Giving birth takes courage, says Samsarah Morgan, a midwife for 37 years and the founder of the Oakland Better Birth Foundation. “But in this country women are terrified of the birth process. They are frightened to death of what their bodies were made to do.”
Coupled with racism, the impact of this fear is measurable among Black women, where low birth weight and high infant mortality persist despite advances in mainstream medicine.
And Black women in the U.S. are five times more likely than white women to die in childbirth, says Morgan, a mother of five and grandmother of three.
“Doctors talk among themselves about black women as being high-risk,” she says. That high-risk label, even when it is deserved, often puts Black women on the fast track for a highly medicated birth with lasting impact on mother and child.
The pain-relieving epidural drugs impact the child as well as the mother because opiate pain-relievers suppress respiration. “The last thing this (newborn) baby needs to do is learn to breathe,” Morgan says, and that added stress impacts the child’s ability to thrive.
Morgan identifies one post-partum issue for C-Section mothers especially, is being robbed of the victory of giving birth. “They feel that they have failed,” Morgan says and the same can be said of women who don’t, for a variety of reasons, breast-feed their babies.
But a little education can go a long way, Morgan says. And the education provided from a midwife, or Doula, provides alternatives. Beginning Feb. 14, she is holding a seven-week series of classes not just for mothers but their partners, grandmothers, fathers, aunts and others because she needs family support in making these decisions.
“They will learn about pregnancy, nutrition, the baby’s development, and what the moms need in each stage of development physically, psychologically and emotionally.”
Morgan’s post-partum work focuses on breastfeeding. It helps the mother’s womb contract to its natural size and reduces the likelihood of breast cancer later in life. For the baby, breast milk is the perfect food resulting in stronger immune systems, even higher IQs.
And the bonding between mother and child is also important.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, tragedy may strike and a child dies. Morgan teaches about that, too. “Women don’t know that they should grieve,” Morgan says, “and friends and family need to know that the woman may always grieve that loss.”
Morgan also makes it clear that she is not “anti-doctor or anti-hospital,” but even mainstream physicians acknowledge that doulas’ work has resulted in fewer C-sections and drug-related interventions.
Now certified by the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, Morgan got her start in the late 1970s informally advising the female partners of male colleagues in the corporation where she worked.
Now holding a Doctorate of Divinity from the now-defunct American Institute of Interfaith Studies as well as licenses in life coaching and hypnotherapy, Morgan brings all of these to bear in her work, which she regards as a ministry.
Familiar with birth stories from around the world, Morgan mentions one where it is during labor that the mother “goes to the island of souls to get her baby.” Natural labor gives her a sense of her abilities to take care of this new soul, Morgan says.
Oakland Better Birth Foundation is located at 370 45th St. in Oakland. Fees for the seven week series range from $100-$200, but no family will be turned away. For more information, please call (510) 595-5534.