By Divine Bailey-Nicholas
Every original or Indigenous people, tribe, nation has a healing system specific to their culture and or belief system. These healing systems or modalities can include herbs, foods, animal, and insect parts. It can include music, movement, and ritual. Often, this is called “traditional medicine”. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda are some of the more commonly known original healing systems. When people leave their lands voluntarily or in the case of enslaved Africans, involuntarily, their healing systems were brought with them. With healing practices also came birthing practices.
This being so, the Africans who were enslaved in what would become the United States continued a long tradition of healing and birth work. Their uses of plants, roots, bark, resins that were native to this land were based on the foundation of knowledge that was already acquired in their West and Central African lands. Also, there were many plants that were brought with them during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The work of Divine Birth Wisdom and specifically the “Grandma’s Hands Pregnancy & Postpartum Herbs and Nutrition in the Southern Tradition” online and in-person workshops, is to reclaim and restore the healing folkways of those Black Southern Midwives who carried on the tradition by catching babies and healing the sick throughout slavery and Jim Crow in the South.
Accordingly, the power of okra, cotton root bark, camphor, and mullein among others, are plants that were used traditionally by Southern Black Midwives. There is a loud drum beating in the hearts of many Black birth workers to be culturally connected to the healing modalities they use. Unfortunately, there has been a repeated lie that all Black birth traditions are dead or were totally stripped from us during slavery. It has been my charge to dispel those myths and bring to light the wisdom of our foremothers so we can continue with the great work ahead. Living in a country where Black birth outcomes are dismal, it is time to consider that the further we run away from our own cultural herbal traditions and look toward so-called “technology” or “western herbalism” that excludes or diminishes our knowledge, that we are feeding a system that has not and, is not serving us.
My work is focused on the reality that Black Southern herbalists and our folk healing system exist on our own terms. Reaching back into our cultural healing traditions gives us the tools to not only better our health outcomes, but also to take ownership of our bodies, and to teach our healing ways with no apologies.
Divine Bailey-Nicholas, CLC, Doula, Student Midwife, Traditional Herbalist in the Southern Tradition
Divine Bailey-Nicholas is a Trained Birth Assistant, Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor and Master Herbalist in the Southern Tradition. Originally from Chicago, IL, she is proudof her Delta Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia roots.
It is that cultural foundation, that breathes through her plant medicine and birth work. Divine is also the Founder and Executive Director of Community Birth Companion, a non profit organization working to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates through childbirth education, breastfeeding support and community doulas in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana where she resides with her husband and 4 children