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Here’s Why Positive Black Birth Stories Are Needed

Maternal telehealth has become the norm, but some Black birthing people can’t access the benefits. That’s why Kimberly Seals Allers created a free hotline to share positive Black birth stories.

Soon-to-be mothers deserve to hear positive Black birth stories — these are not details that should be held back. Especially when narratives about our tragic, often preventable, deaths are recycled constantly.

Having access to informative, supportive maternal healthcare could also mean the difference between a healthy birth and baby and tragedy. This has especially been true during the pandemic when pregnant women became more vulnerable to complications due to COVID-19.

The global health crisis forced these moms to prepare for and give birth in isolation as restrictions became the norm.

However, out of it all came more options for maternal telehealth as providers and companies leaned on remote care to meet their needs.

Apps and other technologies started to boom, but that doesn’t mean all Black moms get to experience the benefits of tools that require internet access.

The digital divide, or the gap between people who have access to technology and those who don’t, hits Black families hard — especially those living in poverty or rural areas.

The Black Birthing Joyline Makes Maternal Education Accessible to Everyone

Kimberly Seals Allers, the host of Birthright Podcast, has an accessible, non-medical, short-term solution for Black birthing people: the Black Birthing Joyline. (Full disclosure, I provided creative support to the Birthright Podcast, as well as the Irth App, and the Black Birthing Joyline.)

By dialing 844-5-GETJOY, callers can listen to audio clips from Seals Allers’ podcast, which feature joyful narratives about birth from birthing people, their partners, doulas, and midwives.

The Joyline is free for anyone who has a phone with calling capabilities. A text option is also available but requires an internet connection.

A Need for Flexible Virtual Care

report published last August in the Georgetown Medical Review suggested that providers should be flexible when offering virtual maternal care because of unequal access to the internet.

Rachel Mayer, an author of the paper, says there are a number of things to consider for moms who use telehealth for prenatal or postpartum care.

“Do they actually have access to technological devices like a computer or a smartphone? Do they have access to broadband internet? Even if they have a smartphone or a computer, what if they don’t have internet?” she told Word In Black in a video interview.

Additionally, she and her team noted that more research needs to be conducted on groups other than white mothers to get a clearer picture of who’s accessing telehealth and at what cost.

The Benefit of Joy and Healing

Seals Allers, who also founded Irth — a Yelp-like app where Black moms rate and review hospitals and doctors — says after “another year of more negative statistics about Black birth outcomes and Black maternal and infant deaths, Black birthing people deserve some joy and healing.”

She launched the podcast about “joy and healing in Black birth” in 2021 in response to the “doom and gloom” narrative often shared in media.

“The system is so used to documenting and showcasing Black pain,” Seals Allers said in a statement. “I wanted to document our Black birthing joy and ask, what can we learn from joy?”

There’s plenty to learn from the Black Birthing Joyline, which features new clips weekly.

One of this week’s clips spotlights Carla Williams, a Black Latina OB/GYN based in New York who gave birth to her second child at home and in water.

After giving birth to her first baby in a hospital, she chose a different route — one that offered her “familiarity.”

“I was going to be able to do certain things that aren’t routinely allowed in the hospital. Like eating if I felt like I was hungry. Moving if I felt like I wanted to move. Going anywhere in my house — that really just made me feel comfortable. Dim lights, if that’s what I wanted. Music, if that’s what I wanted. Having my daughter present if she wanted to be present,” Williams said, adding that giving birth at home “reduces the fear that sometimes is associated with birth.”

Some pregnant people express fear toward giving birth, considering that, due to racism, statistics say Black women are three to four times more likely to die from it than white women.

But research also shows that normalizing positive birth experiences — which do happen in the Black community — may improve society’s view of childbirth.

Mayer agrees that the Joyline could produce healthy results for those who listen to it in preparation for birth.

“I think that connecting Black birthing persons to a community or doulas or anyone who can improve their health literacy, improve their community, teach them how the experience will be for them, will, in turn, likely help with their empowerment and advocacy for themselves during their birth experience,” she says.

Seals Allers welcomes everyone to “come get your joy” by tuning into the Joyline for a limited time during Black History Month.

Creating Positive Black Birthing Experiences Is Our ‘Birthright’

It was an honor to support the creation of the Black Birthing Joyline.

During the process, I imagined all of the different mothers who’d be able to listen in on birthing people, partners, and birth workers sharing birthing wisdom.

I thought about the 16-year-old girl who found herself in a tough situation, alone in a hotel room without proper prenatal care.

And on the other hand, I thought about the first-time mom who’s married and well-off but isn’t any less vulnerable to the evils of the unevolved maternal health system.

There is more for us.

Crunchy, dimly lit home births. Twerking, popping hospital bed births. Soul music playing in the background births. Doula, midwife, and family-supported births. Miraculous, memorable births. Deep breathing, moaning, moving births.

Joyful Black births. They exist. So, we will continue making them and telling the stories they leave behind.

In the words of Seals Allers, joy “is and always will be your birthright.”

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©2019 Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine

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