Report: Black Birth Matters 2018 Conference

black birth matters 2018
On October 27, 2018, my fellow facilitator Koyuki Smith and I presented a Birthing From Within workshop at the Black Birth Matters conference, organized by the Birthmark Doula Collective in New Orleans. The theme of the conference was “Mind over Matter: Mental Health and Mothering.” The title of our presentation was “Learning Through Listening: Using the Labyrinth to Acknowledge and Process Trauma.” Koyuki and I led participants through the classic Birthing From Within Labyrinth process, but rather than using it in terms of the labor-birth journey, we used it to explore how to navigate the trauma inherent in being and supporting black birthing people in the context of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. We all know that black birthing people and their babies are at immense risk in the United States – every day, we hear more horror stories, and as black women, we experience them, too. How can we acknowledge these very real past traumas and future risks without getting stuck inside of them? How can we move through and move forward in ways that are emotionally, physically, and relationally healthy and sustainable for ourselves and our families? These are the questions that we held in our minds as we traveled our labyrinths. The discussion afterwards was rich and rewarding!
black birth matters labyrinth

Labyrinths created by Black Birth Matters participants displayed at the conference venue.

The most important memory of the experience for me was just the buzz, the excitement, of black women gathered to bring to light issues of birth in the black community.

The vast majority of professional birth workshops, trainings, and conferences have very few black folks in attendance. So walking into the meet and greet on the evening we arrived, and then into the conference itself the next day, and seeing that I would be among so many black women, was an incredibly thrilling feeling.

Something else that stood out to me was the intentional introduction that clearly centered the needs and experience of black attendees. We were informed that there was an intentional space set aside for self care, a place to rest, rejuvenate, and connect to self. A white Birthmark member also spoke to make clear that Black Birth Matters was first and foremost for black women. She reminded everyone that although white sisters were welcome, all general questions about race and racism, how to “solve” the problem, “what can I do,” etc., should be addressed to her, not to the black participants or presenters. This made it feel safe to just be in the moment without having to worry about fielding such questions and demands for education that create so much exhaustion.

black birth matters panel

Mothering and Mental Health panel discussion. (l-r) Sara Reardon, Nana Anoa Nantambu, Ashley Hill, Nicole Deggins, Dr. Tammy Lewis Wilborn, Nikki Hunter Greenaway.

I will also never forget the collective swell of voices chanting the mantra “Aham Prema” (“I am Divine Love”), led by community elder Nana Anoa Nantambu. This spontaneous moment — which came after a deeply emotional panel-and-audience discussion of the reality of what is happening in our communities, our families, and in ourselves, just because of the bodies we are all born into — was healing, validating, and necessary to the project of continuing to care for ourselves so we can support families who are at risk. It brought me to tears.

When I originally came to BFW, I felt an immediate deep connection with the philosophy. I knew it had a lot of healing power. That’s why it was such an honor, in New Orleans, to bring a specifically black perspective to the BFW conversation, and, as a black practitioner, to help other people of color think about how BFW speaks to their needs and experiences. The BFW understandings of working in-awareness through trauma and ordeals, and taking things one step at a time while finding ways to care for the self, are validating concepts for black women, who are usually told to just push their emotions down and power through painful experiences in the past, present, and future. I have practiced BFW for so long that I often forget its power and magic.

Presenting at Black Birth Matters helped me to see the magic of BFW through beginner’s eyes again, which was so exciting and rejuvenating, especially because it was specifically through the lens of the black experience.

Koyuki and I were lucky enough to have conversations with many participants as they came to our table after the workshop. It was clear to us that folks seemed to really get something out of the Labyrinth. There was a yearning for more. What we shared was just a taste, but it provided a balm, and a tool to create space for further healing. I hope to work with this community again, and Koyuki and I am looking forward to the possibility of co-leading a Crossing the Threshold in New Orleans.

 

About Deidre Coutsoumpos

Deidre Coutsoumpos is passionate about creating spaces where people are seen, heard and celebrated, whether it be in a support circle, at the bedside or on the yoga mat. Cultivating that passion has come to light in a variety of forms: face-to-face encounters, connecting through her podcast and now sharing through writing in this space. Deidre counts it a privileged to walk along, through the labyrinth, with our readers. You can follow her at https://thequeenteampodcast.com.

Leave a Comment