Mentored By The Ancestors
Black Birth Workers In West Virginia
Staycha Quentrill, Birth Worker in West Virginia
I don’t know when I decided to become a Midwife. Midwifery came as naturally to me as my connect ion and curiosity about the history of Black Americans, and midwifery is a big part of that history. When I started to dig into the history, I didn’t get very far without hearing about m idwives in the Black community —sometimes called Granny midwives, traditional midwives, or my favorite, Grand Midwives. I learned that my grandmother gave birth to five of her seven kids at home because of segregation and used a community midwife.
There is no arguing that the U nited States of America would not be where it is today if not for Black midwives delivering and caring for an enslaved workforce and Black wet nurses whose breast milk fed the white children of their owners.
After emancipation, midwifery became a unique skill that was utilized across communities. Black m idwives didn’t just take care of births, they took care of the community; when I think of my ancestor’s enslavement, there has always been a reverence.
In that reverence, I started looking for a Black m idwife in West Virgi nia I could learn with. I met the one Black woman serving West Virginia as a doula, Pia Long, the week she was leaving. After she left, the only information I could find was of Black midwives in the past. One name that kept coming up was one o f the most recognized Black midwives in West Virginia, Mary Jane Trust Lawson .
Mary Jane Trust Lawson with her husband. Photo from WV Culture & History.
Mrs. Lawson was the first licensed midwife for Kanawha County. Despite practicing during segregation, the level of her care was so excellent that a white physician had a pass written for her so she could take care of one of his patients.
It’s a mix of emotions learning the past and feeling sorry that I missed meeting them. The learning connection with the past has also been stolen from Black birth workers. There is not one Black birth worker in the here and now of West Vir ginia that I can sit at the feet of. I explained this to a mentor who doesn’t live here, and she told me words that have kept me going when this work gets hard.
“Rely on the a ncestors, they went before you and fought battles for you to be where you are today.”
Isn’t that what our history is?A knowledge passed down from one generation to another, wisdom shared, sitting at the feet, listening. Our culture holds the history, and midwifery is our birthright . Bloodmemory runs deep in our veins. I don’t know of a better apprenticeship than that.
Staysha Quentrill Professional Birth Doula. Parenting Services. Postpartum Doula.CLC, Student Midwife. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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