oakland, is putting together a much needed anthology about Black women, pregnancy and childbirth.


Birthing Justice – Saving Our Lives will be an anthology of critical essays and personal testimonies that explore African American, African, Caribbean and diasporic women’s experiences of childbirth from a radical social justice perspective. We seek writings by midwives, doulas, natural childbirth advocates, reproductive rights activists, moms and moms-to-be, sociologists, feminist and Africana studies scholars, and historians that document state control and medical violence against black pregnant women, revitalize our birthing traditions, and honor and record empowering and sacred birth experiences. We are particularly interested in essays that document activism and resistance.

Read more here, and consider submitting! Such an important conversation.

Birth(ing) Justice

At the most recent Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective conference in Miami, I heard a number of midwives and doulas talking about birth(ing) justice. A few people called it birth justice, others called it birthing justice.

The articulations of what this term means vary from person to person, but I understand it as a way to frame our work for a better culture of birth and reproduction within an intersectional politics.

I’m really excited about the people behind these movements. Similar to the history of reproductive justice, it seems birth(ing) justice is being pushed and developed by women of color in the birth activist community. Three groups that I connected with in Miami connected to this birth(ing) justice work: Mobile Midwife in Miami, Florida, Black Women Birthing Justice in Oakland, California and Black Women Birthing Resistance in Atlanta, Georgia.

All three have different focuses, different projects, different collaborators–but seem to share a vision for centering birth work in the context of social justice, while centering the experiences of marginalized populations.

I am beyond overjoyed to see such energy around birth activism, in particular by and for women of color. Also to see birth activism articulated within a much broader political framework is exactly why I started Radical Doula over four years ago–because I felt alone in my politics and passion for changing the culture of birth.

I am so glad to be able to say that I am no longer alone.

More information after the jump about each group.

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Some thoughts from Intentional Motherhood

The event that I helped to organize was an apparent success! We had a good turn out, a got quite a few birthday wishes and we hopefully made good money for the DC Abortion Fund. Jill Morrison, from the National Women’s Law Center graciously put her comments into a blog post. She’s great. She spoke about the connections between abortion rights and birthing rights, and really brought it home with her discussion of two court cases (she is a lawyer, after all).

I am thrilled that the DC Abortion Fund is hosting an event to celebrate a book that enhances women’s ability to make pregnancy and birthing decisions.  Let’s face it, some don’t think that abortion supporters can be all rah-rah about the childbirth thing, but we really are. But this isn’t just because we think pregnant women are incredibly gorgeous and we’re the first in line to coochie-coo. It’s because we share common goals with those who support a woman’s pregnancy and birthing choices. Sometimes it is really difficult to make the connection between abortion, pregnancy and birth, but I think one case really brings home the point.

Read the full post here.

Belated Mother’s Day Post

I hope all you mother’s out there enjoyed this weekend. I recently joined an anti-shackling coalition spearheaded by the Rebecca Project for Human Rights (shackling of incarcerated women during childbirth, that is). They have been putting out some great materials, including this op-ed, for mother’s day. From the piece:

In most state prisons and jails, restraints are routinely used on pregnant women, including when they are in labor and when they deliver their babies. Only three states — California, Illinois and Vermont — have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. In the other 47 states and the District of Columbia, no such laws exist. The use of restraints on pregnant women, particularly on women in labor and giving birth, constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading practice that rarely can be justified in terms of security concerns during the delivery process. In the three states that outlawed shackling pregnant inmates, there have been no cases of mothers in labor or delivery escaping or causing harm to themselves, security guards or medical staff.

I’m very excited to be part of this coalition and hope to keep all the RD readers updated on their work.

Making the connection between pro-choice activists and birth activists

Lynn Paltrow, the Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and a pioneer in the reproductive justice field, has a great article in TomPaine today which eloquently clarifies why there needs to be more coalition work between abortion rights activists and birth activists.

Both pro-choice advocates and birthing rights advocates are challenged by decreasing access to services: the former struggles with the fact that 87 percent of all U.S. counties have no abortion providers; the latter struggles against policies at over 300 hospitals around the country that deny women who have previously had c-sections the right to even try delivering vaginally.

And both have been negatively affected by growing claims of “fetal rights.” While these are advanced as part of the campaign to outlaw abortion, they have begun to effect the lives of women who personally identify as “pro-life.” Christian fundamentalists have been told that they must have unnecessary c-sections to protect the rights of the fetus; pregnant women opposed to abortions have been arrested as child abusers in the name of fetal rights for things they did or did not do during pregnancy.

Read the rest of the article here.