Community News

UNITED BLACK BIRTH COLLECTIVE GROWING ‘SLOWLY AND WITH INTENTION’

Originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 67, printed February 3. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Ana Edwards

“Since I was a girl, I wanted to be a midwife.”

Weluna Finley is one of a group of Black mothers, birth workers, mental health professionals and healers who decided to look after the health and well-being of Black families by working to ensure safe and healthy birth experiences.

An August 2021 report from the National Institutes for Health showed that Black maternal mortality rates are 3.5 times higher than those for white American women and that, very often, insensitive or dismissive health care received by Black women from the white or non-Black medical establishment can be a risk factor.

The Kaiser Family Foundation in California reported similar mortality rates for American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI), making this a pervasive challenge for communities of color.

The Richmond-based United Black Birth Collective was founded by Finley and her colleagues in January 2020 and has served more than 40 women of color with birthing education, home births, midwifery, doula and birth assistance with a cultural consciousness.

Her own experience with a home birth while in the care of a midwife and birth assistant led to her get to know the Black women who, by working in their own communities, knew long before the studies were conducted the risks faced by Black mothers and their families.

In 2018 Finley began taking classes, but it was her bonding with her midwife in conversations about what their community needed that led to her writing a Black Birth Manifesto and the decision to create a Black-family-centered collective with the mission to “protect the sanctity of black life one birth at a time.”

Finley emphasized that this holistic approach, working as often as possible with mother and father and elders, was essential to success.

She also described the importance of honoring the women who were practicing midwifery and birth assistance long before such services were recognized or sanctioned by the medical establishment – women such as Shafiah Monroe and Jenny Joseph who set and raised the bar for services available in at-risk, usually low-income communities. The UBBC created a council of local elder women who help the collective train and mentor new practitioners of color who have encountered barriers to their development in birth work as their vocation.

I asked if the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work.

“To some degree it has,” Finley said. “We established protocols and are more cautious, but we still go out to give the face-to-face care. You have to have that.”

Concerns about the virus actually led to an increase in calls from people seeking alternatives to group settings like hospitals and birthing centers.

“Other service providers have dropped off and the level of isolation for mothers has increased and so we try to continue to give that same level of treatment,” she said.

UBBC is a membership organization with an application and review process. Its website lists four practitioners, including Finley. They train and support other Black birth workers because “It is SO difficult to enter into the field of birth work, to become those professionals and be able to sustain themselves.”

Two of the biggest barriers, she said, are the cost of education and the inaccessibility of qualified preceptors (someone to understudy with.) The field has been dominated by white women, and with so many practices (nurse midwives, CPN midwives, licenced midwives) vying for preeminence, finding spaces where Black women are not just included but supported is very difficult.

Finley is passionate about the field and the organization. Their strength is that they are unified in purpose and direction.

“We are growing,” she said, “slowly and with intention. It is very important that we keep our philosophy, our values and our integrity intact as we grow.”

You can learn more about the United Black Birth Collective at their website here.

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