Erykah “Badoula” And The Business of Birthing: Can Midwifery Help Stem Black Infant Mortality Rates?

I’m not gonna lie: When those labor pains kicked my groin like they came from the hooves of a giant, honery, angry mule, I practically walked into the hospital spine up, ready for the needle-full of juice that would make the pain just, like, go away. Sure, my Lamaze class taught me and a host of other moms-to-be about the breathing and the relaxing and the focusing to help work through the contractions, but they were just as quick to say, too, that there wouldn’t be some mommy award waiting in my mailbox if I skipped the epidural. Their motto: If I wanted the pain reliever, I should ask for it.

And so I did with both of my children. I’m a chump like that. Word life.

Still, I’m consistently amazed by women who choose to have a deliberate birthing experience—one that forgoes medical intervention for a much more personalized, natural labor assisted solely by mid-wives and doulas. It was certainly on my mind after I had my Lila, who was born in a hospital where the nurses were quick to pump drugs into my arms and all manner of straps and even a catheter meant to monitor me and my baby, whose heart rate they decided wasn’t strong enough for their liking. Seriously, those heiffas wouldn’t even let me turn over in the bed much less get up to pee; I was forced to lay on my side for, literally, 17 hours because they thought it was “safer” for me and Lila, whatever that meant. All I know is when the shift change came and nobody was watching me closely, I turned onto my other side and, pow!, I dilated fully and Lila was out in three pushes. My ob-gyn, who was in the building somewhere, didn’t even bother to come in the room; some random, cocky male resident stood around while I delivered my child, and then sewed me up with a bunch of crooked stitches meant to fix the parts he forgot to massage as Lila made her way into the world.

Yeah, let’s just say after that experience, my ideas on the birthing experience changed radically. Maybe being in a room with women who actually thought of birth as the beautiful beginning of life rather than a huge check for medical expenses wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe being surrounding by women who trust your body and know its wonder and treat you like a human being rather than an ignorant girl too dumb to take care of herself and her child properly could radically change the infant mortality rate in our community.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately after that New York Times story I wrote about a few weeks back—the one where the writer took a really condescending, shallow look at black infant mortality rates. Yesterday, I started taking an even more serious look at midwifery after peeping this story, AMP: The Business of Being Erykah Badu. In it, Kamren Curiel writes of the soul star’s work as a doula and her plans to become a certified mid-wife. With a little extra digging, I found a bunch of stories about how Erykah, a mom of three, delivered all of her babies naturally with the assistance of a midwife and a doula, and has been working as a doula since helping her best friend through a natural birth. Erykah, who playfully calls herself “Badoula,” has been offering up her services as a birth coach for years, giving massages and practicing Reiki on moms-to-be to help them relax during labor. And sis, who speaks of plans to open birthing centers in inner cities, does all of this out of the goodness of her heart—no charge.

Earlier this year, Erykah also became the spokeswoman for the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, Inc., an organization that promotes midwifery, recruitment and training for black women who want to learn, share, and practice birthing techniques of Africa, the Caribbean and the Deep South. ICTC’s intent is to help black moms-to-be have better birthing experiences and, certainly, to help stem the out-of-control infant mortality rates in our community.

Shout-out to the ICTC and “Badoula” for thinking more deeply about the business of birth and lending a critical hand not only to helping support black moms-to-be, but helping to safely usher our babies into this world.

Check out what Erykah has to say about her babies, motherhood and her decision to become a doula in the clip below, somewhere around the 2:10 mark.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

10 Comments

  1. This is awesome! I am glad to hear her speak about this topic, I would love to have Baduola! I am going to check out ICTC for more resources. I had a natural unmedicated birth at home as well, and though it was hard, I know that I am giving my child the best chance. Nobody talks about epidurals being linked to SIDS but I suspect it. Blessing to all and happy healthy babies!

  2. This is awesome! Do it, Badu! I, too, was a punk and got the epi. I was classified as a high risk pregnancy (age) and after two miscarriages I think the doc and midwife were just all about getting baby girl out by any means necessary. But I applaud and honor all mothers who can birth naturally!

  3. As a woman and mother whatever you feel is truly best for your baby is what you should do, pitocin and epidural’s are a blessing for those who need it.
    Just a little more FYI, Pitocin is synthetic oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and your body doesn’t produce it’s own or much less when you are given it but the synthetic make your contractions longer and harder which can be dangerous for your baby and make it harder for you to bond with your baby. My sister and I both have histories of depression and both had mild post-partum with our first babies but and were both induced, after that I had my next two natural with a midwife in a hospital and no depression while my sister was induced with both of her subsequent births and got post-partum so badly with the second that she was hospitalized for three days with her second baby and is on much stronger medication with her third and expects to be on it for the rest of her life.
    Epidural’s also keep your body from producing adrenaline during labor which once the baby is out is what has you feeling so good and energized after labor. There is also no barrier between you and the baby, the baby gets the pitocin and epidural just like you, the Dr.s just figure that if they are speeding up the process then the baby gets less.
    Sorry it’s so long.

  4. I so love what Erykah “Badoula” is doing…she is a blessing and a blessed woman. I had both of my children naturally in a hospital and chose no epidural…only had pitocin and a very mind pain reliever. Other than that I endured the labor of child birth and trusted my body to do so. I would have loved to experience the midwife and doula! Go Erykah and continue to usher in life in all its naturalness!

  5. Laila @BrownBellyDoula

    Thanks so much for this post! I work as a Doula and I’m shocked at how many women, Black women in particular, who don’t know what a Doula or a midwife is. We are working hard to increase awareness and let our community know about these important options in creating your birthing experience.

  6. Yaaaaaay, Erykah! I had a natural childbirth, and though it was painful, I loved that I got to be “present” for the journey. Ironically, my husband and I did hypotherapy exercises, so mentally, I had kind of “left the room”. I remember thinking of the contractions as “hugs” that were directing my baby in the right direction and breathing as my main focus. I am now pregnant again, and 14 years later, knowing what to expect, I have to admit, I’m nervous. But still, I will do my best to trust my body and trust the process all over again.

  7. Awesome, awesome, awesome post!

  8. I love it! I am pregnant with my fifth and will be giving birth at birth center with one of their fantastic midwives. I am concerned about all the unecessary interventions and their long term effects. I can see health differences in my children. As I am neither a scientist nor a doctor, I can’t say for sure that they come from the interventions I had but I can definitely speak anectdotally.

    I think too many people in our community see interventions as a status symbol. The more that is done to them, the prouder they seem to be. I wish more mamas would seek information about the birth process and be more opened minded the experience.

    BTW, if you are reading this, Ms. Erykah Ba-Doula, I’d love to have you at my birth!!!

  9. This is a great article! I’m so glad to hear the Erykah Badu is doing this and giving voice to use of doulas and midwifes in our community. I had a CNM and doula for my VBAC, who were amazing and had such a beautiful birth experience in large part due to their support.

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