Has anyone read Jan Tritten’s article, “Childbirth Abolitionists” ?

The passages below are an aggregate of conversations freely circulating in social media in response to a Midwifery Today  e-zine article:

Has anyone read Jan Tritten’s article, “Childbirth Abolitionists” in the latest issue of Midwifery Today? She compares the movement to end slavery in the US with current movement to change birth. I need some perspective on this. I have a very hard time reading this with the use of the term “slave”; plus her view, not shared by everyone and especially Black folks that Lincoln freed the “slaves”. Please enlighten me!

Let’s start with the term “Abolitionist”. The Abolitionist Movement was for the abolishment of the system which enslaved human beings of African descent. What a lack of history and fact checking!

Do we want to abolish childbirth??? Free the birth slaves???  ~C.B.

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The article “Childbirth Abolitionists” premise is profoundly confused and confusing. No, more than that. It is a big fat offensive mess. In my opinion, Jan’s attempt to compare the abolitionist movement as profiled and the PBS series and her experience of the white midwifery activist movement is full of unconscious assumptions and bias. It is misguided and terribly sad to see published in a midwifery journal, or anywhere. I am so sorry for everyone who wasted their time reading it and especially sorry for the offense it most surely caused and will cause in communities of color and allies. ~A.K.

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A Slight Revision From

Jan’s Corner

Childbirth Freedom Fighters (formerly Childbirth Abolitionist)

Did those of you who live in the U.S. see the PBS three-part series on the abolitionists? I hope you did or that you can get hold of it. As I watched, I realized how this anti-slavery movement parallels our movement to free women in pregnancy and birth from the jaws of the medical establishment. This plays out all around the world with some countries being worse than others. The treatment of motherbaby is often abusive—horrendously so. Perhaps nothing is as horrible as slavery and I don’t mean to downplay it in any way by this comparison, but the effects of pregnancy, birth and the first year of life affect both mother and child for their entire lives.

The abolitionists spent 40+ years working to free the slaves. First they appealed to the slaveholder’s reason—just like we are trying to do now with medical practitioners. For the past 37 years, ever since I first became a midwife, we have fought this fight. I first thought, “Okay, once they see how wonderful birth can be from the evidence coming out, they will change.” But this change hasn’t happened—things have only gotten worse. This was the same for the slaves. For us, when I first started midwifery, they hadn’t even invaded the uterus and the prenatal period. Prenatal care was simple and very good with no routine ultrasound(s).

The anti-slavery fight was magnificent, consistent, strong and dangerous—our fight is, too. More and more midwives are getting thrown in jail, persecuted and prosecuted, especially in the United States. We have so many voices and we are unrelenting in this activism. The slavery abolitionists had battles within their movement—we have these, too. Some of us want to be law-abiding and see the bottom-line as mom’s right to choose. It is, after all is said and done, her birth and her baby.

Then the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln freed the slaves. The movie “Lincoln” is about his fight to make emancipation a constitutional amendment. He knew it wouldn’t hold if Congress didn’t change the Constitution. Even after 150 years, the battle for black equality is still going on. Martin Luther King took the freedom fight to another level, but peacefully. Were it not for these milestones in history, imagine where we would be.

We who work in birth are not even at the point of an Emancipation Proclamation, but we are in the abolitionist phase. We are Childbirth Freedom Fighters (formerly Chilbirth Abolitionist).  Shall we take up this new terminology? It is powerful and has a huge successful movement behind it. ~ Jan Tritten founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine.

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Question: Do each of us have a friend(s) to call to check ourselves when we are getting carried away?

I woke up this morning with Jan Tritten on my mind and my own reaction to her article “Childbirth Abolitionists”.

I had received a heads up about the article last night as its presence made its way via the “Black Birth Workers’ Drum”. The comments were flying – some of us were upset, some of us were not, some were so use to reading things like this that they no longer had a reaction. We Women of Colors are a diverse group with many opinions and perspectives.

