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February 20, 2024

May 31, 2023

The Importance of the Reproductive Justice Movement: Why Birthing Liberation Matters for All Moms

E:
175
with
Sabia Wade
Full Spectrum Doula

What You'll Learn

  • What Reproductive Justice Is (and Why it Matters)
  • Why Birthing Liberation Impacts All Moms
  • How Discrimination Shows Up in the Health Care System
  • Lactivism in the Black Community
  • What the Leaders in the Reproductive Justice Movement are Facing
  • Accepting Discomfort in the Fight for Reproductive Justice

We’re in a new era of the reproductive justice movement, but many of us don’t know how to be a part of the conversation. 

Today, I’m joined by doula and activist Sabia Wade, founder of Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings, to discuss what reproductive justice is, why it matters, and how we can incite change. 

My Journey to the Reproductive Justice Movement

As someone who is white, straight, and privileged, I think a lot about what my responsibilities are for moms who don’t fit into those boxes. I’ve worked hard to ensure that Momwell is an inclusive and anti-racist practice. 

But I also know that not every health care resource for moms is committed to providing accessible care for everyone. Moms face a lot of struggles, including medical gaslighting and birthing inequality—especially moms of color

The maternal death rate for Black moms is 3-4 times higher than White moms. 

Moms of color are more likely to have preterm births, low birthweight births, or no access to prenatal care. 

And with Roe v. Wade overturned, moms of color are at even higher risk for safety concerns. 

In my personal history, I’ve come a long way—from someone who used to be staunchly pro-life (to the point where I was politically involved on this front) to someone who understands that regardless of what I would choose for myself, autonomy over our own bodies is a fundamental right.

Reproductive justice is not here yet. And until it is, I want to continue pushing for it. 

I also know the value of listening to voices that are leading the charge. I was so excited to welcome Sabia back to the show. As a Black, queer, non-binary woman, Sabia is active in the reproductive justice movement. Her new book, Birthing Liberation: How Reproductive Justice Can Set Us Free explains what we can do socially and systemically to create change. I couldn’t wait to hear what she could share with us about birthing liberation and the path to justice. 

What Reproductive Justice Is (and Why it Matters)

Sabia believes that reproductive justice impacts everyone. The statistics about maternal health for moms of color speak for themselves—but Sabia said the missing link is how we connect these things to our personal selves—even when we don’t belong in communities impacted by racism. 

Whether we’re birth workers, family members of birthing people, or activists interested in change, we all can play a role in the reproductive justice movement. But understanding what reproductive justice is matters. 

Sabia defined reproductive justice as the ability to have children or not have children, and to raise children in safe and sustainable communities. She also pointed out that even that basic definition raises questions that need to be talked about in the movement. For example, what is safety? What is sustainability? Do people have access to the food and water they need? Do they have hospitals in their area? 

She said that when we start to consider all the factors, we realize that reproductive justice is everything. It’s not just about the ability to have children. It’s also about the ability to not have children, or to have as many children as you choose. And it doesn’t just impact people with uteruses—it’s about everybody. Reproductive justice isn’t simply about pregnancy—it’s about life. 

Reproductive justice isn’t simply about pregnancy—it’s about life. 

Sabia said that birthing advocacy comes down to three principles—care, choice, and justice. The movement wants to ensure that everybody has the care they need, choice in their reproductive rights, and the ability to have justice when things are not what they need to be. 

Why Birthing Liberation Impacts All Moms

The conversation around abortion rights can feel very emotional. But Sabia pointed out that it goes beyond personal choice, and even beyond abortion. 

For example, abortion clinics are being shut down. But they provide so many other services, including health screenings, cancer screenings, and STI prevention. Those clinics are particularly important for low-income people and those in marginalized communities. The decisions being made politically about abortion are impacting many moms. 

Sabia suggested we reframe the conversation around the question, “Do you think people should have health care?” Abortion is just one small part of the health care system. 

She pointed out that when we say yay or nay to people’s bodily autonomy, we’re also saying yay or no to whether they should have what they need. 

These are perspectives that I have had to consider on my own journey with the reproductive justice movement. I’ve come to understand that the narratives, the variables, and the factors playing into each individual person’s decision to seek an abortion are complex. Given my own history, I have been on both sides of the conversation. But ultimately, I understand that my privilege and my personal situation doesn’t apply to everyone. 

Sabia pointed out that regardless of our own personal choices, our liberation is intrinsically connected to everyone else’s. It’s important to look beyond our own perspective. She also said that the reproductive space is interconnected to fertility and our right to seek treatments in that space. 

Birthing liberation impacts all of us, whether we realize it or not. When others’ choices and freedoms are limited, ours are as well. 

When others’ choices and freedoms are limited, ours are as well. 

How Discrimination Shows Up in the Health Care System

In my previous episode with Sabia, I brought up the shocking statistics around maternal health for Black moms. I remember asking her if there was some biological reason this happens. Looking back on it, I understand how naive I was. Now, I have seen so much more of how moms, especially moms of color, are gaslit and overlooked in the health care system. 

Sabia pointed out that we often wish there was a simple explanation for those deficits in health care. It would be nice if the cause was socioeconomic status—the solution would simply be providing financial support. 

Racism and discrimination can’t be easily measured or easily fixed. 

But the truth is that all the research shows that it’s really racism and discrimation in the health care system. This makes the issue more complicated—racism and discrimination can’t be easily measured or easily fixed. 

