Saturday, October 1, 2016

Spinning While Black
Denise Bolds, MSW CD(DONA) September 29, 2016

I am birth worker, I am African American. I attended the Spinning Babies Confluence 2016 in Minnesota, where I witnessed first hand the lack of diversity in this event; there were more Latinas present than African Americans: 250 event attendees with less than 5 being African American. Founder of Spinning Babies Gail Tully, CPM asked me to blog what I observed and experienced. She requested that I be Bold…

Oh Say Can You See…

Observing the Spinning Babies Trainers on stage with founder Gail Tully, there’s a familiar sight: the blaring absence of African American trainers. It’s a common occurrence in the birth work paradigm: African American women are not at the table; we are designated spectators, the cheering squad and entertainers, rarely are we players.

Spinning Babies 2016 is noted as a Confluence. The word confluence is identified as a flowing together. In a literal sense, it's about rivers. But it's more often used to talk about the coming together of factors or ideas, or of cultures in a diverse city. Well, two out of three isn't bad. Minnesota is diverse and has culture in a strata that is separated.

Spinning Babies has been in existencefor over a decade, founder Gail Tully has travels the world teaching; in all her travels, hasn't Tully encountered any exceptional African American birth workers to train? This urgency (the lack of African American trainers) is so acute, Tully will have to make an exception and facilitate a training that doesn't fit into her traditional schedule. How much of a crisis is it? African Americans make up the highest negative statistics in infant mortality than any other ethnicity in the USA. Black babies can spin too and not just as a prop doll in a training. We have a First Lady of the United States: Michelle Obama who is African American, there has to be another exceptional black woman out here…

Show Me The Money!…. Got to Be There!

African Americans statistically make less than whites in earned income, it’s an evidenced based fact. Many blacks are challenged in becoming midwives and securing enhanced training such as Spinning Babies due economics… It is imperative for African Americans to understand the importance of the investment in enhanced training and investing in your practice. Make a pledge to attend one specific training in a year and get sponsors to get you there. Spinning Babies 2016 Confluence did in fact offer scholarships to African American attendees, not one showed up. I know what I said above, but its up to African Americans to make the jump into the homogenous waters of birth work. Your presence black birth worker does more than what is assumed.

It Makes Me Wonder…

Spinning Babies Confluence 2016 held in September which happens to be Infant Mortality Awareness Month, speaking with Gail and several of her trainers, they expressed wonderment as to why there weren't any more African American birth workers attending the 2016 Confluence. There are no Spinning Babies Trainers who are African American no presenters presenting upon data, community and visuals resembling African Americans; it’s not a simple endeavor to invest money and time in an event where African Americans are not represented in. How is it possible that Spinning Babies can have resources in the Philippines, Netherlands, Canada and now Brazil with no African American trainers in the United States of America in over 14 years of it’s existence?

Once again I was one of a few in a room of predominately white attendees. I know black women give birth; after all the USA was built off of the uteruses of black slaves. While Gail Tully and many at the SBC 2016 were extremely welcoming and open; many attendees weren’t: evident in their refusal to communicate, avoiding eye contact and closed body cues. Yes, there’s still more work to be done.

No, We Are Not Directly Related…

Tomesha Walker, another African American also attended the 2016 Confluence.  We were constantly mixed up in identities; we look nothing alike: from our hair, skin tone, and voice; there’s almost a 20 year age gap between the two of us. We were immediately assumed be related; it became so frequent, the Latinas began making Tomesha and I relatives. It was funny the first few times, by the 20th time, it was ridiculous. I had a Spinning Baby trainer ask me if I felt ‘uncomfortable’ being in Minnesota. My response: my ancestors touched every part of this country from it’s inception, I belong everywhere. Here’s how absent the African American pregnancy/birth was at Spinning Babies Confluence 2016:
    • Dr. Anke Reitter presented on her study of pelvic measurements from      Germany with no African representation in her work despite the myth that the African pelvis is “built for breeding.”
    • Birth workers from Australia are not Aboriginal is descent or origin.
    • Jeanne Ohm, DC presented an empowering presentation that included birth justice; how couples must dismiss birth professionals from the birth room when they become too overbearing. African American patients cannot do what she suggested without some form of retaliation that involves CPS and security.
    • Phyllis Klaus LCSW brought the mental health component to SBC 2016 without  diversity in mental health and pregnancy/birth.
    • Dr. Dennis Hartung is a noted Obstetrician expert on breech births. I wonder if he has presented nationally so that his knowledge may reach OB’s of color? It wasn't evident if he supported any African American breech births and their outcomes.
So Now What?

