Decolonizing Birth Conference 2017: part two (featuring Loretta Ross!)

Decolonizing Birth Conference 2017: part two (featuring Loretta Ross!)

by Molly McShane

Last week I wrote about the first two workshops and keynote I attended at Ancient Song Doula Services' annual Decolonizing Birth Conference. In the second section of this series I'll share about a workshop I attended led by Chanel Porchia-Albert called “It's Just the Beginning: Implementing a Collaborative Care Framework in the Face of Structural Oppression,” which Porchia-Albert stated is the framework within which Ancient Song practices. A Collaborative Care Framework is a healthcare philosophy and movement that is based on an understanding of structural oppression. The following are keys to this framework:

  1. Don’t let funding define your project.
  2. Cultural competency is everything.
  3. Think about your placement within structures of power: will you get further ahead in collaborative work as a contractor or organization? How much time can you dedicate? How long has your group been doing work? Do you have community support? What kind of institutions are you working with?
  4. Build emotional tenacity with transparency and good boundaries.
  5. Social justice can break cycles and leads to self-dependence!

On the second day of the conference I started the day at a workshop entitled, “Resilience as a Preexisting Condition: Healing in Community.” The workshop was led by some of the core sisters of the Sister Circle Collective, a transnational, feminist, grassroots community based in New York City and invested in building a powerful community for our black and brown cis sisters, trans sisters, queer sisters and gender non-conforming people who together believe in the radical act of sisterhood. You can learn more about them here! As we entered the workshop, participants found a timeline of reproductive injustice and reproductive justice wins in the United States. This timeline included events like the testing of gynecological procedures on enslaved Black women, the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women and incarcerated women in California, the Stonewall Riots, and Roe vs. Wade. We went around the room, placing post-it notes on the timeline with the date that we were born and the date that our mothers were born, placing ourselves in the timeline. Some participants also put in the dates of their children’s and grandchildren’s births up. After walking around the room, we talked about what we knew, what we didn’t know, and what we wanted to know more about. We discussed the ways that stories and legacies are passed down, especially between mothers and daughters, and opening the space for conversations about our reproductive journeys and experiences through oral histories. Finally, we closed the workshop by engaging with different healing plants and herbs like lemon balm, rose, lavender, and nettle.


Undoubtedly the most talked about keynote was Loretta Ross, one of the founders of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collaborative and one of the women who coined the term “reproductive justice.” To start off with, Ross defined the 3 tenets of reproductive justice for everyone in the room:

  1. The right not to have children: In this tenet, an RJ framework shares space with the pro-choice movement.
  2. The right to have children: This is where birth justice comes in!
  3. The right to raise children in safe and healthy environments: In this tenet, an RJ framework is in conversation with every other social movement.

She elaborated that all of this is new words for old concepts, simply a new analysis within a Human Rights framework. A Human Rights framework is anti-individualistic and expands the concept of kin to beyond just the people we know or are related to by blood. Within Human rights are civil rights, political rights, economic rights, the right to have basic needs met, cultural rights, environmental rights, and sexual rights. Ross explained how these rights are not closed or finite, rather they are constantly expanding and being redefined. Not only do these two frameworks give us the language to keep our fights against injustice non-siloed, but also gives us the language to explain what we are fighting for.

Ross went on to explain the origins of the term, “reproductive justice.” She said that the term was coined in 1994 and was originally only meant to be used against a health care bill suggested by Bill Clinton. However, the term stuck around. Some people argued that it was created to marginalize the pro-choice movement, but Ross said that anyone who says that that is why the framework was created is being racist; the framework incorporates and expands upon the pro-choice framework. Ross also talked about where we go from here to start addressing reproductive injustices. She talked about identity politics and intersectionality, and how the two concepts came from Black feminists but have become muddled and misused or misunderstood in organizing today. She said that we have to start with Human Rights education because it is impossible to fight for rights that you don’t know you have. It is also important to become humble and learn from the struggle and organizing wins in the Global South. Furthermore, she said it is important to defend science and the truth and to tell stories. By engaging with others and building the skills to have conversations with those who hold different viewpoints, you are ultimately helping the movement. When asked how she often has these hard, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating conversations, Ross responded by saying that everyone must defend their own integrity and not pay too much mind if people don’t recognize your humanity. If you are an activist, you have to have the conversations to help your movement. However, she also emphasized that people shouldn’t esteem civility too much, and instead focus on defending civics. It’s also important to focus on self-healing and consider where you are and what you’re able to do. Finally, she urged activists on the political left to seek out political effectiveness versus political rightness; instead of calling people out and splintering the movement in the face of American fascism, we should call people in and lean against one another. Loretta Ross called everyone in the room to action.


  1. Radical Reproductive Justice edited by Loretta J. Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater Toure
  2. Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice by Jael Silliman
  3. This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe Moraga

Molly McShaneMolly McShane is currently a student, nanny, full-spectrum doula, and now one of your Communication Committee Interns! Molly grew up in Washington, DC and graduated with a BA in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist studies from a small school in Vermont in 2016. She is now a Brooklyn resident taking prerequisite classes before applying to schools with the intention of one day becoming a midwife. She is particularly interested in trauma-informed care and how to best serve LGBTQ families in birth. In her spare time, Molly likes to watch Call the Midwife (over and over again), take walks in Prospect Park, bake pies, and read birth-themed books. Talk to her about reproductive justice, the connections between witches and midwives, and prenatal care in Star Wars!

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