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On this episode of the EBB podcast, we talk with Michelle Browder, artist, activist, and the creator of the Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy Monument in Montgomery, Alabama, established to honor the three Mothers of Gynecology.

Michelle Browder is a nationally recognized artist, activist, and amplifier, bridging the racial divide through art, history, and conversation. Michelle’s artwork has been exhibited in art galleries around the world, most notably, the Rosa Parks Museum located in Montgomery, Alabama. In September 2021, she created a monument to honor three enslaved women, Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, in Montgomery, Alabama. This monument is a reminder of the inhumane treatment and experimentation on enslaved Black bodies. The medical procedures that we have access to today in gynecology have been perfected because of them. The monument honors these Black women and all those that came after to correct the historical narrative around the beginnings of gynecology.

Michelle shares with us how she originally learned about the dark history of Anarcha, Lucy and Betsy and the inspiration to create a monument about the true founders of the field of gynecology. Not only is Michelle working to correct the history of gynecology, she discusses her progress and future plans to bring access, care, and healing to families and practitioners in the 21st Century, at the same site of the torture of Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy, the Mothers of Gynecology. In the words of Michelle, y’all ain’t ready!

Trigger Warning: anti black racism, the use of the N-word, experimentation on enslaved women, sexual trafficking and sexual abuse, postpartum suicidal ideation.

Resources

Follow Michelle’s Work
Instagram: @anarchalucybetsey
Twitter @mothersofgyno and on Facebook

Sign up for Michelle’s newsletter and learn more about the 2024 conference here https://www.anarchalucybetsey.org

Read the following books:
Say Anarcha by J.C. Hallman and check out his informative YouTube series here
Take my Hand by Dolen Perkins and learn more about Relf Sisters here
Medical Bondage by Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens
Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa

Learn about Africatown

Learn about what Evidence Based Birth is doing to fight racism and download free handouts here

Read more reproductive justice research on EBB’s Birth Justice page

Transcript

Rebecca Dekker:
Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Michelle Browder, artist, activist, and creator of the Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey Monument in Montgomery, Alabama, honoring the three mothers of gynecology.

Welcome to 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 Dekker, pronouns, she, her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. If there are any detailed content or trigger warnings that go along with this episode, we’ll post them in the description or show notes that go along with this episode. And now I’d like to introduce our honored guest.

Today I am so excited to welcome Michelle Browder to talk about the Mothers of Gynecology. Michelle Browder, pronouns, she, her, is a nationally recognized artist, activist, and amplifier, bridging the racial divide through art history and conversation. This artistic and straightforward daughter of Chaplain Curtis and Buena Browder was born in the beautiful snow-capped state of Denver, Colorado.BMichelle attended the Art Institute of Atlanta where she studied graphic design and visual communications. And Michelle’s artwork has been exhibited in art galleries around the world, most notably the Rosa Parks Museum located in Montgomery, Alabama. In September 2021, Michelle did something really special. She created a monument to honor three in enslaved women, Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, in Montgomery, Alabama. This monument is a reminder of the inhumane treatment and experimentation on enslaved Black bodies.

The medical procedures that we have access to today in gynecology have been perfected because of them. And this monument honors these women and all those that came after them on the front end of justice. I’m so thrilled that Michelle is here. Welcome, Michelle, to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Rebecca Dekker:
Michelle, I know you have a really fascinating story. Can you tell our listeners how you got started in your work as both being an artist and an activist?

Michelle Browder:
See, I don’t know if I’ve ever publicly told that story about how I became an artist, but I was somewhat of a problem child because I moved to the Antebellum, well, just after integration, the South, born in Denver, come down to little Verbena, Alabama, population 1500. And I experienced a lot of racism. And this was integration, so it’s newly integrated.

Rebecca Dekker:
It was really bad.

Michelle Browder:
It was. This was in the ’70s. And I can just remember going to school and being called the N-word, being taunted because I was tall. I was always curvy. And my teachers would use the N-word, and it was just not a good time to move from a beautiful city in diversity like Denver, Colorado to the South. And so, I found myself fighting all the time. I was suspended from school that my third suspension my father who’s the first Black prison chaplain for the state of Alabama, appointed by Governor George Wallace, he said, “Michelle, if you don’t get ahold of your anger, if you don’t find a way to creatively channel it, you are going to be in prison.” He says, “I’m awfully fearful.”
So, he literally brought me eight tubes of paint and he bought me 10 T-shirts. And he was like, “Find a way. You can’t sit here and watch Oprah Winfrey all day, latchkey kids.” We would sit home and watch Oprah because our parents wouldn’t get home till 4:00 and 5:00.
He said, “I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to have to come and see you at Tutwiler Prison,” which is one of the worst prisons for women in the state of, well, it’s really the only one, but it’s one of the worst in the south for women. And so, I said, “Okay.” Literally, I started painting. Fast forward, I go to the Art Institute of Atlanta, was accepted there, and hit with racism again.
It was a postcard that was created by Robert Thom, very famous postcard, Sims holding a speculum, enslaved girl on the table, two White doctors surrounding her and two enslaved girls peering behind the sheet. And I saw that at the age of 18 at the Artist Institute of Atlanta.

