by Sinéad Morgan
On February 19th, 2020 the birth community lost a powerful leader in Claudia Booker, a woman who worked to tear down the racial disparities for birthing women of color. She was a Grand Midwife, fierce advocate, a mother, an educator, a philanthropist. Miss Booker’s lifetime is rich with history and wisdom, a legacy that will not be forgotten particularly among the birth community.
Miss Booker transitioned from being a lawyer and judge to a doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding counselor before assuming her role as a Certified Professional Midwife. Miss Booker’s mother, a black woman in the 1940s, gave birth to her during a time where pain medication was not allowed for black women and neither was supporting a black woman during childbirth. Her mother, barely out of her teens, gave birth to Miss Booker isolated on a ward with just sheets used as walls between her and other mothers moaning in agony. This was an incredibly lonely, frightening experience for her mother, having had no childbirth education, no support and no pain management. When her mother shared this traumatic story with her she felt compelled to pursue birth work, not only in an attempt to rectify the traumatic experience her mother went through, but to ensure no other birthing person experienced birth in this capacity, unsupported and without their basic needs fulfilled.
After years of being a lawyer, Miss Booker yearned to have a more positive role in the lives of families, rather than one of representing the government and public issues in court. Miss Booker started her journey with the intention to create paths for birth workers, from doulas, to lactation consultants, midwives and childbirth educators. Miss Booker wanted to make sure that birthing people had better outcomes and a nurturing start to parenthood. Her own mothers birth story as well as her own gynecologist suggesting she become a doula, after witnessing her support her own goddaughter through a c-section, is what led her to birth work as a doula. Miss Booker recalls in an interview with Everyday Birth her gynecologist stating, “I saw you that day in the OR and I’ve never seen you so happy in the 15 years I’ve known you. And whatever made you that happy that day, is something you should figure out how to do all the time.” This in addition to her desire for more personal interactions with her community, to go to them with “open hands and an open heart” took her on the journey to become a birth worker.
Miss Booker immersed herself in all things prenatal, birth and postpartum, as a DONA International certified doula, CAPPA childbirth educator, and LLLI breastfeeding counselor. She began her career as a doula at The Community of Hope, formerly known as DC Family Health and Birth Center. The community of Hope is in a predominantly black and poverty-stricken area of the city. One of the first steps Miss Booker took to improve outcomes for these black mothers and babies was in 2005 when she created one of the first community-based doula and birth assistant programs in the United States. Many of the doulas that were trained at the Community of Hope came from the very neighborhood the birth center was located in. Miss Booker pathed the way for birth ambassadors who already had a level of trust and comfort with the people in their community so they could then share their knowledge, doula skills and training with the birthing people in their very own hometown. Miss Booker went on to receive the well-earned AABC Community Service Award for this program. The birth of this volunteer community-based doula and birth assistant program led to similar programs being created throughout the United States.
During her first year as a doula, Miss Booker used the income she made supporting families during childbirth to study with Ina May Gaskin at The Farm in Tennessee, where she was the only woman of color, this began her journey to become a midwife;s assistant. She gained a plethora of knowledge from the midwives and other students at the farm as well as a passion for homebirth which initially she was not a fan of.
Accompanied by a few other midwives, Miss Booker arranged an intensive apprenticeship supporting births at a birth center in Senegal West Africa, to what she described as a “trip of a lifetime”. In Miss Booker’s blog post, Journey of a Lifetime, her enthusiasm for having the opportunity to support her “sisters” in Africa is palpable. Following extensive studying regarding the maternal health issues in Africa it is clear this opportunity for her was a true honor and life calling. I am sure that the light she shone on those that were lucky enough to have Miss Booker attend their births, will remain with them for all their days. Miss Booker traveled with enough supplies to fill three nineteen-gallon bins as well as “mommy and infant bags”.
On her trip to Senegal, Miss Booker gained some outstanding experience and knowledge from local midwives including different herbs used prenatally and postpartum, how they treated postpartum hemorrhage (interestingly enough by wearing bracelets made of iron), what they did with the placenta, and learned that twin births are very common in Western Africa. She had the opportunity to catch numerous sets of twins, including some surprise ones due to an unfortunate lack of prenatal care! Miss Booker shared when speaking about her trip to Senegal; “I am starting on a very long journey to become a great, caring and well-trained midwife; but it begins with this first step.” Miss Booker went on to earn her NARM certification as a Certified Professional Midwife.
As a Certified Professional Midwife, Miss Booker served the birthing community in the Washington D.C, Maryland and Northern Virginia area through her company Birthing Hands of D.C, providing prenatal, birth and postpartum support in addition to educational outreach to the local community. Not only does Birthing Hands of D.C support mothers but also birth workers by being a crucial source of community programs. Birthing Hands of D.C offers womb care workshops, Traditional Chinese Medicine for pregnancy, home birth doula skills workshops, rebozo training, Spinning Babies and more.
Miss Booker served on the D.C Infant Mortality Review Committee and was a member of Stronger Together. She reviewed the processes and procedures that needed to be changed to encourage the government’s active involvement in ensuring that babies reach their first birthday. As most know in the birth worker community, the United States spends the most money on maternal and newborn care but ranks devastatingly low when it comes to maternal and infant mortality rates, and those rates are even lower for families of color. Miss Booker worked to come up with plans to increase breastfeeding rates, classes that involve parents, extended families and fathers, and safe sleep techniques.
Miss Booker also co-created “The Grand Challenge: Matching Scholars to Scholarships to Reduce Disparities in Birth Outcomes” which is a scholarship program providing scholarships to women of color due to the fact that black women and babies die at twice to three times the rate of white babies in the United States, with the maternal mortality rate being even worse than that. Miss Booker believed that midwifery is part of the solution for better mortality rates among black mothers and their babies and in order to do that, we need more black midwives and doulas serving women of color throughout their childbearing years to save our babies and children. February 19th 2020 was a blow to the midwifery and birthing community as a whole, her legacy will continue to live on along with the numerous lives that she delivered safely into the world. Her influence and wisdom will not be forgotten, and as birth workers her mission to improve birth outcomes for all birthing people will live on through us.
Sinéad Morgan is a full time mom of 3 living in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a Postpartum Doula currently working on her Birth Doula Certification, a freelance writer and breastfeeding educator with a passion for holistic healing and supporting families throughout their reproductive years. She can be found on Instagram @nurtureempowerdoula and at www.nurtureempowerdoula.com.
Editor’s note: If you would like to support Mama Claudia’s family, help contribute to her funeral expenses, or otherwise support the continuation of her life’s work, please click here visit the GoFundMe that has been set up to achieve all of these things.