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Changing the world through the unsung missions of Black midwives

About 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, Georgia, lies Greene County. In Greene County, Georgia as it was in Greene County, Missouri, and across the nation, Black women midwives were and still are highly regarded.

It was widely proved that midwives saved lives — babies and their mothers. They birthed presidents, preachers, teachers and several family members who will attest to their value in caring for mothers in many communities where healthcare facilities were miles away or nonexistent.

The worth of midwives is especially highlighted in recent data that was shored up with the release of 2021 data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed a sharp increase in infant mortality, especially among African American women. A century ago, the infant mortality rates were much more severe, yet midwives were credited in successfully bringing babies into the world and saving their mothers. Even slave owners knew this truth.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine found:

We estimated that, relative to current coverage, a substantial increase in coverage of midwife-delivered interventions could avert 41% of maternal deaths, 39% of neonatal deaths, and 26% of stillbirths, equating to 2·2 million deaths averted per year by 2035. Even a modest increase in coverage of midwife-delivered interventions could avert 22% of maternal deaths, 23% of neonatal deaths, and 14% of stillbirths, equating to 1·3 million deaths averted per year by 2035.

Nove A, Friberg IK, de Bernis L, McConville F, Moran AC, Najjemba M, Ten Hoope-Bender P, Tracy S, Homer CSE. Potential impact of midwives in preventing and reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and stillbirths: a Lives Saved Tool modelling study. Lancet Glob Health. 2021 Jan;9(1):e24-e32. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30397-1. Epub 2020 Dec 1. PMID: 33275948; PMCID: PMC7758876.

Midwives Matter

Early African American midwives were important members of their community, even among enslaved individuals. Slave owners used these medical practitioners to ensure the health of their reproducing enslaved women and their newborn infants to expand their labor force. It was also common for midwives to attend to the slave master’s wives during birth as well.,to%20expand%20their%20labor%20force.

This midwife account describes the importance of recognizing Black midwives for their contributions to societal good: “… the story of a poor white boy delivered by a black midwife slave that grew up to be the president that freed 3.5 million black slaves in the United States, and was killed for doing so.” — From The Midwife Slave

What ancestral researchers should consider

There are documentaries, articles, scholarly works and stories within families about the importance and legacy of midwives.

  1. All births — whether at home or in hospitals — are recorded in each municipality’s Vital Records Division. The attending midwife, parents and/or physician are allowed to sign the paperwork.
  2. Time frames are usually required to register births. If the time frames are not adhered to, or should errors appear on birth certificates based on sources authorized to make the changes, the municipalities are allowed to issue delayed birth certificates.
  3. Because midwives have more than records to report, their stories are important to learning more about families’ ancestors. Some midwives kept journals, shared birth stories with family members and were the keepers of intimate secrets, the midwives are great sources for breaking down brick walls.

Historically, Black midwives are archived among famous global citizens. Check out this site for more information.

Read more: Changing the world through the unsung missions of Black midwives