Rebecca Dekker:
It was posted there as a piece of artwork?

Michelle Browder:
Yeah, it was on his desk. Yeah, it was on my professor’s desk. Because I was an illustrator and for whatever reason, he had this postcard, but it stuck with me. And I finally just worked up the courage to ask him, “What is this? What is this about? Can you explain it to me?” And he was very dismissive. And he said, “You go figure it out.” I’m coming from Alabama where Dr. King had a dream, Rosa Parks’ headache and feet, and that was it. Thankfully, I had parents that were very conscious and would teach us about the African diaspora, but I didn’t know this story.
Long story short, I went to learn about it. In Atlanta, there’s this place called the Shrine of the Black Madonna, and they would teach you about the African diaspora, teach you about who these enslaved people were before they were enslaved, doctors that worked with the apothecary, herbalist. And so, I returned, this was over the summer break. I never will forget it. When I went back to finish my portfolio, I wanted to honor these three girls. Mind you, I’m a kid myself. I’m just 18.

And at the end of my portfolio when I presented, my professor said, “Go, you have to… basically, he told me that I needed to stay longer to diversify my portfolio. He said, “It’s too Black.” And it was too Black because I honored these three girls that I just recently learned about. So, I dropped out of school and I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since. But that is the beginning of my art history, long story short.

Rebecca Dekker:
For our listeners who don’t know Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, and what this picture was that you saw that started you on this journey, who were they? How did they resist and why should we be centering them in obstetrics and gynecology and not the doctor who was experimenting on them?

Michelle Browder:
We should center them because they were on breeding farms. These young ladies, these girls, they were ages 17. Anarcha being 17, 16, 18, youngest, nine. There were 11 of them in total. But Sims who’s lauded as being the father of modern gynecology literally wrote in his memoir about these three, in particular, these three girls, because an Anarcha, 17, she had 30 surgeries, and it was a vesicovaginal fistula that was occurring from prolonged childbirth. It was wearing down of the membranes and would form a hole, which would, incontinence.
It would render them incontinent and basically fecal matter and sometimes urine. And it just wasn’t a pleasant thing. They smelled, it was painful, and they really weren’t fit for duty if you will, because these were breeding farms. Anarcha was 17, again, when she had her first child. She was introduced to Sims at the age of 14. There was this lie that Black people did not feel pain or that Black women had a higher tolerance so you could actually do what you wanted to with them surgically. That was a way to dismiss their humanity.
So, Sims, this very popular illustration, and you’ve seen it, you probably just never really paid any attention to it. But Robert Thom was commissioned by Parke-Davis, which is now Pfizer, to create 45 great moments in medicine. And when he created the story or the illustration that is now known throughout the world of these three girls, he just basically had these three white men surrounding them. It was customary experientially with these experimentations that you would invite your colleagues in to watch the procedures. And so, that’s the postcard that I saw. That was the illustration that has been ingrained in the minds of people when it comes to modern gynecology.
So, once I moved to Montgomery, Alabama, I started giving tours, and lo and behold, this man that I learned about at the age of 18 is standing at our state’s capitol. It was erected by MASA, the Medical Association for the State of Alabama. And it’s to honor J. Marion Sims. And on the outside of the statue, it says that he is the father of modern gynecology. And I said, “Well, geez, if he’s the father, we are the mothers.”
And it’s not the princess of Eugenie from France, because that’s who they tout that he cured. But it was these 11 enslaved African girls that were sexually trafficked on breeding farms and basically used to replenish the stock to bear children. They were very much high on the enslavement list, if you will, or the commodity. They were property, they weren’t even viewed as people.

Rebecca Dekker:
They were “valuable property.”

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely. And to think that they were just babies, they were girls, and I wanted to bring their story to life. And I was triggered. In 2000, I was triggered. And then, during COVID, I said, “It’s either now or never.” 2020, I started rethinking the designs. I brought in a couple of collaborators, some fabricators that could help me bring my vision to life. And here we are three years later. It’s important for people to know about these girls because they’ve been erased.
The erasure of this history is very prominent, but I want to bring it to life, and some of the surgical instruments that we now use, some of the positions, the Sims’ position, the Sims’ retractor, the speculum. A lot of these instruments are named in honor of Sims when in actual reality it was the mutilation and the experimentation on Black girls, Black bodies that really catapulted him to where he is in history today.

