Aba Oyedi and Urban Bush Midwifery
Some people say you're born a midwife. The journey is all about birthing yourself.
Women have been the fundamental support system in childbirth since as far back as the 6th century B.C. In modern days, there are hospitals and doctors that pull babies into the world. More recently, mothers are having children the ancient way, at home with women at their side, and at times their partner, or even unassisted.
Aba Oyedi is one of few professional midwives in Philadelphia, with her Urban Bush Midwifery service, which involves prenatal and postnatal support, routine check-ups, and advice for women's general health. Here are Oyedi’s responses to my interview with her.
What inspired the name Urban Bush Midwifery: As a youth I had the opportunity to work with the internationally-acclaimed Urban Bush Women founded by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. This amazing New York-based, contemporary dance company held their residency at Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre, where I was studying dance, and developed work with the student body. Being involved in their process of protest and expression of the Black Experience made such an impact on me; it seeded a great part of my world view. As I have grown, the idea of Urban Bush Women has remained very relevant and powerful to me. When it came time to name my practice, it was a no-brainer. It's a salute to the company and the powerful work they do. They brought the realization to my mind, that it is real and possible to be a Bush Woman in an urban environment, a concrete jungle.
Tell about discovering the midwife in you: I was born via C-section and grew up very aware of the classical, vertical scar my mother wore from the procedure. I became pregnant and knew I didn't want that experience so I began studying birth to figure out my options. A close friend suggested that I didn't have to have my baby in the hospital…an aha moment! She planted a seed in my mind. I kept my appointments and did everything that the clinic asked me to do but knew I didn't want to give birth in a hospital. I had never heard of a doula and didn’t know midwives still existed so, although I would have liked to have had that kind of support, I was uninformed. But I trusted myself so, although I was unassisted, I remained at home. When I went into labor my mantra was "if my grandmother can have ten children, I can have one." I felt that very ancestral energy during the process, I felt she was right there with me. Birth works. It’s a good design and I was very fortunate; I just had a baby. My oldest child, my daughter, blessed me with life as a midwife because it was her birth that revealed that part to myself.
How long have you been practicing: I started attending home births as a doula in 2008, and attending home births as an assistant midwife in 2011. I first put my hands on babies as they were emerging around 2013 under the supervision of a more advanced and seasoned midwife. In 2015, I graduated from “Birthwise Midwifery School” which is a MidwiferyEducation Council accredited, Direct-Entry program in Bridgeton, Maine, and began my own practice. In August of 2018, Urban Bush Midwifery will be three years old!
What are the ups and downs of midwifery: I think the biggest down is people not taking midwifery seriously. There are so many folks that think it’s a thing of the past or think we just show up with a couple of towels and some knitting needles. It’s so much broader than that. We have an immensely rich history of keeping women, families, and whole communities well. These days, when talking to women about the power and importance of their womb, you realize how typically disconnected we are from what that means. As women, we need to stand in our place because it is from there that all other things are born. Also, there is the element of being “Black in America.” It’s challenging to get my community to value this model of care when they have been so thoroughly disenfranchised. Many have been disillusioned to believe that hospital care is free. So even if they don’t like it they will deal with potential disrespect and trauma because they “don’t have to pay.”
One thing I do love about being an autonomous provider is that there is no third-party between myself and my clients creating encumbrances. I am accountable to the element of birth ̶ that great force of nature that orchestrated us all. I am accountable to the women I serve, my ancestors, the ancestors of the families I serve; and of the communities I serve. It's a different type of accountability. It’s not about whether I keep my job because I'm following the policy set by suits who don’t know anything about birth and who, ultimately, are more concerned with profits than people. I have room to give attention to what needs to be said and done so that a family is well cared for.
Your practice in the near future: I am into traveling and seeing the globe; I want my children to share that experience. I would like to expand my practice to serve more of the Diaspora. Fortunately, women’s bodies work similarly all over the world and I am open to international clientele. Nationally, I am teaching more, providing workshops and lectures around well-women and how healthy pregnancies seed healthy communities.
The role of women in the process of birth: The role of women during birth is to be receptive. The manifestation of receptivity is very productive – an interesting dichotomy. I think babies are born in the stillness of that space between supreme receptivity and supreme productivity. I see women surrender themselves and become portals; star gates. Birth is an element onto itself. Women who are giving birth or who are in that experience have to surrender willingly, or sometimes by force, so they can open up to this Being who is coming forth. As a midwife, I support families and women, but I am in service to birth. Often when I come into a birth I get low; I’m down on the floor because the energy is so powerful, at the same time it's so soft and subtle. It’s humbling. No arrogance allowed.
Men in the process of birth: It's about having understanding and honor because they also come out of a womb. It’s best for them to be supportive and listen to women, not in terms of being told what to do but to slow down, take a breath and really hear what is needed of them.
Why women choose traditional midwifery care: What I do as a traditional midwife is to provide a “model of care.” It’s not so much about the place of birth but more about the model that recognizes the woman primarily as the authority over what's going on with her baby and really honoring that. It’s important to look at childbirth as a year-long cycle of child bearing, and not just a single event that happens in a hospital. It's a physiological transformation that has clinical aspects, but it's also a social transformation for the whole community because we're welcoming a new person into our midst. It's a social and emotional transformation for the father, the siblings, and everyone involved, and what I do is guide women and the family through that transition.
People like to have babies at home because they're more comfortable there. Nobody books a hospital room to make a baby; people are, in most cases, in an intimate environment and they want that same environment when the baby comes through. Also, hospital births are a fairly new phenomenon in history. Sometimes people have every intention of having a baby at home, and then end up not being at home, but still benefit greatly from the “model of care” I provide as a traditional midwife.
The baby’s health and care after birth: When the child is first born, we’re there for four to six hours prior. We come back in 24 hours to check on mom and baby, then 72 hours, and then 168 hours. We're there again at two weeks then four weeks and, often, we’re there at six weeks. Professional midwives are trained and educated to work with families until the baby is about three months old because we’re focusing on that entire year. This “model of care” offers much more support to the mother and child during the postpartum period than does the hospital. The care given in the hospital is great for the most part. There is someone on shift to check on the mother and child, but once they leave the hospital there is no follow-up by the hospital. Building relationships is an inherent part of what we do as midwives. It's my responsibility to help them build a network of support within their family structure. We also work in connection with the pediatrician and lactation consultants to make sure everything is going smoothly so it's a healthy transition for the baby and momma.
Number of babies caught (delivered): I don't like to say delivered, I prefer saying caught. For me to be a solo practitioner I had to catch about 35 babies, and in my practice alone I've caught about 24 babies. Before that, the number of births that I've been present for and wasin some way involved in their immediate care is about 300 babies.
The risks: It is said that birth is the closest thing to death without there being anything wrong with you. There are some women that desire a home birth, but it just isn’t a good idea given their medical status. They would classically be considered high risk. The risks of home births and the risks of hospital births are generally the same, it's about the ability to respond to those things. If someone needs an emergency C-section and they are home, we’re not performing it; we’re going to the hospital where that can be done.
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