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In this episode, we’re going to talk with Ms. Divine Bailey-Nicholas, midwife apprentice, doula, certified lactation counselor, and master herbalist about her career in birth work, advocacy and plant medicine in Louisiana. We learn how she utilizes a community model of care that brings resources and education to combat maternal health deserts in the Deep South of the US.

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Ms. Divine is proud of her Delta, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia roots. Her cultural foundation breathes through her plant medicine and birth work. Currently, Ms. Divine is a charter member of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Louisiana chapter, where her role is historian. She’s a member of the Healthy St. Landry Steering Committee and member of the Community Partners Advisory Sub-Community for the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative. Divine is also the founder and executive director of Community Birth Companion, a nonprofit organization working to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates through childbirth education, breastfeeding support, and community doula support in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, where she resides with her husband and four children.

Ms. Divine shares the reality of maternity care in the Southern US, including high rates of morbidity, mortality, and poor infant outcomes, especially among Black women. Ms. Divine shares how she has been inspired by the work of Grand Midwife Shafia Monroe to become a resource to her community and is working to improve birth outcomes and combat maternal health deserts through her perinatal safe space, the Community Birth Companion. Through a community model of care, Ms. Divine is providing education and empowerment to the families she serves. Additionally, Ms. Divine shares insight into her work as a Master Herbalist and teaches courses to support families in pregnancy and postpartum.

Content & Trigger warning: Maternal mortality, maternal morbidity, maternal healthcare deserts, health care inequalities

Resources
Follow Ms. Divine’s work on her social media channels:

Learn about Ms. Divine’s services or sign up for Ms. Divine’s courses on plant medicine on her website here

Learn more about Ms. Divine’s work with Community Birth Companion on their website here 
 
Follow the Community Birth Companion on social media: 
Additional Resources:
  • Listen to EBB 152 – Shafia Monroe on Traditional Black Midwifery, Spirituality, and Community Advocacy here
  • Learn more about Safia Monroe on her webite and follow her work on Instagram 
  • Listen to EBB 56 – Listening to Black Midwives: Ms. Charlotte Shilo-Goudeau here
  • Listen to EBB 156 – Nicole Deggins of Sista Midwife Productions on Navigating Systemic Racism in Birth Work here
  • Read Kelena Reid Maxwell’s  Dissertation Birth Behind the Veil: African American Midwives and Mothers in the Rural South here
  • Find the Black Birthing Bill of Rights here
PS – If you are a Pro Member, watch Ms. Divine’s monthly training in the Academy!
Transcript

Rebecca Dekker:

Hi everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Ms. Divine Bailey-Nicholas. Midwife apprentice, doula, certified lactation counselor, and master herbalist about her career in birth work, advocacy and plant medicine in Louisiana.

Welcome the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker and I’m a nurse with my PhD and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get Evidence Based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.

Hi everyone. My name is Rebecca Decker. Pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. Before we get started with today’s episode, if there are any content or trigger warnings, they’ll be detailed in the show notes for this episode.

And now I’d like to introduce our honored guest today. I’m so excited to welcome Ms. Divine Bailey-Nicholas. Pronouns she/her. Ms. Divineis a midwife apprentice, certified doula, certified lactation counselor, and a master herbalist in the southern tradition and founder of Divine Birth Wisdom.

Originally from Chicago, Illinois Ms. Divine is proud of her Delta, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia Roots. It is that cultural foundation that breathes through her plant medicine and birth work. Currently, Ms. Divine is a charter member of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Louisiana chapter where her role is historian. She’s a member of the Healthy St. Landry Steering Committee and member of the Community Partners Advisory Sub-Community for the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative.

Divine is also the founder and executive director of Community Birth Companion, a nonprofit organization working to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates through childbirth education, breastfeeding support, and community doula support in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, where she resides with her husband and four children. We are so excited that Ms. Divineis here. Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Rebecca Dekker:

Ms. Devine, we have been fans of your work for a long time, so I am so excited for our listeners to hear from you. Can you talk to us about what inspired you to get into birth work in the first place and what your path to midwifery apprenticeship looked like?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes, I’m going to tell a little bit about my age here. I was surfing Yahoo and I fell upon this awesome website from the International ICTC. It was Mama Shafia Monroe’s doula training site. And I was looking at doula work, but on the original site she had, when she started, it was tons and tons and tons of information about Black midwives and traditional Black midwives. And you could just click on a article, it would take you to a whole nother article. And it was just this rabbit hole of information about the historical legacies of Black midwives.