Rebecca Dekker:
And one of the things I’ve learned from you and the speakers you gather and the historians is that Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey were not just passive recipients of this experimentation but they’re responsible for the advances. Can you explain to our listeners why we should not be attributing the speculum and things like that to Sims but to the mothers?

Michelle Browder:
Yeah. Sims had a lot of… a lot of the doctors started really going after him. They started rebutting a lot of the things that he said. It was a little controversial there because the abuse that these girls suffered. He started to lose a lot of his friends, and a lot of his colleagues began to step away.

Rebecca Dekker:
Because they couldn’t even bear watching what he was doing?

Michelle Browder:
And there was also rumors that he had bothered some of the girls on the plantation. They were mulatto. He owned enslaved girls himself. And so, they started waning. As a matter of fact, J.C. Hallman talks a lot about some of the doctors that were working with him that rebutted some of the things that he was saying. But basically, the girls were left to perfect the surgeries themselves. They would have to then hold themselves down, each other down as Sims would experiment on them. And Lucy went on to… I’m sorry, Anarcha went on to be leased out as a nurse, literally a half block from where the backyard hospital, the Negro Hospital is located at the Montgomery.
It was a hotel where people would come in and oftentimes they would come in sick, and Sims would lease her out to them as a nurse to care for them. So, they began to care for each other because I mean, what else are you going to do? They had to take care of one another. And in that, they actually perfected a lot of the procedures that we know today. But he took credit for it. Yeah. So, it’s just interesting how a person, an individual, a human, could be deemed as incompetent but yet have the intellect to perfect these procedures.

Rebecca Dekker:
They became very skilled in the operating room and in the postoperative area where they were caring for each other. And I think that’s important for us to remember there. That was a form of resistance for them.

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely. They were doulas. They were midwives. They were these healthcare practitioners that we don’t talk about. But yeah, it is an act of resistance. The mere fact that they lived through this, could have killed themselves would’ve been easy. But for three and a half years, they continued on to live through this chaos.

Rebecca Dekker:
There’s two pieces of artwork of your artwork that stick out at me when I think about Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey. And I was wondering if you could first describe the painting for us, because that was the first, your introduction to this topic, and you reimagined what that scene looked like. Can you talk about that?

Michelle Browder:
Rebecca, I had to challenge this propaganda because when you look at Sims holding the speculum, his arms folded, and then there’s this look on Anarcha’s face or Lucy. There’s a conflict between whether it’s Anarcha or Lucy, but just the look, she’s very fearful. She’s afraid of what’s going to happen to her.

Rebecca Dekker:
Meek and passive and just sitting there ready to be experimented on.

Michelle Browder:
Grasping her pearls and the other two peering behind the sheet. But you could see the fear. So, I said, “Well, let’s push the envelope. Let’s flip the script. Let’s put Sims in that position and bring it into where we are today in the 21st century. Let’s have the girls then represent the girls that we see today with the wife beaters and the jeans and the waist beads, and bring them in the 21st century.” And that’s what I did. Only had about a week to finish this project. So, I brought in a young lady, two very wonderful, not fabricators, but artists to come in to help me get it finished because the painting is very big.

It was supposed to go on the outside of the building, but I decided not to do that for the fear that there would be some backlash. So, it will go on the inside of this building that I will share with you later about. But basically, yeah, it’s to challenge and to flip the narrative and to change it, and look in their eyes. You have the mothers of gynecology in teenage form, but when you look at them, they don’t have the anger, the bitterness, the hatred that these other doctors and these men that created these atrocities against their bodies, they don’t have that in them.
And so, it’s a very interesting piece, and if you want to see it’s on our website.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah, we’ll link to that in the show notes. You can also find it at anarchalucybetsey.org. And Betsey is spelled B-E-T-S-E-Y. And if you scroll down, you’ll see the painting. I just have to say, when I was at your conference, I took a few pictures. I sent it to some of my friends, and they were just blown away. And I love how you have it on the side of a truck that makes the backdrop for your concerts. It’s really inspiring. You can Google to find the old picture and then look at the new one. And it’s definitely a flipping of the script.

Michelle Browder:
I have to shout out to my team to Rachel Wolfe Pack and Zoe Boston out in the Bay Area that came in that was like, “Look, what do you want? How are we going to do this?” And we got it done literally… they stayed with me three days, and then I finished it up. We have to challenge this narrative, and art is a great way to do that.

Rebecca Dekker:
Tell us about the other major piece you did to honor the mothers.

Michelle Browder:
Oh, the other major piece is a 15-foot statue of these three girls, Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey. Lucy having 12 surgeries nearly died. And this is by the enslaver and Sims’ account and his memoir that he talks about how Lucy nearly lost her life that he was fearful that she was going to die. But it’s Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey, and it’s centered in prayer with Anarcha with her head back. Her hair is in braids because I wanted her to be in a prayerful state but also show that this was a child. This was just a girl. And each one of them has distinctive hairstyles that’s relatable to Black culture and Black women.

