#LetsGetReal with Kai Ayo Z, Queer Birthworker

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This week #LetsGetReal with Kai Ayo Z. Shatteen. PRIDE month may be coming to a close, but we are just getting started. Natural Resources interviewed Kai to amplify their voice as a Queer Birthworker in the Bay Area. We're honored that they would share their story with us. 

You’re a Bay native, right? 

I’m from the South Bay, Silicon Valley. Some people don’t consider it the Bay, but I do! I moved to Oakland in ‘09 and have lived in various East Bay Cities because I was priced out of Oakland. I am now back living in Oakland, thankfully!

Do you feel it’s important as a birthworker to practice in the community you’re from?

Yes, it’s super important. It’s good to know the culture of the service area. When people assume I am from Oakland, I remind them that I am not and if they are looking for someone from Oakland, I know who to refer them to. 

The Bay Area has a rate of midwives attending births rising faster than many other parts of the country. Pregnant folks are choosing their place of birth - in and out of the hospital - based on the availability of midwifery. However, many folks are unaware of the history of racism in the push to erase midwifery care in the U.S.*, even in very recent history and how that plays into the higher rates of maternal and infant mortality within the Black community**. How do Black midwives contribute to closing improving outcomes for pregnant BIPOC folks? 

One of the things I have witnessed from Black Midwives is their ability to listen to clients' experiences. Listening without judgement is key to developing a trusting relationship between a medical provider and a client. We also know first hand what it is like to be a Black person in this country, so there are many similarities in our stories. When clients talk about racism they have experienced with a doctor, we often have had the same ones unfortunately. We understand what it is like to be Black. Black Midwives counsel on how to keep pregnancy low risk by addressing nutrition early on in care before any problems that would risk clients out of homebirth could arise. And if a problem does arise, we don’t automatically tell the clients what to do. We use informed consent to allow clients to make their own decisions for their care. The trust that we as Black Midwives have in ourselves and our Ancestors also contribute to improving outcomes because we use our intuition with care and encourage clients to feel into their pregnancy and postpartum period themselves. We facilitate a holistic approach to becoming parents.

How do Black midwives center joy and celebration in pregnancy and birth for Black parents?

We celebrate EVERYTHING! Whether it be with food, song, dance, you name it, we celebrate. Our love of Blackness shines through in the care we give to our clients! We speak the names of our Ancestors and remind our Black parents to call upon their own. My favorite part of celebration is when we can collectively sing songs together during labor, birth and in the immediate postpartum. We talk about how the baby’s being born at home in this generation is a rebirth of our resiliency and that brings us great joy and peace.

Why is it critical we support (financially even more so than just theoretically) the education of BIPOC midwives?

Due to white supremacy, more specifically-institutional racism, capitalism and racism, it’s harder for Black and Indigenous midwives to pay for midwifery school. We don’t have the luxury of coming from generational wealth to pay our way through school. Instead we have to work fulltime, which in turn means that it takes us longer to finish school and some people don’t finish because of the simple fact that midwifery school is expensive. As a Black person, paying tuition for a profession that was STOLEN from Black midwives to begin with, is a disgrace. It puts added stress on me to HAVE to work in order to live in stable and safe housing, feed my children and I, get to all of my midwifery appointments and births, pay for health care, etc. If I didn’t HAVE to work to pay for school, I would be done with school a lot sooner. I honestly believe that midwifery institutions should provide free tuition for Black and Indigenous People. It’s the least they could do to right the wrongs that have been done to our people.

What services do you provide as a birthworker?

Currently I am a fulltime Apprentice Midwife with Gingi Allen of The Art of Mothering. I attend all prenatals, births and postpartum visits with Gingi. I encapsulate placentas and also create herbal medicine to support the wellness of our bodies. 

How far are you along in your midwifery training? What are the remaining elements of your training and certification process? 

Currently I am in Phase 2 of midwifery school. Phase 2 is the assist phase and I am more than halfway done with the assist requirements. Once I finish that portion, I can move on to Phase 3! It’s all about getting my numbers and completing school work at this time. 

How can this community support you in finishing your certification? 

Reparations. I truly believe that as a Black person whose Ancestors were enslaved, I deserve to have my tuition paid in full and my living expenses including health care covered while I am still in school. Once schooling is completed, I will need funds to pay for certification and then supplies to create a Birth Bag. Ways that the community can do this is by donating to my GoFundMe or sending monthly contributions by Venmo: @Kai-Shatteen, Cash App: $kaishattten or PayPal: PayPal.me/kaishatteen.

How can families reach out to hire you?

If clients are looking for Midwifery Care, they can reach out to Gingi Allen for a consultation/interview. If and when she is hired as their midwife, I will be the apprentice. If families would like their placenta encapsulated or want to purchase herbal medicine products, they can connect with me on my website. My availability for doula services is really limited at this time, but if they are Black or Indigenous and would like to work with me, I might make an exception.

Kai Ayo Z, Shatteen (they/them) is a Black, Queer Birthworker with a deep commitment to ending the injustice that puts BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) and LGBTQIA communities at the bottom when it comes to positive birth outcomes. For Kai this work is an answer to Ancestral calling, not a career and they are guided by their Ancestors daily. Kai is an Apprentice Midwife, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, Herbal Medicine Maker, as well as a Birth & Postpartum Consultant. Currently they are the Client Intake Director for the Roots of Labor Birth Collective and they have the joy of parenting two young adults!

 1There are lots of ways of accessing the story of modern obstetrics and it’s ties to abolishing the work and lives of Black Midwives in America. Here’s a few good places to start: Birthing, Blackness, and the Body: Black Midwives and Experiential Continuities of Institutional Racism by Keisha La'Nesha Goode which has been made publicly available in full through the City University of New York (CUNY), Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts, and Origins of Nurse-Midwifery in the United States and Its Expansion in the 1940s by Katy Dawley, CNM, PhD published in J Midwifery Womens Health. 2003;48(2) and made available through MedScape.

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