And I could not leave the site. I would be on there till 1:00 AM, come back the next night, come back the next night. At the time I was working in education. It was something in me that just told me I wanted to be a midwife and when I had my first child, I want to have midwifery care.

And the word midwife was not foreign to me. My mother had a midwife for my younger brother’s birth, and I was always told that my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, her first two children were birthed by a midwife. And so my goal was to be trained by Mama Shafia to be a doula because my whole plan always was to be a midwife.

But I was like, well, how do I know that I’m going to be able to handle being on call? How do I know that I’m not going to faint when I see a baby come out? And so I said the best way for me to do that is to become a doula. And it took almost six, seven years for me to be trained from that initial spark. I had had two of my own children before I became a doula. And so I’ve been doing birth work since about 2010. 2012, is when I founded Community Birth Companion, and I just have continued on this path.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. So you’ve been doing doula work for a long time. How did your own birth experiences impact your journey?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Wow. Yes, and like I said, I always wanted midwifery care. With my first daughter, I had met midwifery care for the entire prenatal period at a birth center in Lafayette. At the time it was called Gentle Choices and it’s no longer there. It was in Lafayette, Louisiana.

And my daughter came early. She came at 36 weeks, and the midwife at the time said, because of our birth center rules, even though I think I was like 36 and three or four or something like that, and then she was like, “We have to transfer you.”

My water had broken and I was contracting. I wasn’t in labor. And so we transferred to the hospital setting and I just saw the way the system treated me in the hospital setting, and I was just so happy that I had had midwifery care and I could speak up for myself and my husband could speak up for his self because it was things that was thrown out as far as not being able to eat in labor. I was told that every labor is a potential C-section. All of these things that could have made someone else very nervous, very scared, especially with their first pregnancy and childbirth that I was able to push through.

But I was able to push through that because I had been midwifery care and because I was educated into what was normal and what my rights was. And I went on to deliver vaginally a healthy baby girl. And from then on I had home births because I knew I never wanted to be in that hospital setting again.

Having children and navigating the health system as a Black woman, having children, has definitely influenced my birth work and that I’m very intentional about the things that I say to the community that I serve. I’m very intentional about the way in which I share language, in the way they can advocate for themselves, especially not just simply saying, navigating the medical system, but navigating the medical system in South Louisiana.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And for our listeners who aren’t familiar with birth in Louisiana and the rest of the deep South in the United States, can you give us a snapshot of what it’s like to give birth, especially as a Black woman in the deep south?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Well, what I can say is this. We’re in areas where we have a lot of rural communities. We have a lot of areas that are just maternal health deserts as far as, there’s not local OBs. There’s a limited amount of birthing hospitals. There’s hospitals with 50% cesarean rates. There’s hospitals that do not support VBAC.

And so you’re told that, okay, not only is it 50% cesarean rates, but if I do happen to have a cesarean, whether it was necessary or a true emergency cesarean or because I was high risk that really did need a cesarean labor, that I will always have a cesarean. And that we know that multiple cesareans increase the likelihood of maternal morbidity or maternal mortality.

We have high levels of maternal mortality and maternal morbidity rates in the South. I believe Louisiana titter totters on getting an F or a D from the March of Dimes for preterm labor and just the care of preterm babies, small babies, NICU babies. The care of our community in these settings, it’s not the best and it’s a status quo. The old man’s club type of thing.

Rebecca Dekker:

I was just going to say, a real strict power hierarchy with all white men in charge in most places.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Oh, yes. And you navigate, and I don’t know if it’s like this, I’ve done the majority of all my birth work in the South, but coming to being a birther or being someone who supports birthing women, and you come on to the labor and delivery floor and you don’t see any Black nurses.

And the hospital may be serving a 60% African American community or what have you, and you still will rarely see a Black labor and delivery nurse. So all of that are issues when we are in the system. You’re in a system in which they don’t ask you, they just test meconium. People are being tested, their babies are being tested for drugs, no consent. You have people at the hospital systems that have knee-jerk reactions to calling DCFS on certain communities. So you have all of this going on and we are birthing our children in this environment.

Rebecca Dekker:

I also wanted to share, we’ve had several other midwives come on to talk about the state of maternity care in Louisiana, and one of your colleagues, Ms. Charlotte Shilo-Goudeau came on EBB 56 to talk about Black midwifery in Louisiana. And Nicole Deggins came on in 156 to talk about navigating systemic racism and birth work, particularly from the labor and delivery nurse viewpoint.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes.

