In African-American traditions, midwifery used to be common practice, but that valuable knowledge and experience almost disappeared as an emphasis was placed on modern medical procedures. That’s why Nicole Deggins, a registered nurse and midwife, has made it her mission to raise awareness about other options for expectant mothers, including natural (non-medicated) childbirth and home birth, using a midwife or doula, and educating women about the alternatives.
“Women don’t even know midwifery is available,” Deggins said.
A doula’s job is to support, encourage and prepare women who are going through labor. Midwives are trained professionals with experience to support women during pregnancy, assist in birth and help during the postpartum period.
To that end, Deggins organized a full month of arts activities to educate local women about alternative birth practices and highlight issues surrounding infant mortality. Louisiana has the second highest infant mortality rate in the United States at 8.7 deaths per 1,000 births, the second highest pre-term birthrate and the highest percentage of C-sections. An incredible 40% of Louisiana births are by C-section.
“You can’t tell me that that many women cannot deliver vaginally,” she said.
Working with a midwife can reduce stress and help prepare the mother, both emotionally and physically. West Jefferson Hospital, Ochsner Baptist and Touro all offer nurse midwife support to patients. There are approximately 15,000 practicing midwives throughout the United States and thousands more in other industrialized countries.
“When people think of a midwife, they think kerosene lamps,” Deggins said. “We don’t wear Birkenstocks.”
During October, Deggins’ Sista Midwife Productions coordinated an online auction of 21 paintings and an open mic night with the theme of birth as well as screening a documentary, “Bringin’ in Da Spirit,” which tells the story of the African-American tradition of midwifery. The final event was a staged reading at Cafe Istanbul of “Birth,” by Karen Brody. The play, which has appeared around the world, incorporates interviews with 118 mothers.
Eight women, including midwives, doulas, actors and others, gave voice to myriad birthing experiences, both positive and negative. Below are a few excerpts:
“Push – don’t push – breathe.”
“Giving birth is natural, but I was so afraid.”
“Birth was what girls did to punish their mothers.”
“You’ll forget the pain.”
“It’s like the worst bowel movement you’ll ever have.”
“That anesthesiologist was a knight in shining armor.”
“The doctor didn’t even know my name for the first 4-5 visits.”
“My body didn’t understand what happened to the baby (after an epidural). It experienced it as a death because it never even had one labor pain.”
“I never thought to say ‘no’ to my epidural.”
“This is a big baby. You’re going to have to open wider.”
“It hurt like hell, but that’s okay.”
“My body rocks.”
“I was too angry to cry when they wheeled me into the delivery room.”
“Men control the situation.”
“I never saw the doctor again after the birth.”
“Who did he think he was, ordering me around?”
“It was like a war. You have post-traumatic stress.”
“The bottom line is: I want a healthy baby.”
“I was the star.”
“I pushed the baby out myself and felt the baby – it was exciting and deeply fulfilling.”