EPISODE 02: An Interview with Rebyrth's Cydney Tucker and Imani Byers
Welcome to the rePRO Film Podcast series, hosted by Asha Dahya. If you haven’t already, sign up to the rePRO Periodical by heading to reprofilm.org where every month you will receive an email packed with repro goodies including this podcast interview, links to articles to keep you up to speed on the latest repro news, the link to watch the short film we are about to discuss, and of course some organizations you should be supporting right now. So let’s get into today’s interview and this month’s theme, Black Maternal Health. February is Black History Month in the United States, and we can’t talk about both the past and present of this country without looking at the pivotal role Black women have played in maternal healthcare and reproductive rights, and also the way Black women and Black bodies have been impacted. From the history of forced sterilization (which still happens in prisons today), to the very present problem of rising maternal mortality rates disproportionately impacting Black mothers, there is a reason why Reproductive Justice, a movement founded by Black women leaders in the 90’s, should be front and center in the larger effort for bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom today. And we will be discussing this.
The film you get to watch this month is called ‘Rebyrth’, by filmmaker Cydney Tucker. This short documentary features Imani Byers, who is an Atlanta-based doula working to save the lives of Black mothers in their journey from pregnancy to motherhood. Her company is called ‘Rebyrth Wellness’, hence the name of the film.
Cydney Tucker is a journalist and documentary filmmaker currently based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has written, produced, and directed films for CBS News, NBC News, Al Jazeera International (AJ+), and RYOT. Her latest projects include two films with the New York Times Presents’s Hulu/FX documentary series. Her work has been featured in several festivals including SXSW and New Orleans Film Festival. In addition to her professional background, Cydney has asked me to include some additional details about her. She is a self-described Black female with brown skin, dark brown hair that is twisted and pulled back into two low buns. She is wearing gold hoop earrings and a flowered blouse. Cydney is speaking from Chitimacha/Choctaw land, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Imani Byers is a full spectrum doula providing services in Atlanta & Savannah GA. She has a Masters in Public Health and Social Work and is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) in the State of Georgia. Imani is also a Certified Yoga Instructor, and placenta encapsulation specialist. As shared in the film and on her website, Imani answered the call to birth work as a descendant of birth attendants, and to date has assisted over 30 families on their individual journeys, since starting her business during the height of COVID.
Be sure to listen all the way through to take note of some important action items toward the end. Now that we have all that housekeeping out of the way, please meet my guests!
Asha Dahya 0:00
Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode two of the rePRO Film Podcast Series hosted by me, Asha Daya. If you haven't already sign up to the repro periodical by heading to repro film.org, where every month, you will receive an email packed with repro goodies, including this podcast interview links to articles to keep you up to speed on the latest repro news, the link to watch the short film we're about to discuss. And of course, some organizations you should be supporting right now. So let's get into today's interview and this month's theme black maternal health. February is Black History Month in the United States. And we can't talk about both the past and present of this country without looking at the pivotal role black women have played in maternal health care and reproductive rights, and also the way black women and black bodies have been impacted from the history of forced sterilization, which still happens in prisons today, to the very present problem of rising maternal mortality rates disproportionately impacting black mothers. There is a reason why reproductive justice, a movement founded by black women leaders in the 90s should be front and center in the larger effort for bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom today, and we'll be discussing this. The film you get to watch this month is called Rebyrth by filmmaker Cydney Tucker. This short documentary features Imani buyers, who is an Atlanta based doula working to save the lives of black mothers in their journey from pregnancy to motherhood. Her company is called Rebyrth Wellness, hence the name of the film.
For a bit of background, Cydney Tucker is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, currently based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has written produced and directed films for CBS News, NBC News, Al Jazeera International and riot. Her latest projects include two films with the New York Times presents Hulu FX documentary series. Her work has been featured in several festivals, including South by Southwest and New Orleans Film Festival. In addition to her professional background, Cydney has asked me to include some additional details about her. She is a self described black female with brown skin, dark brown hair that is twisted and pulled back into two low bands. She is wearing gold hoop earrings and a flowered blouse. Sidney is speaking from GT market Choctaw land in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Imani Byers is a full spectrum doula providing services in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. She has a master's in public health and social work and is a Licensed Master social worker or LMS w in the state of Georgia. IMANI is also a certified yoga instructor and Placenta Encapsulation specialist as shared in the film and on her website. IMANI answer the call to birth work as a descendant of birth attendants, and today has assisted over 30 families on their individual journeys since starting her business during the height of COVID. I really loved having this conversation with both women. And I hope you will enjoy listening to all that they shared. Be sure to listen all the way through to take note of some important action items towards the end. And now that we have all that housekeeping out of the way, please meet my guests. Thank you so much, Imani and Cydney for joining me today for this chat. It is February which means there are a lot of discussions happening around Black History Month. And for us at repro film we can't talk about black history without talking about reproductive justice, maternal health and birth justice, which is what Rebyrth the film embodies Cydney and what your work through Rebyrth Wellness embodies Imani. So, first I'd love to know how you both found each other and how you decided to make a short film about Imani's work?