Rebecca Dekker:

And of course we’ve got Mama Shafia Monroe came on EBB 152, which we replayed in 2022 as well. So I encourage our listeners, if you want to learn more, we’ll put the links to those in the show notes.

But Ms. Devine, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, you’ve set the landscape or this is the environment that families are birthing in and Black families in Louisiana especially. What advocacy work have you started? How did you go about in such a difficult environment starting to make an impact?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. So in 2012, right after I was trained as a doula, I tell everybody my question to Mama Shafia was, at the time I only had two children, had no vehicle. I said, “Well, how do I do this work?” And a Mama Shafia said, “Well, become a resource.”

And so I was like, okay, I’ll have the families come to me. And I created a Community Birth Companion, and it was very intentional for me to name it community, because I wanted it to be based in, I know a lot of people just say, “Oh, it’s for the community.” But I wanted the community to take ownership of it. That we were doing more of a community care piece, a community model of care.

And what I did was I reached out to the local hospital, Department of Health, Healthy Start, Head Start, and I hosted a lunch and learn. It was Save the Baby’s Lunch and Learn, in which we talked about the maternal and infant mortality rates of the state and of the area.

And at that time, in 2012, that was the first time all of those organizations, at least in our area that served our region, had ever been in a space together to talk about maternal health. And that would be crazy now, because we have all type of think tanks now. So we take for granted that that always happened but at the time that did not happen.

From that it sparked. Our local hospital, we have one hospital in the area that I reside in, Opelousas Louisiana. And Opelousas General started going through the process of becoming baby friendly. And when they went through that process, they needed a community liaison. And so I became one of their community liaisons. And just from there, just boots on the ground work, putting a table at everything that had to do with mamas and babies, putting information out, talking about doulas, talking about breastfeeding.

And there’s different waves in healthcare and nonprofit work and grassroot work where sometimes people are ready to hear about a thing, sometimes they’re not. And at this particular time, even though my focus had always been on doulas and midwives, I was also breastfeeding my children and the wave was breastfeeding. We’re talking about breastfeeding, baby friendly, breastfeeding. And so I was able to get my foot in the door by talking about breastfeeding, but then also saying, “Well, you know what else increases breastfeeding rates? Women having access to doulas. Women having midwifery care.”

And I’ve had the same vision, the same mission through all these years, is that we can do this work, we can better birth outcomes with childbirth education. Our community has to be educated on their rights on what their body does during pregnancy and labor and breastfeeding support, because we live in areas where our communities are not breastfeeding at the rate at which our community needs it because we have premature babies, we have small babies, and breast milk is medicine for those babies and community doulas because the majority of our families still birth in hospitals.

So if they’re still birthing in hospitals and in those hospitals, very few of them have even nurse midwives in them, then we need them to have some outside support via doulas. And it’s still talking about midwives because my goal had always been to push, and I continue to push the inclusion of midwives in bettering birth outcomes in the state. And I think the exclusion of midwives, it’s really a detriment to our community.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about how midwives are excluded from the whole birth industrial complex in Louisiana and how they’re not included and made to feel welcome and things like that? How difficult is it to practice as a midwife in your state?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

So I will say the difficulty isn’t exclusion, it’s an erasure. When you erase or you don’t even mention the midwifery model of care, when we were talking about bettering birth outcomes, there was a whole entire summit about bettering birth a few years ago in New Orleans and no one wanted to talk about midwives. Everybody wanted to talk about checklists of making sure, which was important, checklist for preeclampsia, checklist for how we handle hemorrhage in the hospital setting, which is all important, but still, just not even saying midwifery care is exclusion and really does create this idea that you’re not welcome.

So for instance, out of hospital birth midwives sometimes have to transfer their clients to the hospital. And guess what? That’s okay. That’s the way the system is supposed to work. If something changes, if something becomes an emergency, what makes it a beautiful work is that we should have collaborative care and it should be an easy transition from the birth center setting or the home setting to the hospital.

And what was happening, especially during COVID, was certain hospitals were saying, “Well, if you don’t have a doula badge, then we’re not letting you into the hospital.” But as a midwife, I still am supposed to have a continuity of care. I might not be the primary provider any longer when the client does end up in the hospital setting, but I’m supposed to be by my client’s side. And midwives were being excluded from going into the hospital setting with their clients.

