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Images from the outside world told the story of pain, unrest and injustice, but the images taken inside the birth center that night told a story of safety, support and a woman in control of her surroundings.

Anya Jones welcomed her first child, a son, earlier this month at the Gentle Beginnings Birth Center in Hurst, Texas. Photographer Elaine Baca documented the birth experience as other photographers were documenting Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country. Baca's lens was aimed at the beginning of a Black life while so many other cameras saw authorities taking aim at protesters who want to protect Black lives.

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"For me to be birthing another Black man into America right now, I feel privileged," Anya tells Motherly. "We as a generation have to teach our kids that they do have a voice."


As a younger mother—and especially as a Black mother—21-year-old Anya was very much at risk for having her voice silenced during her birth experience. Moms under 30 are more likely to report being mistreated or have their concerns ignored by medical providers while in labor, which can lead to deadly consequences. Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die during or after pregnancy or birth compared to white mothers.

That's why Anya choose to have a midwife supported birth in a birth center. The midwives with My Sister's Keeper Birth & Midwifery Services, Kennasha Jones and Tereé Fruga, were there to support Anya in a place where she would feel safe and in control of her birth.

"Being able to birth at a birth center and have my support system there for me was a blessing," says Anya (who has a family connection to My Sister's Keeper, Kennasha is her step mother).

She continues: "I got to have everyone that I wanted to have there and I felt really blessed because the majority of women now are having to have their babies in the hospital with just one person."

Anya was able to have not just her partner, but also her midwives and her doula, Ebon'Nae Piggee of Royal La Mere Birth Services, present for her birth. As a first-time mom, she found that having such a strong support system allowed her to feel the control that pregnant people should feel in the delivery room and recommends other moms seek out midwives and doulas. (Those looking for Black birth support workers in their area can check out sistamidwife.com.)

"She walked into motherhood on her own," says Kennasha, who adds that that's what midwifery is about, guiding and empowering a woman in her choices. She continues: "And I wanted her to be proud of that and to acknowledge the strengths that was already within her, the wisdom already within her."

Anya's midwives want people who look at the images of this birth to understand that there are two dangers impacting Black mothers' birth experiences right now: The coronavirus and racism. And racism has been more deadly than COVID-19 on maternity wards.

"I truly believe is that every care provider everywhere needs to be subject to a requirement of diversity inclusion and bias training," explains Fruga. She is worried about the high mortality rates for Black mothers but highlights how system racism doesn't just impact adults mortality, but the babies', too.

"Studies show that even in the neonatal care units, that Black babies are less likely to receive timely care measures," she explains.

A very large body of research proves that Black infants are the most at risk in NICUs, and receive lower quality care. Black infants are more likely to end up in lower-quality NICUs, but they can also receive lower quality care compared to white babies, even in better resourced NICUs.

In an editorial for the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Wanda Barfield, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and her colleagues explains "these findings are not surprising given that clinical care operates in a social context of structural racism and implicit bias," adding that racist myths about Black infants having better rates of survival need to be addressed. According to Barfield, health care systems need to commit to taking steps toward equity, something that includes better anti-racism training for staff.

Anya's midwives agree.

"Black babies are 230% more likely to die before their first birthday," says Fruga. "And you do the research on that and you strip away every varying factor, like economic status, at the root of it is systemic racism. And so until we are diligent about addressing that part—by that addressing systemic racism about putting tools in place and making sure our providers are not only culturally competent, but that they're providing anti-racist care—we're gonna continue to have a problem."

Jones says that racism in birth is a huge issue but that her practice "stands firmly on hope."

Anya's midwives note that she walked into motherhood on her own, but they were happy to support her do that and hope to see more women have the kind of empowered birth experience Anya did. One of the final photographs from Baca's set shows Anya's family gathered around her. Her father is wearing a T-shirt her midwives created with the Issa Rae quote "I'm rooting for everybody Black" and several of her family members are wearing face masks.

"I did spend the end of my pregnancy in quarantine. I worked from home I really didn't get to go out. I didn't get to see my family. I didn't get to have a baby shower. It was kind of sad at first, but it really allowed me to rest myself and get ready for the birth experience," Anya explains.

It's an incredibly powerful image of a family reunited in a world separated by COVID-19 and racism.

"People rarely get to see images of Black birth, and I think in a time when our country is especially racially tense, although it's always been, this is a really dynamic picture of hope. Because on the outside, you had riots going on, protests going on, you have the fact that Black lives are being taken from us at a rapid rate, but on the inside, in this space, you have Black lives that are being born," says Fruga.

