Kimberly Seals Allers Is Reclaiming Joy and Healing in Birth With the Birthright Podcast

Photo: Yumi Matsuo | Graphic: W+G Creative
The maternal mortality and morbidity rates of Black birthers in the U.S. are unsettling. Black women (along with American Indian and Alaskan Native women) are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Systemic racism in healthcare and implicit bias are at the root of this disparity, but Black women and Black birthers deserve to experience joy throughout the stages of birth, which is why Kimberly Seals Allers, journalist, author, and founder of the Irth app decided to share stories of Black joy in pregnancy with the Birthright podcast.

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"Several years ago I started writing that I was becoming concerned that the narrative of Black maternal health was very doom and gloom-ish, and it was focused on negative statistics. The headlines were only about when we were dying or nearly dying, and that was dangerous," says Seals Allers.

She doesn't deny these statistics and the fact that Black women and birthers have to plan and prep in ways that others don't, but believes that there is a need for balance between the pain and trauma because those statistics aren't the whole story. "No one is trying to whitewash the realities, but what we do deserve is more of a balanced storyteller, more balanced narratives," she says.

As unfortunate as these stories are, Seals Allers says that only hearing about negative birth stories stokes fear and makes people feel hopeless, which concerns her. Throughout her community engagement work, she has noticed that Black people can be fearful about birth because of what they see and read in the news. She wanted to create "narrative shifting work" to remind people that they can learn from positive stories, as well.

The first season of Birthright features two episode formats. The main episode format centers on positive Black birth stories as defined by the subject. Seals Allers says that these stories are for everyone to learn from—including those considering giving birth, as well as providers and hospitals.

"We try to give it a 360 view, not just speaking to the birthing person, but I speak to husbands, I speak to midwives, I speak to doulas, the doctors who were there, everyone around that scene. And it's been so interesting to see a birth from more of a 360 perspective and to add other voices to that and for them to add what they think kind of contributed to that experience."

The podcast also features special healing circle episodes, pairing people who didn't have positive birthing experiences with therapists and healers and taking them on a healing journey. "I think that is also very important," says Seals Allers. "The fact of the matter is not everybody is going to have a positive birth experience. It's just the reality...But if we can heal some of the harm and trauma that Black women are carrying in their bodies, that for me would be tremendous."

In addition to sharing positive Black birth stories, Seals Allers created the Irth app which is a platform for Black and brown people to find, review, and rate OB/GYNs, hospitals, and pediatricians. "And so the goal there is that we take the qualitative experiences on the front end, provide the tool, but on the back end we want to turn that into quantitative data. So now we can go to hospitals and push for change."

Joy is the foundation of Birthright, and no matter where people are at on their birthing journey, that's what Seals Allers wants people to experience as they listen to each episode. "Joy is resistance. Joy is a form of resistance. When we look at the narrative of Black people, Black women in this country, it is one of trauma....When you think about our history, that has always been how we have survived, which was centering our joy."

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