So that’s just one example of that lack of collaborative care. But it’s a heavy example. Because if those that work in the hospital setting, in the medical industry, don’t understand what midwives do, don’t care to understand. When our families go into the hospital setting, they’re treated negatively. They’re treated with certain type of suspicions. They’re asked again like, “Oh, you’re at that birth center. And what access did the midwife have to x, Y, and Z meds?” So this, that and the other.

We have many, especially our Black mothers sometimes who may have to go to the hospital in a postpartum setting, they may have a question or something and they choose to go to the hospital. Well then they’re given 21 questions on okay, not genuinely, but still believing somebody’s giving birth on the side of the road, these midwives are ignorant, all these myths. And so that setting in itself creates an unhealthy setting, an unwanted setting. And that’s just the tip of it.

Rebecca Dekker:

So I think it’s really disheartening to hear that midwives in Louisiana who have such a strong history, if you go back more than 100 years, to the number of Black midwives and Indigenous midwives who are delivering most of the babies in that state to today when they’re trying to erase their presence. And then when the health system is confronted with having to work with midwives, they react with suspicion or even hostility.

So I know you and Ms. Charlotte, who’s an EBB instructor, do a lot of really amazing work at Community Birth Companion in the midst of these difficult circumstances. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about what you’re doing like what are the activities you’re doing in your community and how are you acting as that companion for birthing people?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. So it’s funny you said and you asked that. Just yesterday we had students from LSU Public Health come and they donated postpartum care kits. And in speaking with them, we love speaking to students, residents and really getting to the minds of our future OBs, our future nurses, our future stat recorders and things like that to talk to them about what we’re really seeing in direct service.

I think there is a disconnect over what people see on paper to what we actually see boots on the ground. And so we do a lot of educating not just in the community or those that come to us that’s pregnant, that’s looking for breastfeeding support, but constantly educating also those who are going to be primary providers or some health providers.

And what does doula work look like and how we should welcome doulas but how to be open for questions from our community, how to understand cultural differences and not necessarily take it as that people are being aggressive towards you.

We can all live in the same area and still have different ways in which we communicate and understanding that so when clients or patients when they’re leaving your care, they feel that they’ve been heard and this is something consistent that we’re teaching about.

We love the term shared decision making. How does that actually happen? How does the patient and client actually do shared decision making with the doctor or with the nurse practitioner, and how can they feel that they have enough power to speak up for themselves and deserve the education so they can make the best decision for their baby and their own bodies?

We’re constantly having those conversations. And so we were able to host the LSU students from Public Health yesterday here at the Community Birth Companion Clinic, which has been open for about a year now. For years, we were just rolling in our car, meeting people at coffee shops, in our homes and their homes, and we finally opened up our pregnancy and breastfeeding clinic here at Opelousas where we host our breastfeeding support groups.

We host our breastfeeding support group monthly. We host childbirth education classes, which we do virtually and in person, and we also do our community doula trainings here. And so it really is a safe space. I think I told Ms. Charlotte and Ms. Charlotte shared with me the idea of a brave space that we really try to create.

We also have a partnership with an organization called Saul’s Light that works with NICU families. And so we have a lending library, small library in our little children’s area, a nook where there’s books on how to be a big sister, a big brother, or what does it feel like when you have a baby in the NICU? And just a good space where people feel like they can bring the entire family, and we really want it to be a welcoming space for them.

Rebecca Dekker:

Just in the past year, you actually got your own physical space to have these kinds of events. Can you tell us about that?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. It has been really a phenomenal feeling to have something to say that, okay, this is Community Birth Companion. Because unfortunately, especially as a Black woman starting something from the ground up, I didn’t have a lot of models on how to do this work.

And so it was often like, oh, I hand out a card and people say, “Oh, well that’s great. Well, where are you all located?” And I’ll say, “Well, call me or we can talk on the phone, we can meet at a coffee shop.” Or we were just going straight directly to our mothers and families and that’s awesome as well. But it’s been really great to have this space where people can come, feel connected, we can host them.