And so, Betsey has cornrows, and Lucy has these Bantu knots straight out of the African culture. And each one of them, they’re adorned with beautiful necklaces and earrings and just beautifully done. And it’s made out of metal, some brass but discarded items. And when I say discarded, there’s beauty in the broken. Some of these pieces are very beautiful but they were tossed away. So, the glass that’s around the necklace of Lucy that symbolizes the Maasai tribe and the beauty and the culture that’s in Africa and in some of these countries.
What can I say? It’s beautifully done. And I had a team of 15 Burning Man artist that came in to volunteer. I flew out to San Francisco to learn how to weld by the amazing Dana Albany. And she took me under her wing, and it was a fast course in learning how to weld. But to take my designs from 32 years ago to rework them and then to have it come to life was amazing. Literally, when I came back from San Francisco, I had half a head of Antarctica and a half pair of legs, and then I had skeletons in 12 different boxes, and I just had to figure it out.
And thankfully, I had mother friends of mine that came from Missouri to help me put the skin on the mothers. That took about two weeks. And then, after that, I had a clean palette where I could just go in and decorate and create these beautiful, massive, 15, 12, and nine feet tall structures to honor enslaved girls and women.

Rebecca Dekker:
They’re definitely larger than life. It’s like you walk into your garden park that you’ve created for the memorial, and it’s very sacred feeling. And then, you walk up to them and you look up, and not only are they large but then there’s so much detail. I could just sit there for hours and look at all the details. Can you talk about some more of the little details that you put on their bodies?

Michelle Browder:
Sure, sure. Well, I would go to these junkyards or these scrap yards. One of them is directly across the street from my studio, and I said, “Hey.” I said, “I’m out of metal. Do you have anything? I need a lot of this one item.” And he’s like, “Aren’t you doing the Mothers of Gynecology?” And I said, “Yeah.” He was like, “I have something for you. I’ve been saving it.” I was gone. I was in San Francisco, so they did a big thing while I was gone here. They were scissors and sutures and retractors and speculums and everything that I needed to tell the story of these girls and the instruments that came out. So, I have the Sims’ retractor, I have the speculum.

It’s moments like that where I would go to the scrap yard. I went to thrift stores to find some of these pieces. And then, when folks found out that I was coming or that I would be traveling to San Francisco, we stopped in, and Los Angeles, they were like, “Hey, we’re going to have a metal razor for you.” So, people brought in candelabras and chandeliers. Somebody even brought a muffler. And as a matter of fact, it was so funny. The woman who actually donated the muffler came to this year’s conference to see them, and she was a part of that. So, it was amazing.
There’s a couple of special pieces. There’s a hand around Betsey’s pregnant belly. And that woman, her mother, she brought her mother to Montgomery, and we toured together. I gave them a tour, and she became a friend. And her mother passed away and her mother said to her, “I want you to give these items to Michelle. I know that she can do something with it.” And this was before I started working on the Mothers of Gynecology.

So, they’re all very precious pieces.
There’s drawer handles, and then there’s Adinkra symbols, which are symbols, Ghanaian languages, God is supreme, which is Anarcha symbol, and then Lucy symbol is friendship because they formed a friendship together, the Tongan teeth. And then, Betsey’s would be strength because it takes a lot of strength to go through what they went through and then to live to talk about it.

Rebecca Dekker:
Anarcha has an empty space. Can you describe what that means and what that symbolizes?

Michelle Browder:
Yeah. Initially, there’s a fourth piece and that fourth piece, which is the fistula. And it represents the torture and the poking and prodding and the numerous numbers of experimentation but also the torture that they must have experienced. And initially, it was supposed to go inside that cavity, but I said, “No, let’s have it to stand alone so that it will leave a hole.” It represents the fistula, the hole that they suffered from.

Rebecca Dekker:
Wow. Well, I encourage everyone, if you can get the chance someday to visit the monument in Montgomery and tour it, you can also go to the website and see pictures and videos. It’s just an incredible contribution, Michelle. What have been some of the reactions of support since you unveiled the monument?

Michelle Browder:
People have been very supportive. I’ve also had my pushback. I had some doctors to come as far as UAB, come and say, “Well, I’m diminishing his legacy that Sims was just a man of his time.” I’ve had authors send me books to double down on the history of Sims and his work and to continue to glorify what he’s done with these women. But for the most part in terms of financial support and people wanting just to amplify the voice such as yourself, you came to our conference, just wanting to be a part of this movement has been amazing. I can’t take anything for it. So, we’ve been receiving some grant funding and none other than NASA came.

Rebecca Dekker:
Really?