Spinning While Black has to come from the top down (I LOVE saying that!) Gail Tully has to secure presenters who offer diverse research, have diverse presentation in mental health and obstetrics and have presentations on race that all attendees must hear and not be an elective, no one gets to sit out on the message of race and birth. There must be contribution from local African American birth workers, including the only birthing center (Roots) owned and operated by Rebecca Polston, an African American midwife who was blatantly absent from the 2016 Confluence; however Tully strongly suggested the African Americans who were at Spinning Babies Confluence 2016 visit Roots Birthing Center and Polston on their own. We did and it was awesome! So many at the Confluence needed to witness Polston’s success.

It’s not enough to perpetuate the rhetoric of the lack of African American participation when there isn't adequate African American leadership and cultural participation. It’s not enough for African Americans to invest in trainings that do not represent them in diversity or leadership. There are communities of color that need African American trainers in Spinning Babies; this is where infant mortality can possibly decrease. There are a myriad of evidence based studies of the impact of African American maternal and infant mortality in the USA. Access is part of the solution. To wonder why blacks do not attend when there’s absent /poor representation of them; is part of the problem, not a solution. I remain grateful to Gail Tully; her kindness allowed me to be a spectator; my skills and ethnicity command that I am a player. It’s time for Tully and her current trainers to Spin into the conversation of birth and race. Black babies, black women and black birth workers spin too. Listen to this video clip link with an open mind on just how vital diversity is for women:


  1. I would love to be a Spinning Babies Trainer but I cannot afford the cost of the training. There are several African American birth workers who have steadfastly attended Gail's training over the years and have incorporated many of her strategies into their practices with their clients; they are experienced birth doulas, body workers and /or childbirth educators who stand ready to take on the mission of training more Spinning Babies birth workers of colors, except currently there is no financial aid available to under write the hefty cost of the training. I have attended at least 7 Spinning Babies classes; I am a home birth midwife and seasoned hospital doula who serves a diverse community. Over the last 7 years I have hosted Gail more than 5 times in Washington DC and with every workshop I award at least one full scholarship under the Grand Challenge and Gail sponsors another Grand Challenge scholarship attendee. However, I do not know if the other folks who sponsor Spinning Babies in other cities or her Spinning Babies Trainers do the same. Quite an easy first step for the Spinning Babies franchise to require that every host award at least one Grand Challenge scholalrhip and that each trainer do the same. The next would be to offer full scholarships to a cadre of birth workers of colors to become trainers. Perhaps a free Spinning Babies workshop in DC next year, inviting birth workers of colors from the various community and hospital based doula programs and pregnancy programs in DC. How about a commitment to bring one day (pre-conference event) of free training for midwives, doulas, body workers, etc. who attend the next ICTC Conference with workshops on: Spinning Babies, Breech and Shoulder Dystocia; Body Movement and Chiropractic, and Pelvic Floor trainings - 4 different all-day tracks of education and hands-on skills training, inviting and including local practitioners of colors to participate in these workshops. I attended two days of the recent Spinning Babies Confluence and other than Cheyenne and Janinne of the Queer Birthworkerss Community I made few new acquaintances. Perhaps the workshops taught by Akhmiri and I should be plenary sessions. Let me be clear, GAIL TULLY IS MY FRIEND AND SISTER-MIDWIFE; she is always there for me when I need advice during a birth or complicated prenatal (like just 2 days ago); this is not something that I can rely on from many other midwives. We cannot get clouded by the alleged sisterliness of the birth work world - it exist and mimics the larger world we live in which is full of entitlement; privilege; ownership of others; ignorance; arrogance; saviorism; hierarchy based on race, class, age, gender, politics, culture,etc.; the continued invisibility of those who are not like you, and residence to change. Spinning Babies needs a Manifesto!!!!

  2. Yes, yes, yes!!!! As a midwife, and before as a doula, I use spinning babies all of the time. I too have often wondered why we are not represented at all in the training staff.

  3. In my experience, Gail has always been inclusive and open to ideas and methods for making Spinning Babies more accessible to all women. It is simply who she is. We would all do well to emulate the generosity she demonstrates with her life's work.