It’s been really great to have a space where everybody can come and we can host them and they feel safe, and we feel like this is our own. And so I’m just so happy and ecstatic that we can say, “Hey, meet us at X, Y, and Z.” And it’s ours. We don’t have to keep putting out money to rent anything. As far as a space that’s not something we can continually come back to hold diapers, we have a few boxes of the postpartum kits, things like that. They’re here and we can ask our mothers and families to come here. And so that’s been a beautiful thing.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And it’s amazing if you follow Community Birth Companion on social media, which I highly recommend that all of you listening do that, you can actually see that you share with us the events you’re hosting, the baby showers and the different kit assemblies and giving out of supplies and the classes and the doula trainings.

And it’s incredible how you’ve created this hub for perinatal care in a rural part of Louisiana that, like you said, it’s a desert. There’s not enough resources for the people there.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

And I’m glad you brought that up because we are a perinatal safe spot. And that’s something that Jenny Joseph started. We’re really pointing out these maternal health deserts and saying, are you doing the work there? And if you’re doing the work, and we were a perinatal safe spot before we even had a brick and mortar place to come to, because she would say, “Hey, this could be virtual. This could just be that you provide the services.”

But really being a perinatal safe spot, a spot where everybody can get educated about how to better themselves, because when we can better ourselves in the language and how we feel about ourselves, we can advocate for ourselves in the birthing setting. And it takes you everywhere.

I tell people all the time, the language that we teach you, you can use it when you go to the dentist, you can use it when you are getting checked for breast cancer. All of this it starts here but you can advocate for yourself in so many different areas.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. And the school system with childcare, daycare, workplace, everywhere. Yeah. So I’d encourage our listeners to go to communitybirthcompanion.org and learn more about what’s being done there and follow you all on social media.

Ms. Devine, I know you also have a whole other part of your career focus on plant medicine and being an herbalist. So can you talk about how you gained your extensive knowledge in herbal and plant medicine and where that all comes from?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. When I grew up, my mother’s favorite medicine was chamomile tea with a scoop of Vicks in it. And that would be given to you whether it was the flu, the cold, that was her go-to medicine and a good bath. I saw my father heal wasp stings by breaking up his cigarette, taking out the tobacco, heating it a little bit and putting it on wasp stings. And so plant medicine to me was very normal, but I hadn’t just dug all the way deep into it yet.

It was just very matter of fact. You keep certain things in the house because we didn’t go to the hospital all the time or to the doctor all the time. And still we had chamomile in the house and we still had Robitussin in the house. So it wasn’t like it was totally plant medicine, but it was not foreign to us.

So as I got older, I started navigating things like my own menstrual cycle and just wanting to better my overall health. I really started getting deeper into plants. And that’s really a love for me, making plant medicine, talking about plant medicine. I consider myself a bit of a folklores when it comes to Black healing and Black medicine.

And when I speak about that, I’m speaking about the way in which we use plants to heal, the way in which we use plants and our community respects or doesn’t respect certain plants and plant medicines to help heal ourselves from over the years to present. And so I teach a class called Grandma’s Hands, Pregnancy and Postpartum Herbs and Nutrition in the Southern Tradition.

And it focuses on the plants that were used by Black midwives and the communities they served to support pregnancy, support labor and support the postpartum period. But what’s also important about the healing modality of herbalism, it’s also just our thoughts and our mindset around how our body works. And that you can’t have the usage of herbalism or teas without also having body work.

The idea of a massage or laying up hands or the idea of the traditions surrounding the pregnant woman on how you don’t go everywhere, you don’t watch certain things because it may startle the mama or it may disturb her mindset. And what do you do to protect the pregnancy in an herbal realm, but also a spiritual realm?

And so all of those things I love to study, I love to teach about. And I’ve been doing that for a while. My husband is a herbalist and his father is a plant and soil scientist. He worked with farmers for about 30 years through Louisiana State University and Southern University Ag Center. And so we’re an agricultural based family and yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to take a class from you about southern traditional herbal use and you’re an incredible teacher on the subject. And I was just wondering for our listeners who maybe are skeptical of herbal medicine or don’t really understand its depth of history, could you just talk a little bit about where this tradition comes from? I know you briefly mentioned the African American roots, but can you talk a little bit more about that?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

So plant medicine is the first medicine. So all people have some plant medicine history. Most pharmaceutical medicines that we have access to now, the basis of it comes from some type of plant medicine. And so the idea that, oh, I don’t think these work. But at the same time, if you Google an herb, they’ll say, oh, this can harm you because it could do X, Y, and Z. It’s very interesting to me this dichotomy that either it does absolutely nothing. It’s either snake oil or it can just totally harm you. And it’s just those two things in nothing else.

