It begins and ends with smoke. Singed white sage is brushed up and down the body. Head to toe, limb to limb. This ritual smudging is meant to clear the indistinct wounds of trauma. A restless morning or ugly fight must first be washed away before each woman enters the headquarters of Tewa Women United in Española, New Mexico. In the smoke, she is grounded.
For 30 years, Tewa Women United (TWU) has brought together Indigenous women from the Tewa and other Indigenous tribes throughout Northern New Mexico’s pueblos, and across the United States, to address the problems facing their families and the larger community. At first, they met around kitchen tables and in coffee shops to discuss divorce or suicide, says Kathy Sanchez, who helped found TWU in the late 1980s. Later on, the members of TWU came to realize that these were symptoms of larger issues and generational trauma. “Why are our kids turning to alcohol? Why are the men so abusive?” Sanchez asks. “Why do we have so many sexual abuses toward women? We were asking a lot of questions about why things were the way they were.”
In recent years, the group has turned its attention to a particular problem connected to reproductive health: After African-American women, Native-American women face the second-highest rate of death during childbirth, more than twice the rate of white women. In 2003, the Tewa Birthing Project began to examine the disparities in health care for Indigenous women, particularly by creating more access to the support provided by a midwife or doula. Last year, a doula training program was organized to help broaden access to health care and create a safer birth experience with less medical intervention. It is free of charge for the students, asking only that they assist with three births within the community.
(Click link at top to read this piece in it’s entirety on vogue.com)
The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America.
Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
(click link above to read this powerful piece on NYTimes.com)
Black Breastfeeding Week was created because for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. The most recent CDC data show that 75% of white women have ever breastfed versus 58.9% of black women. The fact that racial disparity in initiation and even bigger one for duration has lingered for so long is reason enough to take 7 days to focus on the issue, but here are a few more:
1. The high black infant mortality rate: Black babies are dying at twice the rate (in some place, nearly triple) the rate of white babies. This is a fact. The high infant mortality rate among black infants is mostly to their being disproportionately born too small, too sick or too soon. These babies need the immunities and nutritional benefit of breast milk the most. According to the CDC, increased breastfeeding among black women could decrease infant mortality rates by as much as 50%. So when I say breastfeeding is a life or death matter, this is what I mean. And it is not up for debate or commenting. This is the only reason I have ever needed to do this work, but I will continue with the list anyway.
(click link above to read the entire article)