Cydney Tucker 4:00
What a fun question. Imani, do you want to go first?
Imani Byers 4:06
Yeah, um Cydney found me. I don't know how but I'm glad she did it. Honestly. It was like a, she sent me an email. It was a random email. And I always get these emails from people. They're like, hey, let's do XY and Z. And I didn't know if it was real or not. But it was just something that drew me to her. Never seen her there in my life. Before we started filming and everything. And she asked to take pictures of one of my clients who was having a home birth, she was doing some pictures. And I was like, Yeah, for sure. So she met my client. My client was okay with this. She took the pictures. And then she did this miraculous thing that I had no clue about and submitted the story two, I think it was Vimeo and MailChimp. And she calls me and she's like, Oh my gosh, I have a surprise for you and I thought she was gonna tell me she was pregnant. But her mom told her that she's gonna think you're pregnant. But she tells me that those images that she collected got selected to be a part of the second installment of stories in place for Vimeo and MailChimp. And they were going to invest in marketing as well as capital into my business. And where did this angel come from? So, yeah, that that's my take on it. You want to add anything?
Cydney Tucker 5:34
Oh, my gosh, you're so sweet. Yeah. Well, okay, I guess the super background of it all is that like, my background is in journalism. But I also, you know, in documentary filmmaking, and I wear I feel like wearing multiple hats. Another hat is also a yoga instructor. And so at the same time that I had been basically like hearing as like a journalist, you know, with my ear to the ground, about these rising, you know, mortality rates within with black women, and what was happening with them. I was like, you know, in juxtaposition on my Instagram feed, like I have, obviously, everyone has their, like Finster, whatever, but mine is like my yoga Instagram. So on that side of things, I was seeing a lot of, you know, black and Latinx, women turn to black, doulas, and midwives. Because of these rising rates, and I felt like, you know, they weren't directly saying that this was why but I think between the rising rates in which these women were dying, but also the pandemic and other factors of just feeling unsafe within certain spaces, that I just saw a lot of people turning to bifocals, and midwives. And I was like, Whoa, there's like a really beautiful, kind of like, symmetry happening here. And I was like, I really want to tap into that. So then as from a journalist perspective, you know, I start to do like research and really kind of figure out like, what's happening, like, why are these rates happening? What's the what's the story behind it? And where is this happening most frequently. And I saw that Georgia was one of the states with the highest rates. It was, at the time, the state with the highest rates of maternal morbidity rates for black women. And I was like, You know what, it was a pandemic, I was already pandemic displaced. I was back in Georgia, I went to college here at Spelman boots felon. And I was like, let me I'm going to go on a hunt and I'm going to search for black doulas. And I, you know, I was combing through his combing through and there's something and I kid you not I'm not just saying this because Imani is a superstar, which he is, you'll come to find that out later in this podcast. But I you know, I came across a manies page and there's something that just like, really drew me to her right and like, it wasn't just like her landing page wasn't just like a regular like I'm a doula didn't it is these are services I offer, there was something very like intrinsic about the care and warmth and, and intentionality that was like, behind everything she was doing. And this is before I even kind of like immersed myself in her world and finding out all the different methods that she uses to you know, for her clients. And I just like and then you know, what really sealed the deal was just like having a conversation with Imani, like, over the phone, and I was like, Whoa, and it's so beautiful, because it's so rare. journalistically speaking when you find someone like a mani to interview, because it's like, like, it's like you're you like, automatically, like you're engrossed in her world, like you're part of it. Like, as soon as she starts talking, like, there's this very beautiful, like, symbolism and like almost like poet poetic like fluidity, that's when she speaks about the work that she does. And I was just like, I barely have to do anything as like, as a creator as an artist, like, I just have to hold the camera up and let her speak like. And then it's like when she was telling me all the things that she does and why she does them and which we'll get into later. Like, I just started to see these like this very vivid imagery of like a connection to nature, a connection to roots, you know, a very much like a grounding, like seeing money as like Mother Earth that's like kind of repairing this damage. And like the symbolism of like, kind of like our government failing us and like black women like Imani like supporting us and doing it in these ways that are like not at all new, right, a very, like, ancestral modality. And I was just like, this is just so beautiful. So like, I could talk about Imani all day though, because she's just amazing. Yeah.
Asha Dahya 9:40
I love that description. I mean, everything you said is so beautiful. And you capture that so well on the film and Imani, as we record this today, we almost have to reschedule as you were on call and your client did go into labor unexpectedly last night, but conveniently the baby made it out in time and the baby Save the Mama's safe. So thank you for making it here. And I'm sure you're very tired. But I'd love for you to talk about, you know what you mentioned on your website about answering the call to birth work as a descendant of birth workers, your family history in this area. And if you can talk a little bit about the history of black women as birth workers in America.