Whereas plants are going to do what they do until humans touch it and change it. So what I mean by that is they grow, some of them are weeds, like dandelion is a weed. A lot of people cut it out their yards. We put poison on it. But it is an awesome liver supporter, it’s great for skin, it has iron in it if you’re not allergic to it and so it also can be a medicine. And humans have also used it as medicine, can also make teas with it, you can make salads with it, it’s edible.

And then you have some plants they might be the snake plant or some people call it the mother-in-law plant, the sac from the leaves can also heal snake bites. So a lot of plants have many usages. And I think that’s another thing that people can’t grasp onto. They’ll see this whole list of what a plant can do, and they’re like, well, how can that do all of that? And in a whole plant setting.

And the easiest modality of taking in a plant for most peoples is a tea, an infusion, either a hot water infusion or a cold water infusion, using that whole plant, not extracted, not taken into a lab and pulling out what people may consider the active ingredient. But it goes into the body and traditionally or historically and culturally, as far as Black southern medicine tradition would say, that the medicine goes into the body and it starts to search the body. What does that body need?

So for instance, if you give somebody ibuprofen, and they might be taking it for cramps, so postpartum pains, but somebody might be taking it for headaches. So how does your body know that it’s for your head and not for the cramping in your stomach? Nobody asks that question. Well people ask it when it comes to herbs.

And I think that it is a modality that should be accepted more often because it’s foundational and it’s a foundational way in which all people have healed themselves and their community. I’m glad to live in a community that still respects that. In South Louisiana, a lot of people still have quite a lot of pride in their heritage. Their Creole heritage, Cajun heritage, Indigenous heritage, in which all of that includes plant medicine. And so it’s not too foreign here. It’s not like I have to beat anybody over the head with.

However, outside of that community setting, if they go into the hospital setting to see their pediatrician, to see their OB or whoever, it’s not too much shared because you can be looked down upon because you use that. Folks may think that you are unintelligent. That you’re stupid or what have you.

Rebecca Dekker:

I think it’s important you bring that up because I’m sure a lot of our listeners live in parts of the world where plant medicine is looked down on. As like you said, it’s either a snake oil or it’s poison.

And I grew up in Tennessee in a more urban slash suburban area, and plant medicine was something we never talked about. We drank tea from the store but that was it. And it wasn’t until I was in my 30s living in Kentucky when a friend introduced me to the fact that there’s this weed that grows in all of our yards here, that if you crush it or chew it up and put it on a mosquito bite, it will take the itch away and the pain away. And mosquitoes love me, and I have struggled with that my whole life. There’s other members of my family, they won’t touch them and I’ll get 15 or 20 bites.

And I tried it one day. I was in the backyard, I had these horrible mosquito bites. I had used all of the steroid creams, all of the Benadryl creams, even taken oral Benadryl, and they were still bothering me. So I grabbed a leaf. I didn’t feel comfortable chewing it because she had told me to chew it, but I grabbed it, it was very easy to identify, crushed it so that it had a little bit of juice coming out of it and put it on the itch and it went away immediately.

And I was shocked. I was like, this is growing in my backyard and I never knew this. So that was for me the moment that my eyes were open to the fact, oh, I don’t even understand the plants that grow in my neighborhood. We are so specialized today. We are focused on learning one field that we don’t look around us at nature. It was a very big moment for me to realize that.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

And it’s all around us and it’s accessible. And so that’s another thing that I like to speak to is, okay, what do you have access to? If all you have access to is chamomile, how many ways can you use chamomile?

You can use chamomile for skin, you can use chamomile for colic, for gas, for fevers, as long as you’re not allergic to ragweeds and things in that family. And then what grows in your area that you can use for simple things like mosquitoes or simple things like planting certain plants around your house to keep mosquitoes away. So it’s all different ways in which to use plants.

I like to use plants to support pregnancy and the postpartum period. I like to speak on herbs and plants and spices that are very accessible from things like cinnamon to cayenne pepper to alfalfa to nettle leaf. And I also like to talk about things like castor oil and how it can also be used topically for many things.

And so in teaching about herbalism, we have to also unmask how so many of us in our community, especially people of color, because of our integration, because we have felt the need to integrate in that integration we’ve put some things by the wayside. We’ve thrown some things away, some things that we consider or have considered or we’ve believed that either white people or white supremacy feels is dirty, it’s backwards, it’s something poor people do, it’s unintelligent.