Fruga continues: "I think that picture is really representative of hope in the midst of tragedy and in the midst of the war of the pandemic that's going on and not just COVID, but I'm talking about a racial pandemic. So I hope that people seeing that, that picture will have just a little bit of pulp to hold onto that it'll allow them to take pause in the midst of their grief. And the grief is real."

Anya's birth photographs are a celebration of the beginning of her son's life, but they come after so many cameras have captured the lives of other mothers' children ending.

"It does worry me, for what the future holds for my own son," Anya tells Motherly, explaining that she wants to see more progress in making America safer for children like hers—starting from before they are even born.

It may have been hard to imagine just a few weeks ago, but life with your baby is probably starting to feel like the new normal. From establishing sweet rituals throughout the day to finding ways to carve out that all-important time for yourself, you are really doing great, mama!

Your baby is also getting the hang of life on the outside, too. Especially if you two waged a battle against colic together, this is the point where you are probably claiming victory, which means interactions are getting all that much sweeter. As your baby feels more comfortable with their new world, you will probably notice that some new routines are falling into place, which makes this a good time to reinforce some healthy habits around nap time and bedtime.

With more reliable sleep schedules, you two might also have more energy to take on some stimulating at-home activities. If returning to work is also on the radar, whether in a home office or in a workplace, you might be wondering how you will balance it all. Trust us when we say that you can and will figure it out, just like millions of mamas and babies before you. Thankfully, you can also learn some of the best tips and tricks from them, too.

As you continue to settle into this exciting phase, here are some of our 3-month essentials for you and baby:

To takealong a favorite toy anywhere: Infantino Playtime Pal

Infantino Play Toy

Now that your baby is awake for longer stretches of time, a tactile toy can help keep their focus while you cross tasks off the list around the house.

$14.99

To keep organized: GO by Goldbug stroller organizer

stroller organizer

Why is it that blow-out diapers happen at the worst times?! Keep everything you need organized and within reach with a stroller organizer so you don't spend precious time searching for the wipes.

$16.99

To bottle-feed with ease: Dr. Brown’s bottle set

Dr. Browns

Cleaning bottles can feel like a part-time job, so make it as simple as possible for yourself with a set that is easy to clean. (A bottle-specific brush helps, too!)

$39.99

To offer tummy-friendly formula: Up&Up gentle formula

Babies often arrive in this world with mighty sensitive stomachs. If you are formula or combo-feeding, finding an option you both feel good about can do wonders.

$19.99

To entertain your mini Mozart: Baby Einstein ocean orchestra

baby einstein

Piano lessons might still be years in the future, but it's never too soon to start fostering your baby's music appreciation! By stimulating multiple senses during playtime, research shows babies experience even stronger cognitive benefits.

$19.99

To simplify pumping breaks: Spectra breast pump

breast pump

Whether you are going back to a job outside the home or simply want to help your baby get comfortable with an occasional bottle, breastfeeding mamas are going to want a workhorse pump that makes those pumping sessions as easy as possible.

$200

To keep breakfast simple: KIND breakfast bars

Kind bars

Gone are the days of taking your time to get ready in the morning. Make sure you always have breakfast covered with a supply of nutritious bars you can eat while multitasking.

$2.99

To get past the midday slump: Keurig k-mini single serve

Keurig

Unfortunately, multiple wake-ups during the night doesn't mean you'll get to sleep in longer. If the alarm went off too early, it can help to have a midday coffee break (or two).

$89.99

To protect your lobes from a grabby baby: A New Day stud earrings

New Day earrings

If dangling earrings are suddenly feeling like quite a hazard in the proximity of a handsy baby, swap them out for some stylish new studs. Your ears will thank you!

$7.99

To manage your day: The Time Factory mom life planner

mom life planner

Show mom brain who is boss by keeping all of your tasks and commitments together in one place. Now you'll know exactly what you're supposed to do on any given day.

$8.19

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Our society is conditioned to believe that we have to be strict and stern with our kids, or threaten, shame or punish them into behaving. This authoritarian style of parenting is characterized by high expectations and low responsiveness—a tough love approach.

But while this type of authoritarian parenting may elicit "obedient" kids in the short-term, studies suggest that children who are shamed or punished in the name of discipline face challenges in the long-term. Research suggests that children who are harshly disciplined or shamed tend to be less happy, less independent, less confident, less resilient, more aggressive and hostile, more fearful and at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues as adults and adolescents.

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