Imani Byers 10:22
I just find it so funny every time that I get to talk about this, right, um, because my great grandmother, this is what I tell everyone. I said it in the film as well. But my great grandmother, who I was so fortunate to have until I was 19 years old. She passed me in her 100 year. Yeah, she was a labor and delivery nurse. He actually, you know, was there when my mom was born at home. And also my uncle. They were born in the My mom was born in the room that I actually grew up in. Right. So my first birth story, even though I was born via cesarean, right, my first birth story was that birth can take place at home like this is a natural process is low intervention is not this dangerous journey that you're travailing right is not something that needs a lot of intervention. It's very low intervention, very much. So based on intuition, right. And my great grandmother, she, you know, not just from cooking, from cooking from just life lessons in general. She literally was like a baby whisperer. All of us went through Gigi, at some point, even my youngest cousin, Ella, she's 12 Now, but she even experienced Gigi before she passed. And it was just so beautiful, just to see how she was with us. And then, as you know, I started embarking and telling my family like, you know, I think I need to go into birth work because I first heard about doulas when I was seven years old. And I remember it because instead of watching like Cartoon Network and stuff, I did watch Nickelodeon, but not parts of network. The majority of the things I was watching, I was watching TNT and Discovery Health Channel, I was watching birthday. I didn't know I was pregnant, deliver me. That's what I was watching. Legit. You can ask anybody my friends or my mom and or my dad today, like, what are you doing? So everybody just assumed that I was gonna be a doctor. But I just knew that I wanted to be able to help people. And so I was exposed to a doula. It was a it was a white woman. Right. And the way she was holding space for the woman in the veto, because I actually saw that episode that I saw when I was seven years old. I saw that probably like, in November. And it just triggered everything that I felt like as a child, I was like, wow, like, this is something that I could do. And so yeah, in learning more about this, and into baling into it, my mom was like, Well, you know, your great aunt Emma, which was my great grandmother's aunt, who also lived well into 100.
Her 100th year, she was one of the first certified black midwives in the state of Georgia. So I was like, oh, okay, this is why this is tugging at me like this, because this is literally in our bloodline. No one else in my family. Besides, one of my cousins is doing anything in the medical field, and he is an emergency room doctor, right? So nobody's doing anything with birth. But for me, it was just like, why am I pulled to this? You know, I, I haven't travailed through pregnancy and motherhood yet, I have not had that privilege yet. I do want to go through that. But why do I feel so called to hold the space for these women? And it's because this is literally, like attached to me. I did not feel like I was fulfilling my purpose until I stepped into this space. Right? So for black women, this is this is how we were safe. Back in the day when giving birth these hospitals weren't allowing us in these boards. It was not safe. We were not getting care that we deserved. Of course, maternal mortality rates were high. So what do we have to do we had to turn to our community and the community being these medicine women or conjure women or whatever you call them these midwives. And we moved away from the term granny midwives because it you know, it can be kind of condescending, and definitely with the media that started coming out when Monetate obstetricians came about just talking about how dangerous these old hag women were taking care of women, but they were doing this work long before or any modern obstetrician basic situation came about before all these unnecessary interventions sometimes. And I say that with respect, because I know that there is a place in time for everything. But in general, we kind of have moved away from this natural tranquil, primal since of giving birth, right. And we moved into this medicalized standard, this is what it should be. And it's become extremely dangerous for women of color. Because a lot of the research, a lot of those standards are based off of white women. And our bodies, it is even scientifically proven that the pelvis of a black woman is structurally different than one of a white woman. So you cannot treat them the same way with regards to labor. With regards to birth, positioning, and things of that nature, all of those things matter. But these midwives in our communities, they knew they didn't go through these, they didn't have to go through medical school, they didn't have to go through these trainings, it was literally something you're shadowing these people, you're shadowing someone, and you rise up in it. And it wasn't just birth that they were doing. These were birds, these were also death, this was just general health care. These were the women that you were going to these were the healers, right there in your community. And it really started, you know, when we came over here, in us in the Deep South, especially in South Carolina, which is where my family is from South Carolina, in the low country. Savannah, basically like all up and down the gobiggi corridor, which runs from Wilmington, North Carolina, down to Jacksonville, Florida, you have these women who came over here with knowledge, and they just continue to pass it down. And that's how we were protected. And that's how we were brought into this space. So it does me great justice, it's very humbling to be a part of that story now, in assisting with healthy birth outcomes for black and brown women.
Asha Dahya 17:05
And it seems like such a full circle moment for you. You started Rebyrth Wellness in 2020, during the height of COVID. Yes. And while there has, which makes me think like, Are you crazy, but yeah, we're drawn to the calling. And while there has been an increasing number of pregnant people giving birth, outside of hospitals due to the pandemic, can you talk about why this happens for black women especially? And what you've seen through your work so far with your clients?