I read it; I called my 2 comrades and we read it together. We were insulted by this ill- informed, shallow attempt to take a cause, reforming birth in the US, and comparing it with our Fight for Freedom.  Articles that are driven by analysis gained simply from a TV series and a movie, and vestiges of a traditional Euro-centric American history curriculum, take us down a road fraught with lack of comprehensive, alternative information and points of view.

Why do articles and incidences like this cause such strong reactions in some Black folks?  It is best described by Dr. Joy DeGruy in her book ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”.  As she states, many of us daily experience “cognitive dissonance” – living in this world of a structurally engineered, far encompassing system of privilege and entitlement for some and invisibility and disenfranchisement for others; and we are bombarded with realities that make no sense to us. A must read!!

As Jennie Joseph describes, “Cognitive dissonance – a concept that Dr. DeGruy outlines very well in her book. While African Americans managed to emerge from chattel slavery and the oppressive decades that followed with great strength and resiliency, they did not emerge unscathed. Slavery produced centuries of physical, psychological and spiritual injury. “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing” lays the groundwork for understanding how the past has influenced the present, and opens up the discussion of how we can use the strengths we have gained to heal.”

First, my cause as a Midwife and one of Color is this: the cause of providing equal access to quality, accessible, affordable, compassionate, patient-centered, culturally validating, health care to all women and their families this is a cause that needs no comparisons to be validated!

Are we really working to free pregnant and birthing women from the jaws of the medical establishment?

I have never met Jan Tritten, although I have exchanged emails with her regarding an upcoming article. I have no reason to doubt that she is a well-meaning woman and had no idea her article would offend.

How does someone explain this to her in a way that her first reaction will not be a defensive one of feeling she is being accused of being a racist?  Several weeks ago I posted a YouTube of a discussion on how to hold conversations regarding race in such a way that the white person accepts the shortcoming and action without feeling he/she is being accused of being a racist.  He made an analogy that having such a conversation about an action or thought that was not politically correct or culturally aware should be like pointing out to some that he/she has spinach in your teeth, not that the person is spinach. The discussion then becomes one of how to get the spinach out of the person’s teeth – to recognize the issues and to do better the next time.

Does Jan not have a friend, friend of color, or work colleague she could have run this article by for critique? Who is the editor of this publication? No one to tell her to “pump her brakes” – you might want to rethink this before you post this?

As one commenter said,” … drawing any comparison between slavery and anything is never a smart move, just like comparisons involving the Jewish Holocaust…”

Does Jan really believe that the detrimental effects of modern medicine on mothers and babies is in any way comparable to long term effects the Trans-Atlantic Trafficking of Human Beings  Movement of the 1450- late 1800’s had on people of African descent? I think she just got carried away in her analogy.  She is aware that modern maternity care has saved many lives of women around the world, and especially those in dis-enfranchised communities here in the US, who are in need of advanced maternity care.

Does Jan not know the definition of “Abolitionist”. The Abolitionist Movement was for the abolishment of the system which enslaved human beings of African descent. What a lack of history and fact checking! Do we want to abolish childbirth? No – she probably just got carried away with her analogy.

To write phrases such as “The Abolitionists spent 40+ years fighting to free the slaves”.  The word “slave” is inappropriate – we were not slaves – we were African people or people of African descent who were enslaved. Enslavement was forcibly imposed on us; it is not who we were or are. Keep in mind there were other peoples who were enslaved longer than the formal institution of slavery existed in the U.S. and their identity is not referred to as former slaves.

I am not knocking the contributions made by the Abolitionist Movement – their ability to raise funds, provide shelter, education and technical skills training, keep the issue of slavery in the media, and push for the end of formal slavery was a crucial contribution in the abolition of laws that allowed for the enslavement of human beings in the US. They were white allies. But please do not under play the impact of the changing economy of the US at that time and the shift of power this brought, especially between the North and the South.  Human beings of African descent who were enslaved were not just sitting back waiting for the white man to save us.

