Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access

A Litany for Survival

It shouldn’t take a village: on giving birth as a black woman in America

In February, Naomi Jackson entered Mount Sinai Hospital to give birth to her son. But when the baby finally came, at her side were only her doula and her sister; the ob-gyn hadn’t believed Jackson when, twenty minutes earlier, she had assured the doctor that the baby was coming soon. This was not the first time that Jackson’s wishes and intuitions had been ignored during her pregnancy, or even during her labor. Only hours earlier, a nurse had upped her dosage of Pitocin shortly after Jackson had asked her to stop. But Jackson is not alone in experiencing such dismissiveness. Such treatment is typical of the care black mothers receive. They experience maternal complications and adverse outcomes at a shockingly high rate. Black babies today are substantially more likely to suffer infant mortality than white babies; the rate surpasses that recorded during slavery. And the dearth of black female medical professionals means that black women struggle to secure culturally responsive care, with its accompanying better outcomes. Black mothers—Jackson included—carry this heavy burden with them into labor.

In this episode of the podcast, Naomi Jackson—an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University–Newark and the author of The Star Side of Bird Hill—reflects on her narrative essay in Harper’s Magazine’s September issue, “A Litany for Survival.” Jackson and host Violet Lucca discuss her reasons for sharing her birth story, the all too often dire experiences that black women have in the birthing room, and the multifarious sociocultural factors that prevent black women from receiving proper care even as awareness of these experiences grows.

Resources mentioned in the episode or recommended by Jackson:

Dr. Sara Whetstone, University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Deirdre Cooper-Owens, University of Lincoln, Nebraska & author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and The Origins of American Gynecology
Nubia Martin, midwife & founder of Birth from the Earth
Nicole Jean-Baptiste, Sese Doula Services
Linda Villarosa, journalist & contributing writer to the New York Times magazine
Dr. Dana-Ain Davis, CUNY Graduate Center and author of Reproductive Justice: Racism, Pregnancy & Premature Birth
Dr. Pooja K. Mehta, Women’s Health Lead, CityBlock Health
Dr. Toyin Ajayi, Chief Health Officer & Co-Founder, CityBlock Health
Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder of Ancient Song
Malaika Maitland, doula, artist & yoga teacher in Grenada
Andrea Jordan, midwife, cofounder of Better Birthing in Bim and The Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation
Dani McClain, journalist and author of We Live for the: The Political Power of Black Motherhood
Dr. Lynn Roberts, CUNY School of Public Health
Dorothy Roberts, University of Pennsylvania, author of Killing the Black Body
Efe Osaren, doula & midwifery student

Never miss an episode! Subscribe to our podcast:

More from

| View All Issues |

September 2020

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now