And so what we’re finding out though is when we threw those things away, we threw out the best of us. We threw out the ties that bind us culturally and that can help us in this war we are in as far as the deaths of our babies, deaths of our mothers, us not feeling like we have any type of autonomy over our bodies because we don’t even have any autonomy over any healing heritage.

So we think because we feel like we’ve given it all away, so it becomes a reclaiming work doing this work. It becomes a work in which we are calling a thing a thing. We can say, “Oh, my grandmother did this. My grandfather did this. Oh, I remember seeing this growing.” So now I can take ownership of a thing and it no longer becomes something that someone just does to me. It’s something that I can do and really take part in my health because a lot of times we’re just walking into these clinics, walking into these settings and just being given a script or here, go get this medicine, take it two times daily. And okay, the doctor told me to take that and I have totally no ownership in that.

And so what plant medicine does, it allows you to reclaim that and reclaim your healing and you can do it and integrate it in the support you’re having from your primary provider. I think the midwifery model of care and community care lends itself to be a more safe space for folks that are into herbalism versus those that may be doing the regular care with their doctors.

Because even though we may say, “Hey, ask your doctor if you can use this.” Most of them are not educated in plant medicine. And so they don’t know unless you’re working with somebody who culturally or via their background or heritage grew up using plants, they’re not going to be supportive of a person using that.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, they’re going to have the either or dichotomy. They’re going to see it either as useless or poisonous and not see the nuance in the middle. And it seems to me though I think one people’s fear of herbalism is that fear of doing something that could be toxic or poisonous.

And I imagine that there’s some safety knowledge and wisdom that has been lost as well. You talked about how we need to reclaim our heritage, whatever our heritage may be with plant medicine, but how can people go about learning the basics that they know what to avoid and what things you shouldn’t be doing?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

I always encourage people to go to their local library and look up, every state has an agricultural department who has put out some type of book like edible plants in Colorado, edible plants of Louisiana, edible plants. These agricultural departments love to put out stuff like that. They’re encouraging people to grow plants or to farm.

Start there. Start being able to just look and identify and then look at some basic things. I always go back to chamomile because people feel like that’s super safe, but also know anything can give an allergic reaction. I can eat a banana, somebody else can eat a banana and break out in a rash. I can eat peanuts, my daughter is allergic to nuts. And just like, hey, some people that can’t take penicillin.

And so if we can acknowledge that we should be doing individualized care, then everybody’s body is different and the way we react to things it’s different. I think we will approach these modalities with a bit more respect. But I would suggest everybody just look up and if you don’t want to read a book, Buku Podcast out there that talks about, well, what are the plants that’s around you? And they’re sharing historical knowledge of how to use a plant that grows around you, that you can reach out and touch. You don’t have to get it flown from across the seas.

And it’s really more accessible knowledge than people think it is, because even master grower gardener classes, that’s in areas like if you would Google taking a master gardener’s certificate in whatever state, you’ll find information there. And that’s a huge help as well. Just understanding about plant and soil and how’s the dirt around you? What’s the nutrients in the dirt in your local area? So when you do start planting your own medicine, how healthy it can be.

So I think that’s a great start. But another start, because look, I’m always going to go back to history, I’m always going to go back to family tradition is to sit down with our elders and ask them, “Hey, when you were a child, what did you use for X, Y, and Z?” And when we can sit down and talk to our family members that may have that knowledge, we become more connected to that healing.

Rebecca Dekker:

I think those are amazing ideas, and that’s, to be honest, something I hadn’t thought of was just asking my elders and sadly many of the elders in my family have passed, and I’ve lost that opportunity. So it’s important I think if you have someone in your family you can talk to about, I love that idea.

I also know you’re not one to self-promote. So I would encourage everybody to go to divinebirthwisdom.com. Divine is an amazing teacher, has a really thorough six week course on ethnobotany called Grandma’s Hands Pregnancy and Postpartum Herbs and Nutrition in the Southern Tradition. And it’s an online course and there’s different cohorts that open throughout the year.

And we got to have a sample of that when you came and taught our pro members about the African perspective and Southern tradition of plant and herbal medicine. You’ve led that training for us. You have come to the EBB Conference, you’re engaged with Ms. Charlotte who teaches the EBB Childbirth Class. Can you share a little bit before you go about how your work interacts with Evidence Based Birth® in your community?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Oh, I love this topic because people will often say, “Well, how does our traditional cultural modalities connect with Evidence Based Birth® or Evidence Based modalities?” And when we are using Evidence Based Birth® in our community is not to take away from our heritage or how we heal ourselves, but it is to use the language that their providers are using.