“The anti-slavery fight was magnificent …”.  No one can really believe in their heart that the un-speakable atrocities, and death that my ancestors endured in their fight for freedom was magnificent for those who experienced it and for their progeny. I do not know how a fight that involved death, degradation, brutalization could be a magnificent one.  For many this fight for equality and freedom continues today. We fought for our freedom thank you; with the help of allies, like the Abolitionists!

I have not seen “Lincoln”, the movie.  The history and causes of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation (this year is the 150th Anniversary), slavery and the post slavery years that I have studied may not have been consistent with the information portrayed in the film. In addition, to broaden my base of information and perspective I have seen “Roots” and all of it sequels – I also saw “Django’.

The phrase, “Lincoln freed the slaves …” is viewed by many as incorrect… A diverse American history lesson, with perspectives other than those taught in a traditional Euro-centric curriculum would help this article immensely.

Did the editor not realize that the man, who is a hero to most of the world, and especially people of color, who won the Noble Peace Prize was named, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr”.? Sloppy job – and insulting. His father was “Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr.”.  For many Black Americans this reminds us of the current inability of the press to call Our President by his title, “President Barack Obama”.

I am not coming from an angry place. I am sure Jan Tritten had no intent to offend anyone. But offend she did.

Many of us Women of Colors are just plain tired of having these conversations. They are exhausting and stress producing.

We, Women of Colors can die from this stress and not be here to serve our women and communities and fully live our own lives! This type of stress makes us more susceptible to the debilitating and degenerative effects of stress on our physical, emotional and psychological bodies. Stress has the ability to ravage our bodies – hypertension, breast cancer, weight gain, depression, anxiety, lack of optimism, and difficulty loving ourselves, our families, our communities.

Moreover, these conversations distract us from our mission – saving mothers and babies!  We are tired.

Can you Ally-Sisters take on the responsibility of drafting a group letter to Jan Tritten, much like AROM did to MANAA, and circulating it for signatures by all women?

Oh, I volunteer to be one of Jan’s friends whom she can call to check herself.

La lutte continua!  In solidarity! ~C.B.

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The Birth Abolitionist article is offensive to me and as you may learn, it will be offensive to many.  Feminists, particularly white feminists played a huge role in moving birth into the hospital in search of the pain free birth.  This is vastly different than the millions of Africans who were stolen from their families, enslaved in this country, and forced to endure several hundred years of enslavement.  There is no comparison.  Please resist the urge to get people “fired up” by comparing the current political struggle to historical atrocities. N.G.

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In a FaceBook response to another midwife W.G. writes:

“Anyone who has birthed in hospital knows at least for a few hours, what it is like to be IN THE POWER OF A MASTER. Not fun.” I think we can all agree that in many hospitals in the US, women are not prepared well to make an informed choice, they may not have much/ any support, interventions are performed without permission, and for a few hours, it’s “not fun.” There is a power imbalance; there may be suffering; there may even be oppression in some places.

But it is entirely out of line to compare this to the enslavement of people of African descent. People were forcibly kidnapped, removed from their homes and families, transported across the ocean in the bottom of cargo ships where many of them died, then sold as property to land owners who beat and whipped them to within an inch of their life (or in many cases, beyond). Enslaved women were beaten and raped, underwent experimental surgeries with filthy instruments and no anesthesia, and if they did manage to make it to the end of their pregnancies, their babies were taken from them and sold to someone else. I’m not even scratching the surface of the atrocities.

Jan’s comparison didn’t work on several levels:
1. Birthing women today are not undergoing anything even remotely similar to the horrific experiences of the enslavement of women of African descent.
2. A white person should never make that comparison, even if they did have more than the shallowest understanding of slavery, in which case they would never make the comparison.
3. The Freedom Fighters and even the abolitionists did their work at risk of losing their lives to do it. Midwives today — while we may have to face hostility & lack of respect, pay fines or even go to jail in rare cases — are not losing our lives.

For these reasons and more, the analogy is highly, highly offensive to many people. Can you accept this, even if the offense was not intended? And if so, shouldn’t that be enough of a reason to stop trying to force the analogy? ~W.G.

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