A City Bureau Civic Reporting Fellow reflects on building trust with people on such an intimate, personal topic.
By Caroline Olsen
When I began my City Bureau fellowship, I knew that I wanted to photograph the relationship between birthworkers and their clients. Over and over, I was shocked at the racial disparities within maternal health statistics, and I was drawn to people working creatively to close the gap and bring better health outcomes to women of color.
One of the first people I talked to reporting this story was Shanika Helaku of Chicago Birthworks Collective, a collective of birth workers, healers, and wellness practitioners serving Black families across Chicago. We talked candidly about journalists and her hesitancy to meet up with me, coverage of maternal health and the tight community of birth workers of color in Chicago. I’m grateful for Helaku for helping me shape my story and giving me honest feedback about being a more empathetic journalist.
She told me that she doesn’t like to engage with media due to the ways that journalists have harmed vulnerable communities in the past. I asked her why she ultimately still met up with me, knowing that I was a journalist and photographer. We discussed how there’s been so much coverage of the terrible statistics around maternal mortality and of the fear and shame Black women can be made to feel around childbirth, but that there is less coverage of thriving Black moms and Black families.
Helaku says, “The thing that's killing people is stress, is racism, it's knowing that your life is not valuable....That is what's killing people. If we could have more images and more stories that were just about a mundane, queer family having a baby, or just typical Black joy, these things are like medicine.”
As my story progressed, I focused more on the relationship between mothers and birth workers, rather than the relationship between mother and child, and these are some of the photos of moms and their children got cut from my final story. I do want to thank the moms who let me into their homes, let me get a glimpse of the unique and beautiful bond between mothers and children, and allowed me to add my drop in the bucket of images of joy and hope and power.
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