Shafia Monroe Birthing Change

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Collective Power to Save Black Mothers

 Black Maternal Health Conference & Training Institute

“Collective Power to Save Black Mothers”

 I was excited to attend the Black Maternal Health Conference & Training Institute on December 6-9, 2018 in Atlanta, GA.   Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) sponsored this conference. And what a dynamic alliance.

The conference’s purpose was to advance Black maternal health, rights and justice.  It was important to me that Black women’s voices were the experts on maternal mortality. And that our coming together would create a think tank for solutions.

I was invited to participate in the opening plenary as a presenter and to facilitate a Sunday morning workshop.  I attended happily to learn and to contribute.

Conference attendees dancing. Shafia Monroe on the left ,front row.
Conference attendees dancing. Shafia Monroe is on the left, front row
Honoring the Historical Contribution of Black Birth Workers sign
Honoring the Historical Contribution of Black Birth Workers
Women holding Black Mamas Matter sign at the conference.
Women holding Black Mamas Matter sign at the conference, Shafia Monroe on left

The Attendees

The conference was attended by Black Women-led Organizations operating at the national, state and local levels.  Their activities are guided by the birth justice and human rights framework.  The conference attracted midwives, doulas, physicians, lactation consultants, nonprofits representatives, birth workers, writers, policy and researchers, public health officials, nurses, midwife students, students, mothers, fathers, partners, stakeholders, funders, and interested persons.

We came together to stand in solidarity for reproductive and birth justice. Our intent, to end the disproportionate rate of maternal mortality and morbidity for Black women, thus benefiting all women from preventable deaths from childbirth.

The Soiree

The Friday soiree was amazing. Everyone was dressed in their best.  Brilliant colors and African patterns filled the room.   The soiree open with the Mayat Gayian all female African dance, drum and vocal ensemble. They drummed in the elder birth workers who would be honored later that evening.  Once seated Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of Sister Song open the evening with libation.   We called out the names of our ancestors to welcome them into the room and to the conference.

Honoring the Elders

Included in the soiree was honoring ten elder midwives/birth workers for their outstanding achievements in improving infant and maternal mortality.  The honorees were called to the stage one by one to receive a stole with Adinkra symbols on it. The Adinkra symbols on the stole represent, leadership, love, strength, and learn from the past.  The inscription on the stole says,” Divine Birth Mama Healer.”  The stole would distinguish the elder birth workers throughout the conference and for life.  This ceremony knitted a generation of Black midwives, who collectively have served thousands of mothers, babies and their families.    It was both an emotional and historical moment.

The evening ended in community, dancing, laughing and meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends. The soiree was the perfect medicine to uplift us, as we tackle the painful topic of mothers dying from childbirth, over the next day and half.

The Honorees

Those honored were: Nyasha Bonner, Claudia Booker, Marsha Ford, Sarahn Henderson, Dr. Fleda Jackson, Jennie Joseph, Shafia Monroe, Nasrah Smith, Nonkululeko Tyemba, and Ummsalaamah Sondra Abdulla-Zaimah.  The honorees mentioned but not present were: Afua Hassan, Maria Milton, Byllye Avery, Maria Milton, Shelia Simms Watson, and Selena Green.

The Conference

The conference was beyond words. The participants that I spoke with said it was healing.  And I agree. Greetings, acknowledgements, love, and hugs were exchanged among the participants throughout the conference.  Everyone was smiling. There was a sense of relief in our being together.  The energy of the conference emitted a sense of oneness, a shared responsibility; and the collective power that will save mothers from preventable deaths

Plenary and Workshops

The plenaries were informative, motivating and action orientated.  I wish that I could have attended all of them.

On Saturday I attended “Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis.  The presenters were: Chinyere Oparah, PhD and Sayida Peprah, PsyD.  This workshop discussed how to design research that reflects the voices of those most impacted and how to decolonize maternal health.

On Sunday I had great joy in presenting my workshop: Creating Birth Plans for Black Women’s Empowerment. This workshop involved the participants on how to use of a birth plan to empower Black women to be aware of maternal mortality, by expanding its purpose and terminology.

Black mom with twin babies
Black mom with twin babies

Maternal mortality is a national problem.  It will take all of us to end preventable deaths from child bearing.   My mantra is “Midwives are the first line of defense …. make it a household word.”   Let Black pregnant women and new mothers know that you are there for them. Reassure them that they can celebrate having a baby and have a positive birth and postpartum experience.

Download the Maternal Health tool kit at for more information.  Get involved.


2 responses to “Collective Power to Save Black Mothers”

  1. Leslie Farrington, MD Avatar

    Thank you, Mama Shafia, for your blog summary about the incomparable “conference” put on by BMMA. That experience of the wisdom and power and energy of Black women working, indeed fighting for justice, will stay with the participants on their own journeys. I know it will stay with me. I have hope now because I saw so many others, including you, are involved in the same struggle to de-medicalize pregnancy and birth, and you and others, such as Jennie Joseph and Aza Nedhari, are giving mothers the healing support that can prevent some of the harmful effects of racism. I believe that Black Mamas Matter Alliance has created a game changing moment and many of us will make good use of it. Its happening across the country-not just Atlanta! Witness the just released New York City Standards for Respectful Care at Birth. Those Standards can be adopted by Departments of Health everywhere! Your new Full Circle Maternity Care Plan, the upcoming perinatal education we are working on… I could go on about why I have hope. Thank you for the inspiring leadership, encouragement, and ideas you shared in your workshop. Peace, Leslie

    1. Shafia Monroe Avatar
      Shafia Monroe

      Hi Dr.Farrington, thank you for your comment. It was great to meet you at the conference. And I enjoyed your participation in my workshop. I look forward to the 2020 Black Maternal Health Conference & Training Institute, and I hope to see you there. I will be sharing my new “Mama Shafia Full Circle Maternity Care Plan,” soon. Stay tuned.

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