In this episode of On The Square, Sapelo Square Arts and Culture editor Ambata Kazi-Nance speaks with renowned midwife, birthwork historian, and doula educator Shafia Monroe, founder of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing, the leading birthwork training institute in the United States for Black midwives and doulas and the first nonprofit in the nation to promote home birth in Black communities and elevate Black midwifery.
They discuss the history and traditional practices of Black midwifery, the contemporary challenges of Black maternal and infant health disparities, and how birthworkers can and are impacting positive change for Black families.
Shafia Monroe, MPH, is an internationally known midwife, doula trainer, cultural competency trainer, motivational speaker, and writer. A lifelong learner of organic gardening and herbal medicine, she began studying midwifery at age 16 to help end high infant mortality in her community and organize for reproductive justice. She is the founder of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC), the first national nonprofit to increase the number of Black midwives and doulas of color, as a way to diversify the midwifery profession for better birth outcomes.In 2016, due to her pioneering work in the 1970s of introducing midwifery and homebirth services to Roxbury, Massachusetts, her hometown, Madame Noire crowned Shafia the “Queen Mother of the Midwife Movement.” Though born in Massachusetts, she recognizes her Alabama roots and practices the southern form of healing, using the laying on of hands for pregnant and postpartum women, newborns, and families. Shafia is the keeper of African American birth tradition; she has spent over three decades studying the life of the 20th century African American midwife and has traveled internationally interviewing and shadowing midwives to learn their cultural rituals.
In 2013, she founded Shafia Monroe Consulting/Birthing CHANGE to help health care providers and doulas achieve cultural competency, increase clients, and improve birth outcomes. She is owner of SMC Full Circle Doula Birth Companion Training, LLC that is built on spirituality, and reclaiming traditional birth practices to heal and empower families to improve maternity care. Since 2002, Shafia has trained more than 5,000 SMC Full Circle Doula Birth Companions worldwide.
Shafia has received three Lifetime Achievement Awards and is a member of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Oregon Doula Association, Black Coalition for Safe Motherhood, Oregon Health Authority, Office of Equity and Inclusion, Cultural Competency Continuing Education Advisory Committee, and many other associations.
Shafia is a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She enjoys cooking for family and friends, gardening, walking, swimming, and riding horses.