Michelle Browder:
Yes, they did. They came and they donated $25,000 and pledged to do more. It’s not just about the money, but it’s like, “Can we remove Sims from the state’s capitol? You erected him in 1939. Is there a way that we can remove him and put him in the space?” I would like to have him in the space so that we can start telling that narrative.

Rebecca Dekker:
Interesting.

Michelle Browder:
Yeah. So, that’s the next step. We want to have him removed from the state’s capitol and placed at the site where he actually experimented on these girls.

Rebecca Dekker:
And there was a similar movement to remove him from a park in New York City. Correct?

Michelle Browder:
Yeah. And they were successful. They were successful. But I just think it’s important. I don’t advocate for total erasure of the history. They wanted to put their Sims in a graveyard. I want to put him in context. Bring him to the Mothers Clinic and sink him in the floor, and let’s have that conversation around, I think that is where he should be, along with the painting, along with the… we’re in talks now with the University of Michigan to see if we could get them to donate that painting and or on loan. There’s 45 pieces that Robert Thom created in this one of Sims. We’re hoping that we can get that as well.

Rebecca Dekker:
And that was in Michigan right now?

Michelle Browder:
It’s in Michigan. So, write letters.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah. I think one of the things that always amazes me about you, Michelle, is you think big. You’re not a small thinker. You’re big thinker. And I’m like, “I would never imagine to just be like I want that statue, I want that painting. It’s going to go on our campus.” Can you tell our listeners about your campus? Because I was just blown away by what you’ve created in Montgomery.

Michelle Browder:
Yeah. I’m right in the coattails of my father, the first Black prison chaplain, my mother who opened up a home for veteran women, homeless veteran women. They’re in their ’80s, and they’re like, “We feel like we’re finished that our mission is done. Do you have a vision for the space?” And I said, “Absolutely, I do.” And so, they said, “Well, do it.” And so, they’re turning over-

Rebecca Dekker:
This is your family’s land on the edge of downtown?

Michelle Browder:
Mm-hmm. Our land. The office, the yellow building there. And if you go online is there too. We want to turn that into an extension to tell more of the story about Black joy and how Black people were able to thrive during the reign of terror and still have children, and still love, and still play pool, and still get their hair cut, and still find human spaces. On the backside, there’s a 38 bed, excuse me, 32-bed facility that we’re hoping to use for students so that they can come down, first-year medical students or traveling doulas or nurses or midwives or just folks who want to learn this history, students in particular, and particularly to learn this history so that we won’t be doomed to repeat it.

But it’s a half-acre space in downtown Montgomery, literally a half block from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. And it’s walking distance within that space, walking distance from the Rosa Parks Museum, walking distance from the Freedom Rides Museum. So, really the juxtaposition between all of this history has just been amazing. And literally it’s eight blocks from the plantation where Anarcha was enslaved, and then four blocks from where J. Marion Sims held them in the backyard of his hospital.

The campus is basically, we’re curating it so that it can be a healing space. There’s apothecary. We want to introduce holistic medicines, not that anything’s wrong with… but I just believe in using the earth to heal. And so, it’s really a healing space. People are coming, even now, like this week, I have several meetings with people. They’re going to eat at the site. They’re going to have their breakout sessions and talk more candidly about how they can change this narrative of racism in healthcare. It’s that type of space.
It’s a healing space but also a space to learn about this history and what we must do to change the narrative.

Rebecca Dekker:
One of the things that was really special was the Annual Day of Reckoning Conference that you created. And in 2022, it was your second annual event. And I loved how… you’re right, everything is within walking distance, the bus stop where Rosa Parks made her sitting, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is an incredible experience, and like you said, just a couple blocks away from what you’re doing. And then, at the conference or the Day of Reckoning that you held, you walked us down the street. I loved how you moved the attendees around, so we never just stuck in one spot but we were visiting different places together.
Can you tell our listeners about that space in the middle of downtown and what it is and what it’s going to be or what it is turning into?

Michelle Browder:
Ooh, Rebecca.

Rebecca Dekker:
Because this is one my favorite stories of yours. Yeah.

Michelle Browder:
I’m pretty excited when I think about it because this is like a fairy tale. You would not believe and the magnitude of it. So, 2021, February 28th of ’21, normally I organized this event called Art on the Square. I own the event, and it’s for artists to come out display their work. And because of COVID, we couldn’t do that. So, I said, “Hey, why don’t we just create pieces of art honoring Black women, Black mothers, granny wives, midwives, whatever, and let’s adorn the actual square, which is where Black people were bought, sold, and traded alongside cattle?”

I said, “Let’s make it an art gallery, an outdoor out gallery, but it shows these women.” And so, we did that, and we had about maybe 25 art installations. And I said, “Okay.” Once we had about 100 people that showed up, I said, “I want to take you all on a journey. I want to take you to a space that has not been largely spoken about in Montgomery, Alabama and or in the history.” And I said, “This is where Black women were tortured, literally.” So, we walk half block to the backyard of J. Marion Sims’ office.