Imani Byers 17:36
Yeah, I definitely feel crazy. Starting this in 2020. I just didn't think COVID was coming here. You know, it was still very far away. So when I started, yeah, I said that in the film. So I was like, oh, man, I made a mistake. Because this is not it. But thankfully, you know, it just took off. So I'm grateful. But yeah, for black women, I think it's a matter of safety and trust, right? There is institutionalized racism within the medical community, right? Whether people want to admit to it or not, there is definitely certain prejudice these as well as a difference in treatment that I personally have witnessed from either working with a white client versus a black client, and how they're more aggressive with black women. Right. And that just goes down to stereotypical things that they think about, about women of color in general. And it's not just black women. You know, we see this with our Latin X community as well. We see it with anybody who is not Americans, by by their birthright, if you will. Anybody that's come here immigrant, yeah, immigrants, low income, low income women, you're going to see these increases one, you're going to see an increase of inductions, you're going to see an increase of cesarean rates. And you're also going to see an increase of deaths. And what is so traumatic about this, and why women are moving to giving birth outside of traditional hospital settings. Actually, as of right now, home births have uptick about 29%. Since the beginning of the pandemic, home births have been booming, and that is because people want to have who they want around them because there's a severe gatekeeping of allowing doula so professionals into the space with some clients and hospitals. But also to it is a situation of where I want to build relationship with somebody I want to give my child bring my child's into this world, if you will, with somebody that I know cares about me. My health outcomes, my child's health outcomes and my well being because the rate in which people are dying The issue with that is that usually it's preventable. Right? Usually, it's something that could have been mitigated early on, but because of institutionalized racism and bias, it gets overlooked. And then we get all these sad stories about young mothers dying, older mothers dying. And regardless of status, class, income, or education, so none of that protects us. So even you know, as a black woman, I was raised, like, you know, you get your degree, you get your education, nobody can never take that from you. And you almost think that that's like a coat of arms, like something that can protect you, but not in the maternal space. Right. So we're stepping outside of those hospital walls and giving birth, in spaces where we feel empowered love, and safe, because you can't give birth if you don't feel safe, every mammal retreat somewhere, to where it is safe. Where there there's no predators, there's nothing that can come and attack them and their baby. No one is going to give birth if they feel unsafe.
Asha Dahya 21:12
That's such a vivid imagery, man, when you talk about predators for some people, those predators exist in the hospital in the the, you know, the healthcare system. So wow, thank you for that. Yeah, imagery that definitely, you know, brings it into perspective. Sidney, can you talk us through your filming process, given that there was so much uncertainty with COVID in terms of filming protocols, and safety, etc? How long did it take to film Rebyrth? And how long was your post production process?
Cydney Tucker 21:43
You're gonna be like, but basically Rebyrth was shot in the span of like, a weekend like a hall. It was like, I think it was Memorial Day weekend. It was literally like two days, and I was like, wow, Imani, thank you so much for letting me invade your life for these days. But, um, yeah, it all came together very organically, I will say funnily enough. One of Imani clients that's featured in the film, I was actually hoping to schedule and film her actual like her birth. So the mom that you see in the tub, Simone, like she was basically, like, due to give birth, like, I don't remember exactly what her date was. But I was like, basically, I told her I had to go out of town, it was like a family emergency, I had to go to town to back to New York for like, a wee bit. And I was like, I literally was like, Simone, I was like, Don't go into labor. And as Imani always says, that, it's always so you know, babies come when they want to babies don't wait for anybody. And so, you know, she went into labor, but it was like crazy. Because like, we had, like, we got the tub, we had all the things ready. And and, you know, that's just like the nuts, you know, nature of birth care work. And that's the beauty of it. Right? That's how organic like it's not on our time schedule. And I think that says so much about like, the practice itself. And like, why it's so beautiful, that we're taking these the these methodologies from like, an ancestral point of view, because like, you know, like human beings, like we're organic, you know, we're organic cells, and we're made up of all these things that can't be controlled, right? So there's, there's a lot of like, I want to say white supremacy, that is, like, injected into the medical space. And like, you see that even like, on the timescale of things of like, having everything to be like, okay, like, this is the date just like how Imani was talking about with inductions like, you're there, like, this is the date, we're sticking to this date, and like making it very sterile, making it very much like, this is the date you're going to give birth, you know, instead of it being like, nope, baby's gonna come and baby's gonna come. So Simone, like went into labor. And I was like, oh, man, so then like, basically, I had gotten back from New York and I obviously still really wanted, I thought there's something so integral in capturing how Imani just becomes very congruent with the birthing person and like, has this very much like, blended mind, almost with them during the process of it all. And I really wanted to kind of capture that connection, because all of these things, all of these practices that she's doing up into this point is so that the individual can feel grounded, right and in control as much as they can, right and be connected to these things that they can control like their breath and, and and you know, what they're thinking about and Imani acts as a very beautiful guide in the process. And you I just wanted to really capture that and so I asked Simone if she wouldn't mind kind of reenacting so that's what like there's some fun facts with the films that are that birth scene is actually a reenactment. And so because thankfully, it was so close to the actual birth date. I