And so they know how to advocate for themselves. So it makes no sense for me to tell the provider, “Well, the mom is, she’s using Nora T, which is nettles, ostra, raspberry leaf, and alfalfa. She’s taking the infusion two or three times a day,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If that provider does not respect that.

But if I equipped the client, the birther that, okay, you can share, you should share with your provider that you are looking at an alternative support for some of the issues you’re having or to support your pregnancy, you do have that right to share with them and see where you all can negotiate as far as your care.

And we’re able to do that by using a lot of the one pagers from Evidence Based Birth®. They’re really easy to pass out to our clients that we work with. We have a community doula program in which we work with families throughout this parish, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and we’re going into some other parishes.

And so we equipped our doulas with that, hey, that’s a resource for us. Evidence Based Birth® is a huge resource for us. Those one pagers on, okay, this is what the doctor is saying to you. Let’s take some time to explain it so you can have, what we always suggest is for each prenatal visit, go in with three questions, right?

Rebecca Dekker:

Right.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

And so, okay, they’re saying that you may have gestational diabetes, they’re scared of a big baby, so let’s go over what are the risks? What are the true risks? What is your doctor’s concern? And how do you go about asking your doctor, “Okay, what is your concern right now about my baby?”

And I believe that Evidence Based Birth® allows us the language that we can support our communities with. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t have to learn the language. In a perfect world, I could come in, sit down in front of a provider, and they would treat me equally. They would treat me fairly, period. That’s not the reality.

So Evidence Based Birth® becomes almost some ammunition for us to use. So we have that in our back pocket in which, okay, let’s look at the research. Okay, and how do we say this in layman terms? And this is what you can look at. And you can say, “Oh, well, I was on the site Evidence Based Birth®, and I’ve been doing my research.”

And then now we have a whole nother type of dynamic going on between the client and the provider. And then it’s like, oh, so this person is looking at something, this person is researching. So now we see that constantly that the dynamics change then and so it does support the work that we’re doing.

And one doesn’t take away from the other. It doesn’t take away from our heritage work. And heritage work doesn’t take away from Evidence Based Birth®. It really does, in the way that we do it, especially the way in which Ms. Charlotte and I work together with Community Birth Companion in our area, it really does blend well together.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, it sounds like a beautiful marriage that helps you level the playing fields that you can get the respect that you already deserve on your own.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Right.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, I know you what you mean. It’s like being able to build a little bit of a bridge between the two worlds.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Exactly.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah. Ms. Devine, before you go, do you have any resources you’d like to share with our listeners?

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. If there is anybody who is looking to get more information about the history of Black midwives, I would say look up, it’s a dissertation by Kelena Reid Maxwell called Birth Behind the Veil: African American Midwives and Mothers in the Rural South. It is a jewel. It should be easily accessible if you Google it. It’s called Birth Behind the Veil: African American Midwives and Mothers in the Rural South.

And also, if you have not already, definitely look up, print out the Black Birthing Bill of Rights. I think everybody being equipped with what their rights are as humans, it allows us to, one, do this work, but it allows us to advocate for ourself.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yeah, and you can get that at the naabb.org, the National Association to Advance Black Birth. They’ve been doing a lot of work on the Black Birthing Bill of Rights, which was recently awarded a trademark as well. So been following their work and very excited about them.

And yeah, I can’t wait to read that dissertation. I was not aware of that but I Googled it just now, and yeah, it popped up. Was like the second result. So we’ll make sure to include the links to both of those in the show notes

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

To follow me and to keep in touch on Instagram, I’m at Divine Birth Wisdom and Divine Birth Wisdom on Facebook as well. If you want to go to my website, it is divinebirthwisdom.com.

Rebecca Dekker:

Yes. And you can also follow Ms. Divine and Ms. Charlotte and their work together at Community Birth Companion on Facebook and Instagram.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Yes. And communitybirthcompanion.org.

Rebecca Dekker:

Awesome. Thank you so much, Ms. Devine, for coming on the podcast and sharing your story and your wisdom with us. We truly honor you and appreciate you for everything you’re doing with your community and further.

Divine Bailey-Nicholas:

Thank you so much for having me.

 

 

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