When we hit that corner, people started weeping. It was just like they started to cry. The energy was so high that day, and so I literally took them to the front door of a building that’s on the site. It was erected in 1862. That’s where the first open heart surgery took place, or the sutures that took place there. And in the backyard of that building is where Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey, and those nine other women were held captive. And we laid flowers and I told the story, and there was a poem and there was a song. That was February 28th of ’21. The following year, I purchased the building and the site. February 15th of ’22, I closed.

And then, fast forward, February 28th, Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey Day is when we had our conference, one year. We own the space, I own it. And now we’re going to tell the story that we want to tell the truth about modern gynecology and the women that helped shape it.

Rebecca Dekker:
And what is it going to be? Can you talk a little bit?

Michelle Browder:
Oh, it’s going to be a space for doulas, midwives, obstetrics, and gynecologists to come in, have conversation. It’s a museum so that people can learn. While you’re upstairs, you can get your checkups, but downstairs you can learn about the history. And then, in the back part of the museum, there’s a doula there. There’s a midwife that can offer services and resources to women who can’t afford it. We don’t want them to have to pay for what we want to offer them, which is just some dignity and some respect in this pregnancy.

But then, in that same vein, I want them to learn about this history and learn about our bodies and what we’ve contributed to healthcare and science. And so, the space will be a healing space, but upstairs will be the space for the obstetrics and gynecologists to come in, first-year medical students, learn about the history, learn how to administer dignity and respect, and just teaching them this history. Because once you know the history, you can’t help but to administer respect and dignity in this humanity.

So, that’s the space that’s going to be the Mothers of Gynecology Health and Wellness Clinic. And I’m excited.

Rebecca Dekker:
Taking place on the same ground and location where Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey did their work.

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Pretty incredible.

Michelle Browder:
I did want to talk about the mobile unit though.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yes. I saw you post about that the other day. If you don’t follow Michelle on Instagram, you have to. It’s very inspiring. So, tell us about the mobile clinic. What is this? What is this in response to?

Michelle Browder:
We can’t wait. They’re closing rural hospitals, and I think there’s an act of the Momnibus or the American Rescue Plan.

Rebecca Dekker:
In Congress. They’re trying to pass.

Michelle Browder:
They administered funds, or I believe they started administering some funds in October 2021, or that was the deadline of the grant. So, we missed that. What are we going to do when these women in 37 counties in the state of Alabama cannot get the care that they need, or they may not have the insurance that they need? These are rural counties. They’re closing these rural hospitals. So, I was like, “We can’t wait.” And I can’t wait for some big organization to say, “Okay, Michelle, we’re going to write you a check.” There’s a lot that goes on when you’re fundraising, as you should know.
And so, I said, “Well, we can’t wait. We got to do something right now.” So, I have a doula on staff, I have a midwife on staff, and then we have the blessings from Dr. Joia Perry who came for the Mother’s Day event. And I unveiled a beautiful camper, just hitch it up to a truck and ride out to these 37 rural counties. It’s just not that easy. We do have a team that’s connecting us with women who could use the resources. And so, we’re going to go to where they are and offer just some relief. If they need an assessment, we will assess them.

The doula will assess them, and then we will offer the opportunity for them to see a gynecologist or a midwife, any one of the two. And we’re hoping to take Dr. Stephanie Mitchell out with us. And she’s like, “I want to go. We need to go see my patients.” But it’s a beautiful camper. I was looking at purchasing a mobile unit anyway, a medical mobile unit, and I thought, “It’s 131,000. Now why would I spend that money?” But I could put that inside the building and create the space or use that for some of that 10.5 million that the whole project is worth.

So, I’m driving to an appointment in Huntsville, and I saw these beautiful campers. And I’m like, “How come you just can’t take a camper and turn it into a pod, a wellness pod?” It has a bathroom, it has the sink. It has everything that you need. And so, I pulled over and I was like, “How much is it?” And I said, “Okay, I’m going to take my savings into it.” And that’s what I did with Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey. I took my savings because I believe that if you build it, they will come. And so, I purchased it.

We outfitted with our African beautiful stuff, and it’s all stocked with all types of items that you will need to assess these women. We’re going to do it at the end of June, but we’re going to wait until the middle of July. And we’re going to hit these rural counties and touch as many women, pregnant women, birthing people as we can.

Rebecca Dekker:
That’s incredible.

Michelle Browder:
Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah, the whole we can’t wait.

Michelle Browder:
We can’t.

Rebecca Dekker:
We can’t.

