In this new historical moment we are seeing families being separated by force in the US yet again, as has occurred throughout the history of this country. Like many of you, I feel an intense pain, as a mother in solidarity with the current families. As a midwife what I see happening has even more horrifying dimensions. I have seen this in my work with Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, a community organization in Austin, TX working towards a more just and loving world where all mothers receive attentive quality loving care and all communities have equitable resources to care for their children. Our crew of women of color are working as peer facilitators, health educators, birth companions (aka doulas) and midwives providing support and solidarity to low-income Black and Latinx pregnant families.
What we are seeing now is beyond heartbreaking. As before, there are pregnant women crossing the border who arrive soon after in Austin and find us. Many have trekked for months looking for asylum from situations of extreme violence; domestic, political and economic. They anticipate a complicated final border crossing but did not expect what they now found. We are currently caring for a number of pregnant women who’s other children were taken from them at the border. This is the only beyond human challenge that they could not prepare for. And the consequences of these actions include life-long health impacts for both the mothers, unborn children, and separated children.
At MSVW we operate from a deep understanding of the impacts of the Social Determinants of Health including systemic racism, and how chronic stress over the life course creates an overall Allostatic Load that undermines even a “healthy” woman’s ability to have a healthy pregnancy. I was still shocked to witness the physiologic impact of current practices at the border.
After months of travels, including walking for days with little food before crossing the border, pregnant women arrive at MSVW. Miraculously many arrive in relatively good health. But once they have spent a week or two weeks searching without news of their detained child/ren, their health truly unravels. I have recently been caring for a mother from DRC or Congo who arrived and was in good health. In the last few weeks, I have watched her physical and mental health deteriorate dramatically. She is not alone. Even those who had managed to keep their vitals healthy, without any prenatal care for 7 or even 8 months, cannot withstand the impact of this trauma. What this looks like is sudden increases in blood pressure, late onset of gestational diabetes, inability to mentality focus or communicate and symptoms of preeclampsia that can endanger the mother and baby during the birth.
This is still happening today. Most are families coming from Mexico and other countries in Latina America. We are all holding images of these mothers and fathers lovingly in our minds and hearts. But we fail to truly see who they are. Some coming from Latin America are Black women, such as Garifuna women from Honduras. Some are Black immigrant women coming from Congo, Cameroon, Burundi and other countries. Somehow they escape our collective imagination and displays of solidarity. The invisibility of Black immigrants in the media is yet another example of how U.S. history is cooked into all current systems as institutional racism. The intersections of oppression in the current U.S. are many. Forced family separation is just one strand of a system of racial, economic and gender domination that has recently become more acute, but is the status quo for the United States. When confronting these monumental forces, it is easy to become frozen, overwhelmed and depressed. But as laboring women have taught us throughout human existence, we have no choice but to keep laboring.
Just like during a difficult labor, let’s be mindful of how we approach this moment in history. We cannot fall into despair, with feelings of being overwhelmed because the task ahead seems impossible, even futile, so that we want to give up. Just like a persistent midwife, in this moment we must be loving and relentless.
As a country we are in the middle of a protracted and difficult labor. And we haven’t even gotten to transition yet, the stage of labor where many of us get cold sweats, uncontrollable shaking and even vomiting. Transition is the storm before the calm, a phase in which almost every laboring person feels that they can no longer continue. For the current situation in the U.S., we still have a long way to go, and labor will get more intense before the birth. Just like with any difficult labor, we must remember to stay in the moment, breathe, and take one contraction at a time.
As the people living in the empire, in the belly of the beast or the brain of the monster, we have to remember to keep living with our hearts cracked open, where we don’t let ourselves get numb again. There were over 700 actions across the U.S. this past Saturday calling for an end to family separation. The visceral pain of witnessing forced family separation must serve a larger purpose. We have the opportunity to use this clarity to guide intentional organizing to build our collective people power. Now is the time for strategic and constant collective actions (large and small, public and intimate) towards a fundamental transformation of our society. Yes, this labor is protracted, yet we will birth a just and loving world.