was like, Simone, do you think you can tap into like the facial expressions or how you're feeling? She's like, because it just happened. It was so fresh, you know? She's like, Oh, yeah, I know, I know exactly how I was feeling. And so I asked him to sit in the bathroom with her and kind of coach her through like she was, you know, like, walking her through her breath work. And, you know, between the sound mixing and my beautiful editor, you know, Serena Advani that she did, like, honestly, Serena killed the Edit because I was telling her that I really want to get into a headspace where we're kind of blurring the lines between reality and an otherworldly space, because that's kind of like, that's the beauty of birth, right? Like these birthing persons are like in another realm, right? They're like, there's all this pain that's happening. But there's also the beauty of bringing another life into this world, which is just like so magical and so otherworldly. And like, no one can really understand what that is outside of that individual and how they're feeling at that time. And so I really want it to be a sense of like, you're kind of getting lost in space and time and you don't know where you are, you don't know, you know, and all you can hear is kind of a mommy's voice coaching Simone and like, Simone just be like breathing through it like she was taught and, and I just think it's a very, like magical moment. And I feel like in in these spaces, like Imani is just this beautiful guide, and like, you're able to see that whole journey. And even though it was a reenactment, it's still so powerful, because you see their connection. And yeah, I was just happy to be a fly on the wall.
Asha Dahya 26:38
I think you did a brilliant job of capturing, like you said, that other level, other worldliness. And while you are talking, I'm thinking of my own birth and it did feel like I was in a I don't know where I was in a different space. Crazy things happening, even though there's people all around me. But yeah, you did such a wonderful job of capturing that and conveying that on film. So well done Cydney. Switching gears a little bit, all but in the same realm. I'd love to talk about maternal maternal health in general, and we'd mentioned that the US is seeing rising rates of maternal mortality, especially among black mamas. There hasn't been a whole lot of legislative action around this urgent issue. In the same way we see, you know, the feverish pace of anti-abortion bills being passed to focus on birth control, for instance, but in 2021 Congress introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, sponsored by Rep Lauren Underwood of Illinois. And in November 2021, President Biden signed into law the first of 12 bills in the Momnibus package, the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, which supports pregnant and postpartum veterans. Cydney, can you talk about the need for more legislative action around this issue and where our leaders are finally acknowledging and addressing the racial disparities in the healthcare system?
Cydney Tucker 28:02
This is like a long time coming, right? And it's just so sad that it's it's taken. So it's taken us losing so many moms to get to this point, right? And I think honestly, there's still so much work that needs to be done. And I'm so happy with all the work that Representative Underwood has done, because like, Where would we be right? Like people already, like, even even with this act in place, or new people trying to enroll this, like people still don't know, if you go up someone you're like, Hey, did you know that this is happening? Like, most people don't even know what's going on? Right. So I think there's so many layers of it, right? I think we need to have more exposure that this is happening. So that, you know, communities can, you know, do their research and inform themselves and the people around them to let them know that this is happening, and also look out for black women. Because you know, black women, sadly enough, like we're very much at the bottom of the hierarchal triangle and society often so our medical needs or mental health needs slipped through the wayside. So by you know, by moving forward, this legislative act, I think, it really pushes the envelope and lets people know that like, we exist, and we deserve to be you know, we deserve to have safe spaces to give birth.
We deserve for our babies to live. We deserve to live ourselves. And I think what's really annoying is that our government has to kind of find loopholes or places to kind of fill in these gaps instead of just be going forth and being like, This is what it is, right? Like, we're just enforcing this from day one right now because black moms are dying, like, that's how it should be, right? Like, I think right now, a lot of the other parts of the bill, the Momnibus bill have been rolled into the Build Better Act, which is this, like, you know, overall social spending and climate bill acts , which was for not the reason of the Momnibus, but for a section of it that has to do with like taxes and things of that nature. The Senator from West Virginia Joe Manchin had shot it down because of tax stuff. But because of that, that has high repercussions, obviously, because a lot of the Momnibus structure was built into the bill, better act. And so I think right now it's really annoying and it's just like, you know, legislative games where because of the other things that some representatives weren't agreeing with that were also included in that bill. Now they have to go back to the drawing board, redraft the bill and probably reinsert all of the things that were supposed to be from the Momnibus act, right? So that's really scary because then we have to be like, you know, it's almost like we have to, we're back at square one and we have to push the agenda all over again, which we shouldn't have to right? Like, we see the rates in which, like all these experts are saying that by like, you know, April, they're anticipating all these, you know, reproductive rights to be rolled back because, you know, a lot of Republican representatives that just don't agree with them in various states, including Georgia. And so there's really this... I would say almost like war on women's bodies, and we're talking about the people who are most impacted by these things. They're mostly women of color. And so it's very much integral that society not only wakes up to these issues that are going on, but they support black women and they support doulas and black doulas and black midwives who are in these spaces and advocating for these moms, you know, in in and other birthing persons, like because at the end of the day, like their voice, our voices collectively are all we have right, and we have to push the government to do better.