Michelle Browder:
We can’t wait at all. People are dying from the lack of healthcare, and now the maternal healthcare deserts is what’s getting me. But then, now they’re finding out that it’s the heart disease, heart disease and diabetes. We’re going to cook for you. We’re going to bring resources. We’re going to bring Pampers. If you need to just drop your child off, go get a break, a mental break, whatever it is that we need to do to help these women and birthing people, we’re going to do that. Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:
Food is something that came up a lot at your conference, which I didn’t think about before, but you were really opening our eyes. You had guests and speakers there talking about the importance of food and cooking and feeding people during pregnancy and postpartum and parenthood.

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Chemical imbalances. When you’re pregnant, it’s like… and then the suicide rate. After you have this beautiful bundle of joy, then what? You’re postpartum. We have to do something. I just feel like being a creative. I’m not a practitioner, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a doula, but I am a creative. And I think that if we create the pathways for people to be healed, then that’s what I feel that I can do.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah. It’s interesting because you describe yourself as an artist and an activist, and you’re not involved in birth work, but I see what you’re doing as part of birth work. It’s that creating the spaces and the safety and the dignity and respect. Anybody can help with that. You don’t have to have training as a healthcare provider.

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely.

Rebecca Dekker:
Can you talk to us about anything else you want us to know about?

Michelle Browder:
There’s a conference coming next year. We’re going to Mobile. That’s where a lot of the midwifery history is located, and Mobile is so excited to have us. February 27th through March 1st. We’ll be in Montgomery for the 27th and the 28th. And then, the next day we’re going to take a day trip to Mobile Alabama where the midwifery history, the Africatown, the Clotilda. Africatown is where those 110 enslaved folks actually built a city called Africatown. And then, the last slave ship, the Clotilda was there. Onnie Lee Logan, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her. She was a midwife. She was one of the last midwives that practiced midwifery in the state of Alabama in 1976.

So, her children, a lot of the children that she caught are going to meet us, and we’re going to have just a beautiful moment there, learning the history in Mobile, how it’s connected to this medical history. They have a medical history there that no one has really talked about, and they haven’t talked about it largely in part because it’s a best kept secret. And then, we’re going to incorporate a little art. But what I love the most is that Dr. Sharon Malone will be our keynote, and she’s from Mobile.

And she’s the sister of Vivian Malone that stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama that challenged George Wallace. And she’s an OB-GYN, Dr. Sharon Malone, and she’s married to Eric Holder. So, she’s going to, in our theme next year’s chart a course to maternal health, reproductive justice, and one of… I can’t remember what the other one is, but we’re going to chart the course. And so, we’re going to literally go to Mobile, Alabama, and she’s going to talk about how she was able to move from little Mobile to Washington, DC and help her husband and shape some of these laws and be this amazing OB-GYN that she is today.

And we’re going to talk about menopause. Because, you know what, I’ve learned, and I don’t know if you learned this too during the conference, how those of us who are offering this love and support, the healers need healing. Did you not feel that?

Rebecca Dekker:
I did. Well, and your event isn’t unlike anything I’ve ever been to. And I came back and told our team at EBB. I was like, “I don’t think I ever want to have a conference again. I just want to go to Michelle’s every year.” I’m planning on being there, and I hope to bring more people with me. But there was singing and dancing and love and food and celebration and mourning. There was so much life, and then you moved us from place to place. You need that… it’s refreshing, rather than just sitting in a cold conference room all day. And you took us outdoors and you took us to different places.
So, I love that you’re just getting everybody on buses and trolleys and taking them down to Mobile and having a field trip during a conference, essentially. It’s incredible. It is very healing. I came back and so did Ali who came with me from EBB, we just felt so refreshed and inspired by being around what you created.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you. Thank you. I’m really excited about next year. I’m really excited.

Rebecca Dekker:
And February is a beautiful time to go to Alabama. It’s gorgeous. The tulip are in bloom. It’s just like springtime.

Michelle Browder:
Absolutely. You know what? I think several days later, it was really cold.

Rebecca Dekker:
Was it? Okay.

Michelle Browder:
We had a week of sunshine. It was like the universe. Thank you. But yeah, it’s going to be amazing. So, if they want information on that, you can go to the website as well. The actual link to start booking, it will go live June.

Rebecca Dekker:
It’ll be already live by the time your interview comes out. And judging by the capacity at the 2022 event, it was pretty much sold out.

Michelle Browder:
It was.

Rebecca Dekker:
But I think you had to shut down ticket sales.

Michelle Browder:
I did.

Rebecca Dekker:
So, don’t wait. And hopefully, I’ll see some of our listeners there as well who will find out about it from this discussion. I’d love to see you there.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you. Well, and it’s a little hefty. Well, I won’t say that it’s hefty, but because of the traveling, some of the surprises that we have, it’s a little bit more than what it was this year, but trust and believe it’s well worth it. And you have plenty enough time from June to the end of the year, beginning of January. You’ll have time to put those coins away and just, let’s go.

