Bx (Re)Birth and Progress—the Black birth workers caring for Bronx mothers.
The collective was created in 2020 by Carmen Mojica, Evelyn Alvarez, and Nicole JeanBaptiste.
Last week I watched the latest edition of Bx (Re)Birth and Progress' "The People's Corner," an educational Instagram live series featuring conversations between mothers, birth workers, and reproductive justice organizers.
Bx (Re)Birth and Progress was created in 2020 by Carmen Mojica, Evelyn Alvarez, and Nicole JeanBaptiste. The women told journalist Breona Couloote in December 2020 that they started the collective following the death of Amber Rose Isaac, a 26-year-old mother who died at Montefiore Hospital after an emergency C-section. Doctors ignored her multiple health concerns before her death.
Mojica is an Afro-Dominican reproductive justice activist, the author of Hija De Mi Madre, and a midwife. Alvarez is an Afro-Guatemalan doula and community organizer. She founded Prom Kings, a service that accepts donations and special events clothing to give to boys and young men. JeanBaptiste, who has familial roots in St. Lucia, is a doula, historian, and the founder of Sésé Doula Services, a Bronx-based health service offering lactation counseling, yoga, and mentorship.
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In last week's "People's Corner," Alvarez and JeanBaptiste discussed Bx (Re) Birth's upcoming doula retreat in St. Lucia and the importance of rest. JeanBaptiste, co-spearheading the retreat, themed "Revel and Rebirth," discussed the role of Carnival culture in her life and thinking and the role she hopes it plays in the summer gathering, which will take place during St. Lucia Carnival in July. She described the festival as spiritual, as a form of resistance. "I wanted to invite folks who are consistently in service…to let go and to resist a system that in many ways…does not stand to support our wellbeing," she said.
They called attention to the emotional labor birth workers experience while serving families—pain often held and set aside to support and meet the immediate needs of infants and mothers. They discussed how important it is for communities supporting birth work to help find and support different and new ways to support birth for Black mothers, babies, midwives, and doulas.
The women use "The People's Corner" and Instagram to uplift and support Black birth workers serving families in the Bronx and New York City.
Last week, for World Doula Week, they highlighted the work of doulas Courtney McClain, Jessica Epting, and Johanny Luna. They have discussed the Black maternal health crisis in New York City and the United States, mothers who smoke weed, and created the "Revolutionary Parenting Series," a list of books, articles, podcasts, and texts on birth work. These include Birthing Justice: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth, Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth, Assata: An Autobiography, and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.
Along with educational resources, Bx (Re)Birth and Progress provide doula services during pregnancy and childbirth and distribute diapers, formula, and wipes to families.
The work of Bx (Re)Birth and Progress is vital right now.
The Bronx has the highest Black maternal mortality rate among all the boroughs. In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely than white women to die giving birth. Across the country, Black mothers and babies die at higher rates, and hospital staff ignores Black mothers' pain and health concerns. A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of mothers dying in childbirth increased during the pandemic: "In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black (subsequently, Black) women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White (subsequently, White) women (26.6). Rates for Black women were significantly higher than rates for White and Hispanic women."
Anti-racist birth workers offer Black mothers emotional and physical support and can advocate against a racist, misogynistic, and traumatic healthcare system.
In a 2021 interview with journalist Marjua Estevez, Mojica said, "During the enslavement of African women and their descendants, in addition to being subjected to horrific gynecological experimentation, we have also had our humanity denied to us because of our skin tone… All this combined is the foundation for why we are witnessing mistreatment, neglect, and the high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in this country."
When anti-racist doulas and midwives are involved in the birth process, especially those who understand, as Mojica describes, the connection between chattel slavery and our current healthcare system, these rates go down. Anti-racist birth workers offer Black mothers emotional and physical support and can advocate against a racist, misogynistic, and traumatic healthcare system.
The women of Bx (Re)Birth are committed to addressing the racial inequities behind birthing. Their work is Black centered, trauma-informed, and anti-racist. They “collaborate with people and programs that are committed to revolutionizing the way we birth in our communities” and “strive to return universal dignity and care to the sacred ceremony that is birth."
Thanks to friends and comrades who introduced me to the collective's Instagram page, I learned about the work of Bx (Re)Birth and Progress.
Their work teaches me about doula and birth work, inviting me to consider developing skills to better support people giving birth in my community. It also helps me to understand reproductive justice much more expansively and life-centered, and rooted in a history of Bronx resistance.
The Bronx has always been home to revolution. Lenape resistance against European, Christian colonialist violence. Black people fighting against enslavers. Puerto Rican youth liberation movements. The first DJs and rappers to create, angered by anti-Black violence. Organizers of color rising against slumlords and police violence during COVID-19.
These resistances were built and sustained by Black and brown women, mothers, and birth workers who circumvented oppressive systems to meet the borough's and their family’s needs. Mothers and birth workers who created and continue to create community-based actions and responses against state violence.
The city has and will always resist, choosing, again and again, to fight for the right to live and to love and care for our people and lands. No matter how the state treats us, we are not disposable.
And it is this history Bx (Re)Birth and Progress is rooted in.
Support the collective’s work here.