Check out my review of Catching Babies, an incredible movie about birthing justice in action, made by the amazing Barni Qaasim. Published in make/shift magazine, Fall 2012. Then you have two more ways to support amazing anti-racist feminist media: subscribe to make/shift, one of the few print magazines left that is worth reading, and organize a screening of Catching Babies in your hometown!
Directed and Produced by Barni Axmed Qaasim; Produced by Jennifer Lucero
Catching Babies documents birth justice in action. Filmmakers Qaasim and Lucero share an intimate, honest, and beautiful portrait of four students and four clients at Maternidad La Luz, a birth center and midwifery school in El Paso, TX. Without commentary, Catching Babies depicts a powerful counter-narrative to the white-dominated natural birth resurgence and racist media portrayals of undocumented women birthing “anchor babies” as a devious attempt to gain citizenship status. With an artful style that exudes respect for midwives and birthing parents and gentle pacing that mirrors the births portrayed, Catching Babies is a love poem to empowering, women-of-color centered holistic birth.
Viewers are invited to witness a birth model that runs counter to the dominant medicalized system through which the United States has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the Global North and one of the greatest rates of disparity between the healthcare that white parents and parents of color receive. The people of Catching Babies are reclaiming a world in which birth is a personal, family, and community event, instead of a medical one. Cemelli de Aztlan, one of the mothers profiled, refused to see a doctor who wanted complete decision-making power about her pregnancy and birth: she says, “In choosing midwifery care I was seeking the healing and the comfort and the care that I knew I would not get in the hospital and that I knew was in my own bloodline as an indigenous woman.”
Some scenes show the complexities of service work existing within a confusing landscape of charity and solidarity, including the white student with minimal Spanish language skills learning to provide healthcare for predominantly monolingual Spanish speakers and the fact that all leadership of the clinic and school shown are white. While this movie doesn’t explicitly analyze these power dynamics, it highlights the students who are working from a solidarity model, learning to midwife in order to support their own communities.
Kennasha Roberston, one of the student midwives profiled, explains, “My idea is to be able to work with women in my community, African American women, […] to educate them about natural birth and the different options that we have […]That’s why I’m here, for them.”
Catching Babies shows what birth can look like, as part of a system of accessible, empowering, holistic healthcare that lifts up the dignity and liberation of birthworkers, parents, and babies.