Rebecca Dekker:
I know you feed us. We had a concert and a dance, like I said.

Michelle Browder:
And Nicole Hannah-Jones.

Rebecca Dekker:
Excursions. Yeah, Nicole Hannah-Jones. It was just about the most amazing event I’ve ever attended.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Rebecca Dekker:
Sometimes you worry, people who are artistic aren’t necessarily always have the gift of logistics and getting things done. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but I have-

Michelle Browder:
No, no. No, you’re right.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah, you got it done and you surrounded yourself. There was an amazing team supporting everything that you did from the trolley driver to the person-

Michelle Browder:
My brother.

Rebecca Dekker:
… making sure the speakers were ready. And it was so amazing how there was this beautiful team of people who were making it go so smoothly. And I love that you’re including info about perimenopause and menopause in next year’s event. Definitely whole spectrum.

Michelle Browder:
Dr. Sharon Malone will bring that history to life for us. Yeah.

Rebecca Dekker:
Well, Michelle, it’s been such an honor having you on the podcast. We’ve wanted to interview you for a really long time, and I’m glad it worked out because I just really want our listeners to learn about the work that you’re doing and to follow you. Other than the website, what’s the best place for people to follow your work?

Michelle Browder:
They can go to Instagram. It’s anarchalucybetsey on Instagram, and or there’s Twitter, mothersofgyno, G-Y-N-O. Or email us, sign up for the newsletter and we’ll keep you posted.

Rebecca Dekker:
An action item for any students listening. I think it’s really important that we change the narrative that’s being taught in medical schools, nursing schools, midwifery schools. If you’re professors and faculty, don’t know about the Mothers of Gynecology, start sending them the information. And there was a book just published called Say Anarcha by one of the speakers at your conference that is also really powerful.

Michelle Browder:
And he has a YouTube channel too, and they’re like little four-minute segments. And he’s talking about just how he found Anarcha. He takes you from the beginning, how her name was changed. And so, he’s done a lot to really amplify her voice. His book is coming out soon, June 6th, but definitely check him out, J.C. Hallman Say Anarcha. Very good piece.

Rebecca Dekker:
And then, Medical Bondage by Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, who was also at your event. And check out that book.

Michelle Browder:
And Linda Villarosa Under the Skin, New York Times journalist.

Rebecca Dekker:
And that was also covered in that book.

Michelle Browder:
Has won a Pulitzer Prize now. And yeah, Dolen Perkins, who wrote Take My Hand about the sisters. It was fiction but it was about the sisters, the Relf sisters, that pretty much informed consent, why we have it now is because of him.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah. And the Relf sisters were at your event as well, so it really was like a who’s who people doing incredible work. And I’m really excited to see what you have planned for next year. And I know, like you said, there will be surprises.

Michelle Browder:
Oh yes. Plenty of those. Plenty of those.

Rebecca Dekker:
All right, Michelle, thank you so much for joining us, and we really appreciate you and honor your work. And we also honor the mothers, and thank you for all you’re doing to bring attention to them.

Michelle Browder:
No, first of all, let me thank you because of what you’re doing to be an ally and how you’re exposing racism in healthcare. I read your article and it was just fantastic and so, I’m using some of the talking points. It’s just fantastic. So, make sure you follow with the work that you’re doing. Thank you.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah, Ihotu Ali was the lead author on that article, and we were grateful to your help too in supplying some of the contact info and info for this section about the work you’re doing in Alabama. And anyone can go to evidencebasedbirth.com/anti-racism to get that and some of the free handouts. And that reminds me, I want to make sure you have all the PDFs, so I’ll make sure you have everything you need to use when you’re educating the people who come to visit the More Up Campus.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you so much. And when they asked me, when they said, “Well, what can we do,” go to evidencebasedbirth, look at… because you even give them some tools as to what to do and how to be an ally. Absolutely. So, thank you for that.

Rebecca Dekker:
Yeah. You’re welcome. Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle Browder:
Thank you, and thank you for having me.

Rebecca Dekker:
This podcast episode was brought to you by the book Babies Are Not Pizzas: They’re Born, Not Delivered. Babies Are Not Pizzas is a memoir that tells the story of how I navigated a broken healthcare system and uncovered how I could still receive evidence-based care. In this book, you’ll learn about the history of childbirth and midwifery, the evidence on a variety of birth topics, and how we can prevent preventable trauma in childbirth.
Babies Are Not Pizzas is available on Amazon as a Kindle, paperback, hardcover, and audible book. Get your copy today and make sure to email me after you read it to let me know your thoughts.

Listening to this podcast is an Australian College of Midwives CPD Recognised Activity.

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