On Baltimore

Over the past year, each time another story emerges of police violence leading to the death of yet another black man, I’ve found myself at a loss for words. What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said?

Partly out sheer anger, frustration, and overwhelm, I sat back quietly on this blog and social media, listening carefully and appreciating the voices of others who somehow seem to be able to give words to the outrage that I know many of us are feeling as a new name rolls across the ticker on the bottom of the news screen: Garner, Brown, Scott, Gray...

Watching the media coverage of the recent protests in Baltimore has once again brought back this feeling…and the questions I keep asking myself are, “What is it going to take to create a cultural change in this country? When will there be enough outrage over the unnecessary, violent deaths of black men and women in this country that it boils over not just into protests, but into policy, into research agendas, and into a universal understanding that it is unacceptable? When will people stop dying at the hands of the very people who are supposedly working to ‘keep us safe’?

This morning I happened across this incredible call to action within the medical community by pediatrician Rhea Boyd:

In the wake of Sandy Hook, the response from physicians, and pediatricians in particular, was astounding. The tragic deaths moved doctors to address gun violence and its health consequences.

But week after week, as black boys who could be my sons and black men who could be my father, are shot and killed by police, doctors remain silent. As a pediatrician, I’m appalled.

We are watching a public health problem unfold in front of us and we aren’t doing anything to stop it.

These words stopped me in my tracks.

We are watching a public health problem unfold in front of us and we aren’t doing anything to stop it.

Yes.

As a future midwife, I place my work in the context of reproductive justice: my role is to serve my community, to help ensure that women and their families are healthy, as individuals and as members of their community. My role is to help reduce the institutional barriers that prevent equitable access to healthy outcomes. Yet we know that rates of preterm birth are higher among African Americans, and that there have been links made between chronic stress and preterm birth.

As Boyd writes, “Like the trauma experienced by war veterans, living under the threat of unprovoked police violence triggers intense emotional and physical stress, even in moments of relative safety. The chronic stress that fear generates may place African-Americans at increased risk for health problems like heart and lung disease, and depression.”

I simply cannot fathom what it must be like right now, or ever in US history, to be an African American mother. I think about my own unborn child, who will come into this world with privileges they did not ask for. My child, for simple virtue of the appearance of their skin, will not have to fear driving in Portland, among the whitest of white cities in America, and being pulled over by the cops for no reason at all.

My child, by virtue of appearing “Asian” in heritage, will be assumed to be intelligent, well-spoken, “safe.” My child will not be unduly punished for minor infractions in school, nor will they face increased risk of being suspended or expelled simply because they cannot sit still and learn quietly.

My heart will only have to bear the average amount of anxiety as a parent when my child starts wandering around the city independently…but I will not have to fear that my child might “accidentally” be shot by police. Such an occurrence would be an outrage, it would be unthinkable.

And this only scratches the surface of privilege that my child will experience.

Yet it’s not what many parents in this country live with every day. As a future parent and a future midwife, I find myself unable to breathe sometimes, I am so angry at the injustice of it all.

What keeps me going is knowing that as a midwife, I will have an opportunity to connect with people during pivotal moments in their lives, especially during the child-bearing year. I hope that I can be a supportive presence for all the pregnant people I serve, no matter what stresses and injustices they are facing during their pregnancies. And beyond the level of individual care, I want to use my voice and skills as a midwife, researcher, teacher, and activist to help shape policy that improves the health of families and communities.

I believe that the midwifery profession can and should be doing more to speak out the public health consequences of race-based violence. I intend to do everything I can to ensure that my professional organization, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, plays a role in moving our country in a direction in which all families can raise their children in safe communities.

 

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3 thoughts on “On Baltimore

  1. Hi Lena,
    I just wanted to take a moment to comment to thank you for all the work that you’ve put into this blog. I’m starting a direct entry nursing program for FNP next month and it’s great to read about your journey through an accelerated nursing program. I have no doubt that I’ll have similar feelings as I go through the program and it’s encouraging to hear that that there will be bright moments amid the moments of doubt. You write beautifully and I’ve loved reading about your journey given your background in education. Best of luck in the future. I have no doubt that you will make a fantastic midwife.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Carolyn! Reading others’ blogs was and continues to be a huge source of inspiration and support for me as a student…best of luck to you as you begin your own adventures!

  2. Hi Lena, I just wanted to let you know that I found this entry very touching and heartbreaking, and also inspiring. Sometimes everything seems so insurmountable, but then I just stop and remember that small, steady voice within. And I know that I can keep going, and keep raising awareness, and keep doing the exhausting work of a person who cares deeply for every human and non-human being the world over. Thank you for your strength, your voice, and your work in the world.

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