I initially became acquainted with the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) in 2008 while volunteering with my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Zeta Phi Beta is one of the nine historically Black sororities and fraternities, known for lifelong advocacy, and has a longstanding relationship with the March of Dimes, the Human Genome Project, sickle cell awareness, and works towards combating hypertension in the Black community.
When I relocated to Portland, I joined the local chapter and jumped at the chance to volunteer at an African American Health Fair. My hope was that this opportunity would help me get to know the community and build my medical practice. As a provider of color coming from Michigan, I was excited to run a booth representing the values of both my sorority and ICTC. What started as a way to increase my brand and name recognition, quickly turned into two hours of learning about doulas, barriers to breastfeeding in the Black community, and the lack of healthcare providers of color in Portland.
There I met Shafia Monroe, the energetic and magnetic founder of ICTC, whose mission is to improve outcomes in poor women and women of color. Her passion for eroding barriers to healthcare mirrored and exceeded my own. It was infectious and intoxicating to listen to this woman, commonly known as Mama Shafia. She explained the beauty of having an entire village of women involved in a single woman’s childbirth. At the time, I was a practicing OB/GYN. I was residency trained and on my way to being board certified. The last six weeks of my medical school training was in Blantyre, Malawi.
While the midwives I worked with in Detroit were knowledgeable, the African midwives performed miracles every day. To hear the news that traditional midwifery and lay pregnancy care was happening here in the states, and in Portland of all places, was astonishing and inspiring. Mama Shafia asked me to join ICTC, first as an advocate, then as a board member. Now, as I enter the seventh year of involvement, Mama Shafia has asked me to be the Mistress of Ceremonies at the upcoming conference in October 2015.
I was originally asked to run a breakout session, focusing on teaching Western and alternative techniques to identify the fetuses’ position and presenting methods. As Mistress of Ceremonies, I will be also responsible for leading this conference of incredible women and keeping my composure as I stand on the same stage as singer-songwriter and activist Erykah Badu. Despite the responsibility that comes with this title, I am honored to be among midwives and doulas of color from all over the world. This conference will allow these women to take away valuable lessons on both business ownership and ways to decrease morbidities and mortality among women and babies.