Asha Dahya 31:43
Yeah, I think he made a really great point in there about exposure and, you know, people being educated so we can push our legislators to make this a priority. I mean, it is ridiculous. Don't even get me started on Senator Joe Manchin. He's not even worth mentioning right now. But yet you did mention exposure. And so, you know, I'd love to talk about how films like Rebirth can be part of that movement. You know, we saw Serena Williams share her story on the HBO docu series. Beyoncé shared her story with Vogue, and you know, these really powerful and well-known black women talking about how Serena almost died because and look at where she is in the world. She's a superstar, champion, tennis player, and she almost died because the doctors didn't listen to her. So to have films like yours really showing a different point of view and showing women like Imani, who are really operating in a space to help women who have been marginalized and left behind by the mainstream health care system? Talk to me about that and what you hope to continue doing with the film to screen to white audiences.
Cydney Tucker 32:50
The reason I was really drawn to making this like I first had pitched this story when I was working as a producer at Al Jazeera, and it came at a time where basically, you know, it was at the beginning of the pandemic, racial reckoning was happening. And basically it kind of got tabled because they were just like, Well, you know, that's unfortunately going to keep happening. So we'll put that on the back burner kind of thing. And so when I had left them, I was like, You know what? This is still happening, and if anything, it's gotten worse since I initially pitched this, so I still want to work on this. And so I think it's just so important again in terms of informing people that this is happening. Having various spaces, whether it's podcasts like yours, Asha, or having, I'm really happy because while I didn't attend Sundance this year, there was a film featured at Sundance called Aftershock. No Aftershock that was actually about black maternal health. And so as long as I'm like, the more films, the more content, any kind of media content that's out there, whether it's a podcast or film or a TV show like more people know about it, the better. And I think exposure is important because, you know, we need to see ourselves in these spaces and we need to know the dangers of entering these spaces, right? And I think what's beautiful and what's really important is that people are able to capture it from various like, um, you know, various mediums, and I think they're able to get into it from various spaces.
I think with "Rebyrth" I was really hoping to build it out so that I could incorporate a lot of this history. And that's like when I initially pitched it to Al Jazeera, I had wanted to go into it from a historical point of view and include a lot of archival because I had also I had recently gone to the National Museum of African-American History in DC, and they had a whole section dedicated like it was a very kind of tiny, but they had a section dedicated to like a black nurses, black midwives and doulas. And it was just really beautiful to kind of see, like, you know, where everything started, because I think a lot of people lose touch that, you know, black and indigenous women were the first birth care providers in this country, right? And it wasn't until like the medical industrial complex decided to say, Hey, you.
Asha Dahya 35:15
We can make money.
Cydney Tucker 35:16
We can make money from this. And then they were like, Oh, let's make a campaign essentially and be like home births are dirty. Home births aren't sterile. They're not good for you. And who's saying all this? It's mostly white men, right? Because we're talking about obstetrics and the people who initially led those things, and people just don't know the history of where all that comes from, like the fact that like all of those tools and like, why do we even have that industry is because it was like experimentation on black bodies, on black women, on black slaves, like, you know what I mean? And and I think that's why you know, that practice can, like, be so cold. And like, I have like two my best friends, like they're actually doctors. I'm like the only one in a group that's not a doctor. And they just the things that they told me when they're going through med school, like they're they're just basically not even taught how to identify things on black bodies like there are no medical textbooks that show black and brown bodies. So like, they'll be like, Oh, in a white body that shows up this way, like they might be, you know, their skin might turn red or they might do this, but they're not shown or taught the same ways to identify those things in black and brown bodies. So there's a complete gap in terms of coverage and how people are. And that's why that's one of the many reasons why we're seeing these deaths, right? And so it's like it's it's important for people to know all of this and not to just think that it's like, Oh, it's just racism, right? But. It all traces back, right? It's structural, it's intentional, it was built this way. And so it's important to have representation and have, you know, anything that can kind of convey where we where we started and where we are and hopefully where we're leading towards in the future?
Asha Dahya 37:01
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, correct me if I'm wrong. But there was a time when midwives in the South were criminalized or the midwifery practice was criminalized because they wanted to keep that money in the mainstream health care system, which is just crazy.
Cydney Tucker 37:18
Imani is actually the one who told me about that.
