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We Are Black History: by Althea Jones, RM

black lives matter

This Black history month feels quite different due to the focus on racial injustice over the past year. Many have stood in solidarity with the Black community to demand justice and equity. This has not only sparked some important discussions about racism, but has also provided new support for solutions.

For me, a Black midwife in Ontario, Canada, I have been compelled to put into action something I have been thinking about for a long time. Throughout my clinical practice I’ve seen that midwifery care is underutilized by the Black community and feel that increasing access to this care can be part of the solution to the disparities seen in Black maternal health. To that end, I have founded Ancestral Hands Midwives, a non profit organization with a plan to bring high quality maternity care to my community.

At Ancestral Hands Midwives, it is our mission to improve outcomes and the experience of care for Black people during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Our program centres the needs and experiences of the Black community to provide the holistic care that research has shown improves outcomes. We will offer culturally competent prenatal care, innovate prenatal and postpartum education, advocacy support and connection to community services. We’ve partnered with amazing organizations such as TAIBU community health centre and Toronto Public Health and a wide range of health care providers to ensure the best care and support for our clients.

Perhaps you’re wondering why a program like this is necessary. You may be familiar with the American statistic that Black people are three to four times more likely to die before, during or after childbirth due to preventable causes than their white counterparts. In Canada, we like to think that we do not have the same startling statistics, but our lack of race-based data actually hides disparities and prevents us from creating solutions.

As stated in the article, 'Time to dismantle systemic anti-Black racism in medicine in Canada', “The field of medicine can no longer deny or overlook the existence of systemic anti-Black racism in Canada and how it affects the health of Black people and communities.” As a solution we need to, “pay attention to the conversations Black people are having in our communities, including patients and health care professionals.” This is exactly what we’re doing at Ancestral Hands Midwives.

As I am working through the approval and funding process for this program, I’ve seen firsthand the systemic factors that prevent funding for initiatives like this. The reality is, in maternity care there is very little representation of Black lives. Not in primary care providers, hospitals, maternal health research or in those making key decisions. This needs to change.

If you stand in support of the Black community, I encourage you to support initiatives that lead to the long term success of Black people and therefore society as a whole. It can be difficult to figure out how you personally can help in a problem much bigger than yourself. Self-reflection and examining your own bias is always a good place to start. If you can continue that work by lending your voice or platform, your skills or your time to initiatives that can lead to meaningful change, then do it!

If you’re celebrating Black history this month try to do it through your actions. In Ontario, where we are home to more than half of the country’s Black population, we should be at the forefront of solutions to the disparities facing the Black community. Our vision at Ancestral Hands Midwives is to be the Canadian standard for programming that improves Black maternal health. In a medical system that is rooted in racism, a solution like ours is long overdue. To paraphrase the great John Lewis, “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even
many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” My part of the solution is Ancestral Hands Midwives, have you found yours?

Althea Jones is a registered midwife from the greater Toronto area. She’s the founder of the Ancestral Hands Midwives non profit organization and the Womb & Wellness maternity network.