This is a large part of why Sabia wrote her book—to provide an outline for how all of us can start playing a role in the reproductive justice movement. She dives into topics like: 

  • How we can address our own internal biases
  • How we can have tough conversations
  • How we can provide resources
  • How we can work with Black, Brown, and Indigenous people
  • How we can spread awareness
  • How we can all rally in support of justice and autonomy

As we tackle these tough conversations and issues, we can move forward toward birthing liberation. 

Lactivism in the Black Community

One of the issues Sabia discusses in her book is breastfeeding access for Black moms. She pointed out that the breastfeeding rate for Black moms is lower than White moms—not necessarily because they don’t want to breastfeed but because they don’t have the resources or support. 

Feeding options are important, and there is nothing wrong with not breastfeeding. But many activists in the Black community feel that more could be done to support Black moms who want to continue on their breastfeeding journey but face struggles. 

Sabia identifies these activists as lactivists. While this term is sometimes applied to the “breast is best” collective, in this situation it refers to activists who want to support Black moms in their feeding choices. 

Sabia said that they are bringing advocacy and activism to the work and creating places of access for Black moms. 

What the Leaders in the Reproductive Justice Movement are Facing

Sabia also pointed out that while the tough topics are important to talk and think about, it’s also important to celebrate those who are doing this work. She said that we need to talk about Black joy, about Black liberation, about Black resources, and about leaders in the space. 

Then we can encompass the full spectrum, beyond just the statistics. We can also identify those who are doing the work and talk about how we can offer our support. 

But she also pointed out that it’s important to recognize that people of color who are working in this space are also actively being impacted by it. That means that they are always working—they don’t have the ability to put the work down. 

It’s important to recognize that people of color who are working in this space are also actively being impacted by it.

Sabia experienced this when she was suffering from back pain and sought medical care. A White doctor overlooked her symptoms and misdiagnosed her with gallbladder issues. She had to repeatedly visit doctors before finally a doctor of color discovered that she had a fibroid and needed surgery right away. 

Not everybody would have known to continue to push. Many women encounter medical gaslighting and continue to suffer, trusting their doctors who minimize their symptoms. When you factor racism and biases in, it becomes very dangerous. 

So, while Sabia is doing the work, she is also suffering directly from the system. We have to consider what the leaders in the movement are going through while they push for reproductive justice. 

Sabia also said that it’s important for people outside of marginalized communities to do the work. It has to be done collectively. 

The History of Racism in Health Care

It’s also important to consider the history of racism in the health care system. The system has been stacked against moms of color for centuries. Sabia pointed out that even the origins of gynecology are steeped in mistreatment of women of color. James Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology,” used female slaves to create procedures that are used today. 

There’s a rich history of Black bodies being misused, dehumanized, and enslaved for medical research and advancement. 

There’s a rich history of Black bodies being misused, dehumanized, and enslaved for medical research and advancement. 

Sabia pointed out that even now, Black women often face expectations to be able to do more or have a higher capacity for all the things. There’s a pressure specifically for Black women to show up and be the heroes of the story—the leaders of the movement. 

And while many of the leaders are from marginalized groups, and strong Black women are admirable, we have to be careful of the narrative that they should be the ones driving change all the time. We can’t demand that Black women fulfill all of the emotional and mental labor in the reproductive justice movement. 

Sabia said that when people of color are pushed to have a higher capacity, it can also have an impact on their mental health. She believes that it’s important for leaders in the movement to take space and rest as well as do the work. 

That’s another reason why it’s so important for us all to be invested in the movement—even if we feel that the issues don’t personally impact us. Collectively we can work toward change. 

Accepting Discomfort in the Fight for Reproductive Justice

It isn’t easy, for any of us, to journey in the reproductive justice movement. We’re facing longstanding racism, discrimination, and systemic gaslighting. At times, it will likely feel uncomfortable or difficult. 

We’re unlearning years of internal biases and countering environments we’ve lived in for our entire lives. That requires tolerance for discomfort. 

But Sabia pointed out that small steps make all the difference. Her book includes tips and exercises for increasing our capacity. She said that what feels hard for some of us might not feel hard to someone else—and that’s valid. Taking care of yourself is a big part of showing up in the movement. 

Sabia believes that part of the process of reproductive justice is seeing each other as humans. 

We all have to start somewhere, and we all have a journey to take. If you are struggling in motherhood or suffering from mental health concerns and feel limited in your capacity, you can still be a part of the journey where you can, without judgment. 

Sabia said that we should avoid holding others up to unrealistic standards or competing in “woke wars” (competing for who is the most woke or the most active.) Instead, we should focus on moving forward collectively. 

If you’re struggling on your motherhood journey, we’re here to help. Momwell is dedicated to inclusive and antiracist practices. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual therapy support consult today!

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Tags:

Medical gaslighting, Reproductive justice, Black maternal health

Stage:

Trying to Conceive, Pregnancy, Postpartum

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OUR GUEST

Sabia Wade
Full Spectrum Doula

Sabia Wade (she/they), is a Black, Queer, CEO, Investor, Author, Educator, Full Spectrum Doula, and expander of Black Luxury. Sabia is the founder of Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings, an accessible and inclusive training program for community care workers, and For the Village, a non-profit providing doulas at no or low-cost to low-income and marginalized communities in San Diego.

As a coach, board member, investor, educator, and programming development consultant for organizations throughout the Birth and Reproductive Health Industry, every part of Sabia’s work centers on liberation of all people through Reproductive Justice. Her newest business, Loads of Pride, is a new frontier in the trucking industry, centering jobs for BIPOC & Queer individuals, and aims to show just how connected it all is. Her book, Birthing Liberation: How Reproductive Justice Can Set Us Free, is now available for purchase.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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