Imani Byers 37:21
Yeah. There still some places. Yes, some places where it's criminal to do midwifery in the states, I think South Carolina is one of those states where it's like the number of midwifery, that's not a thing. And even in the state of Georgia, while midwifery is not illegal, what we do see is they're now only certified nurses. Midwives are seen as capable or competent enough to do it, but we still have traditional home birth midwives and also certified professional midwives, and they're still doing the work. They still get the education and things like that. But there's like there's been a gatekeeping. And so there is a day, it's a lobbying day, if you will, that's coming up in the state of Georgia in support of CPM's having more rights and moving from in a legal situation to a legal situation because it's not illegal, right? But we're trying to move to a situation where everybody who is practicing this art, this craft is being recognized as somebody who is skilled and competent. So that's why February eight, that's midwives day 2022 at the Capitol. So they will be lobbying to get support for CPM's to be, you know, recognized just as their CNM counterparts.
Asha Dahya 38:50
Well, you'll have to keep us posted on the outcome of that after that lobbying.
Imani Byers 38:55
Asha Dahya 38:56
One issue we must talk about when it comes to maternal healthcare, is mental health. A JAMA Psychiatry study from 2020 found that suicide attempts among pregnant or postpartum mothers have nearly tripled over the past decade, and suicide deaths are already a leading cause of maternal mortality in the US. I mean, just reading that is terrifying to me, Imani, can you talk more about this, as it is a topic you care deeply about with your clients?
Imani Byers 39:29
Yes. So mental health is definitely one of my top priorities because I'm also a clinician, so I'm an LMSW here in the state of Georgia, and I have a focus in advanced training in perinatal mental health specifically and mental health for mothers, for birthing bodies. It's really important because we go from a situation where we're seeing somebody pretty much once a month or every other week, especially once you get to the 37 week mark or 35 week mark, Webber said. Then once the baby's here, you get one checkup at six weeks and then that's it.
It's all about the baby. Nobody's checking in on moms say, Hey, mom, have you eaten today? Hey, mom, do you need anything or even Hey, dad, because what we do see is that postpartum depression shows up in men as well just in a different way. So in many shows up as a detachment, as an OK, I'm a busy myself with something else because I can't deal with this right or I don't know how to be effective in this space. And it's unfortunate because the eight so acres, that's the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology. The recommendation for checking in by doing mental health checks with people who have just given birth should happen at the three, six, nine and twelve mark that that's the standard. But is that happening? No, and that's due to lack of knowledge and lack of prepared clinicians.
That's why I love Postpartum Support International because they offer these free trainings where people will come in and actually teach is a free one hour, you know, like a brown bag situation. Bring your lunch and someone will come in and teach you the signs of perinatal mood disorders because it's so much bigger than just depression. There's anxiety, there's bipolar, there's OCD, there's PTSD. And then there's also the most severe is it's only affects about 1% of people is psychosis, which we see with the moms who end up unfortunately harming their children in literally think they're doing it as a way to protect them because somebody missed the mark. So what I love encouraging providers to do, whether it's pediatrician therapies, pelvic floor therapists, chiropractors check in on these moms when they're bringing their kids in to see you. You should be assessing mom as well, because in order for the child to be OK, their caretakers need to be OK. And so checking in on them at those milestone marks that first following in that first year postpartum, we we would see tremendous change in these outcomes. We could see tremendous change in people's ability to feel like they're supported in their community. There's so many support groups available, but people don't know about them because their providers don't know. You can't refer people to things you don't know about. So we have a lot to a lot of work to do when it comes to promoting and adding visibility to the mental health aspect of the maternal journey. Because, like you said, the suicide rates they come about because these people feel so overwhelmed and feel like they have no other outlet, no other way out. Or even that they're not good enough for their kids.
I have a friend in high school. She told a nurse that she had a suicidal thought and they turned 10-13'd her. If you aren't familiar with a 10-13, it is basically an involuntary committal to a psychiatric institution. So she was committed there and under watch taken away from her newborn baby, as well as her daughter that she already had because of a misunderstanding for lack of understanding of how to continue to get more information out. That's why screening protocols are so important. That's why people have an understanding of perinatal mood anxiety disorders, and their trajectory is so important because we have people that are getting missed. And then people that are getting false positives.
Asha Dahya 43:58
Oh, that's so heartbreaking. I mean, to be separated by a newborn. I'd love to talk about some action items that we can leave listeners with today. I mean, we've talked about a lot of things and really necessary issues that we need to highlight, especially during this month. So first off, Imani, can you share more about the upcoming Black Maternal Health Summit and your involvement in this and where people can go to find more information?
