In the Presence of Elder Black Midwives
Updated: May 18
“Not for me, but for those who stand around me, I must bring my power.”
- Elder Midwife Maria Milton, May 7, 2023,
recalling the words of her mother Grand Midwife Gladys Milton,
that Maria whispered as a baby revived before her eyes
5.19.23 New Moon
Last weekend I entered a room of Elder Black Midwives, into a realm of power and spirit that I’ve rarely, if ever, experienced in my life.
We (a video crew of me, Jason Walker, and Cass Osei, brought together by Orchid Capital Collective) were there to witness and film a conversation among this extraordinary group, which is lovingly convened by Jennie Joseph and The National Perinatal Task Force. To our knowledge, no one has ever captured a conversation among these Elder Black Midwives. If ever there’s been an urgent need for archival footage, it was of this community of Black Edler Midwives who are a living legacy of people who faced violent racism and severe economic and political repression to practice what remains the safest, healthiest approach to birth.
Tragically, like so many people so crucial in our communities and economy, many of these Black Elder Midwives are facing their elder years with limited financial resources and access to health care. Seeing them brought together from all across the country and cared for in loving abundance felt like an intimate and important step toward acknowledging all the lives, families, and generations they have so powerfully and selflessly touched.
What emerged as the Elders spoke was magic. With a simple prompt – “Tell us how you began your journey into midwifery and your connection to this group” – each of the Elders told her story. Some were inspired by extraordinary love and expertise of Black midwives in their families or communities, while others found their sacred calling after surviving mistreatment in their own births or witnessing inhumane birth care as nurses. The stories were spellbinding for our video team.. And, to our surprise, brought tears and murmurs to the others in the group, who had never heard the others’ formative stories.
Black midwives are and always have been the core of Black community health, and the often extracted source of the best expertise and practice in the entire field of perinatal health. Moreover, Black midwives have played a crucial economic role in communities, countries, and the world, as those who embody a caring economy.
For now, the footage of this hours-long conversation will live as an archive, a portal to more Black Elder Midwife gatherings that honor our living history, and an opening to intergenerational community building with younger Black midwives.
For now I will hold this memory in my heart.
Last weekend kneaded my soul.
I am forever changed.
Photo: Front row left to right: Lavonne Moore, Jennie Joseph, UmmSalaamah, Martha Marie Drohobyczer, Shafia M. Monroe, Makeda Kamara. Back row left to right: Charlotte Marie Shilo-Goudeau, Maria Lynette Milton, Marsha Ford.