This week’s Woman Crush Wednesday looks a little different, because of a lot of things. I’m a white woman, and I have benefited tremendously from the research that has been done on black women, with respect to gynecological and obstetrics care.
I’m writing this as I’m a little bent out of shape, and I want to acknowledge that I don’t really have any right to be. But: I wouldn’t feel right not saying this: Black women have made VAST contributions to women’s healthcare. Without them, we wouldn’t know half as much – and these contributions NEED TO BE SEEN and openly talked about.
Henrietta Lacks – a book about her life and death, and immortal cell line, made me cry angry tears. Because without her – we likely would still deal with Polio outbreaks in the summertime. We couldn’t have studied cancer cell reproduction at the level we have been able to. But her family couldn’t afford healthcare. They had no safety net. Ms Lacks contributed her body to science without even knowing it – because “medical waste” isn’t owned by the person who’s body gave it up.
Black Midwives – literally the way all babies in the South were born for a time. Black Midwives learned the craft from their elders, and this shared knowledge served both Black and white women during labor and delivery. Only – with the advent of routine access to gynecology and obstetrics physicians, Black midwives were pushed aside. Black women became guinea pigs – because it was erroneously thought that Black women didn’t feel pain the same way white women would. (You can’t see my face as I write this – but ALL BIRTHING PERSONS DESERVE PAIN MANAGEMENT if they so choose).
The following information may be very difficult to handle, but it is extremely necessary to talk about. J Marion Sims is considered the Father of Modern Gynecology by many, but his accomplishments were built on the backs of black female slaves and still affects how doctors treat their patients today (and this is not a good thing). Modern gynecology also progressed due to the desire to keep slaves healthy and able to not only work but produce more slaves. As of 1808, slaves could no longer be imported so the need to produce more slaves via sexual procreation came into being. Gynecology grew, not due to the concern over women’s health, but for profits and the retainment of property. Sims experimented on 14 female slaves in 4 years as well as 30 experiments on a woman named Anarcha. Of the 14 slaves, we have the name of two of them: Betsey and Lucy. Later on in the 20th century, poor African American women underwent unnecessary hysterectomies as practice for medical students.
So today we’re raising our cup of coffee to the Black women who contributed to our healthcare system either unknowing, unwilling and especially, unrecognized. We don’t know all your names – and this is a travesty. I am committing to speak the names I do know, and to continue our support of health care initiatives for the un and underinsured in our community, and to expand our support to resources for Black birthing people – and for Black people in all medical settings. We can do better – I believe this with my whole heart – and now, we must do better.
This post was written by Lauren Ricci and Megan Giltner. If you’re enjoying our Woman Crush Wednesday series, leave us a comment below!