Imani Byers 45:32
Postpartum Support International is one of my favorite favorite organizations. Their main focus is postpartum support, so it's in the name and they have their Black Maternal Health Summit that is coming up. It's a free summit is actually being hosted by Postpartum Support International. The Georgia chapter that is hosting it. They have a slew of wonderful presenters that will be speaking. And it is taking place this month. It is a one day event. It's actually taking place on the 26th of this month. So February 26, it's from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. They always do raffles and things like that. But the theme this year is our voices building the village for maternal mental health. So we're going to be talking about how to locate providers, understand in having knowledge about the impact of stress on pregnancy. Hear stories about pregnancy journey. So from preconceptions, conception and infertility. Also talk for parents who are transitioning back to work after giving birth and also hearing some empowering stories from black mothers, parents, caregivers and mental health providers. So I am a member of Postpartum Support International, so I'm not actually speaking at this event, but I do enjoy attending it because I never leave without something new, a great takeaway, so I think it's a wonderful thing to register for. It does not cost anything to attend this event. More information can be found on the Postpartum Support International - Georgia Chapter website. You can just google it, and I'll also send the bit.ly so it can be in the show notes for you as well. But yeah, it's going to be a great event. It is virtual, so COVID safe is just a good space to come and learn more about what we can do to support moms after birth.
Asha Dahya 47:51
Yeah, that's really important, and we'll definitely share the link in the notes and also tell us where people can learn more about your work and how they can contact you if they want to hire you as a doula perhaps.
Cydney Tucker 48:01
Yeah. Everyone does. Imani is very busy.
Imani Byers 48:08
Yes. Well, yes, I would love that. I love connecting so I can be found on Instagram @RebyrthWellness. So that is R E B Y R T H wellness, and my website is www.rebyrthwellness.com. You can book a free consultation there. You can see all my packages that are available. Also, the Rebyrth film that the lovely Cydney just embodied completely is also here on the homepage, so that's how you can reach me and also by email and that's Imani@rebyrthwellness.com
Asha Dahya 48:48
Awesome and Cydney, what's next for you and Rebyrth, the film, what do you want audiences to do after they watch it?
Cydney Tucker 48:55
Oh my gosh, what's next for me? Right now, I'm actually working on a film. I moved to New Orleans temporarily to work on a film about black trans women who are creating safe spaces to protect trans individuals in the deep south. It's the first housing refuge in the entire basically in the south for trans and non-binary folks, so that's what I'm presently working on. Rebyrth is near and dear to my heart, always because it was, you know, my first independent baby, and I'm just so honored to have been able to share that space and and hold space for Imani and these mommies. Actually, what's interesting is that Rebyrth... We're hoping to film more and add on to Rebyrth and kind of dive into this familial history that Imani was talking about and incorporate hopefully some archival of Imani's family and just the rich culture that is in Savannah, where a lot of this happened. So we're hoping to do that with Imani but as she said, you know, she's a very busy woman. We have to get her in between all these births. So I don't know how it's going to be like double dutch but I'm willing to. I'm willing to play just for Imani and her amazingness.
To all the listeners – I highly, highly, highly recommend – I think what I would love for you to get out of it is just, you know, taking on this if you're socially, if you're not BIPOC individuals, you're not a black individual knowing that these things are happening every day. Black women are three times as likely to die from childbirth related illnesses, two out of the three which are preventable, as, says the CDC. So I really would love for people to spread the word and to donate and like, you know, if you can to businesses like Rebyrth.
You know what was really amazing about, you know, getting this opportunity through Vimeo and MailChimp was that I really was down to get this grant from them to make the film because they had this give back and right, usually film grants. It's just kind of they get some money. You get money to make the film right. There's no kind of incentive for the individuals who are in the film. But because this was highlighting black businesses, there is a give back initiative attached to it. So, you know, Imani was able to get like, I think like $10K for her business and and to use that is a lot of good karma because she used that for black moms who wouldn't have necessarily been able to afford the services.
So lots of good karma, good babies, wonderful babies being born out of that. So I'm really grateful for that. And oh, you can find me. I have also on the gram, as the kids say at @CydLaine - C Y D L A I N E on Instagram. And then my website is: CydneyTucker.com
Asha Dahya 51:54
Well, thank you so much. Imani Byers, Cydney Tucker. It has been a wonderful, enriching, enlightening educational conversation today, and I'm so thankful for your time. Thankful for your work, Imani. I know you've got lots of babies coming up. Thank you for making it today Cydney. Your new film sounds incredible. Please keep us posted on that. And with that, I will sign off and say Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day.
Cydney Tucker 52:23
Thank you so much. Thanks, Imani.
Imani Byers 52:26
Asha Dahya 52:28
Make sure you click the link in your rePRO Periodical email, or in the show notes of this episode, to watch ‘Rebyrth’ the documentary. All the links to the action items Imani and Cydney shared will also be in the notes. As always, subscribe, rate and share this podcast with your community, and head to reprofilm.org to sign up to the periodical if you haven’t already. I’m Asha Dahya and I look forward to bringing you another episode of the Repro Film Podcast in March, when we’ll be celebrating Women’s History Month! Bye for now!
Asha Dahya, rePRO Podcast Host
Cydney Tucker, Director/Producer
Imani Byers, Subject