The Two Gardens

This is a guest post by Jennifer McArthur – thanks Jennifer!

It was suggested that I attend the Health Connect One Reception on Saturday during the DONA Conference in Albuquerque New Mexico. At the reception each group was asked to stand and talk about the work that was happening in their organization. It wasn’t long before I realized I was sitting in a room of some of the most influential women in childbirth; women who both take their agenda straight to the White House and who are doulas in their communities. It was quite apparent that these doulas are passionate about birth, choices in birth, and the rights of laboring women. They are thoughtful, compassionate and focused. I was deeply moved and am glad that I was encouraged to attend. For me, it was the most impacting event during the entire conference. And, if I am ever honored to attend an event at the White House, I’ll be sure to leave the high heels at home!

I want to share something that happened to me at the conference. I felt safe with the women from the reception and with the best of intentions started an amazing conversation later in the evening with a doula from Georgia. I believe her name is Hanifah. We were the only two left at the table and I turned the discussion towards racism. I recounted an event that had happened to me earlier in the day where I had entered the elevator and then a black lady entered with me. The white family that was also headed towards the elevator made an obvious move backwards and said, “We will take the next elevator.” I was stunned and when the elevator doors closed, I turned to the other lady and said, “Are you serious?” After recounting this story to Hanifah, I told her that I didn’t understand this type of behavior and she said that this happens every day. She also said that my lack of understanding was my privilege, because I was white.

Hanifah went on to tell me an interesting story about a professor that bought a house which had two gardens. In one garden were flowers that had been previously planted. The other garden was empty. The professor decided to leave the previously planted garden to grow on it’s own and planted the empty garden with pink flowers, the professor’s favorite. The professor went on to tend lovingly to the newly planted garden, giving it time and nourishment. It grew a variety of beautiful, pink flowers. In the other garden, which was not lovingly tended to, the flowers struggled, only a few of the strongest surviving.

As the story unfolded, I began to see the racism differently. That story has impacted and challenged me as a privileged, white woman. The learning continued when I recounted the flower story to a Sheila Capestany at Open Arms, back in Seattle. Sheila corrected me when I said, “I can’t believe that the white family wouldn’t get into the elevator because a black lady was in it” by telling me that it wasn’t because a black lady was in the elevator, it was because the white family was racist. 

Starting with the reception through the table conversation, I gained a clearer understanding of the impact that these doulas have on the childbearing women and the communities they serve.

I am discovering that I am my own beautiful flower growing within the most amazing, colorful garden I’ve ever seen, nourished by the women who surround me. Now that is a privilege.

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One Response to The Two Gardens

  1. Sarah Pulliam says:

    This is a great reflection, Jennifer. I am so glad that you decided to post it. One of the great things about Open Arms as an organization is that its leaders challenge institutional racism, as well as other kinds of discrimination that can creep in under the dominent culture’s radar. I am forever learning, blessed to be part of a group of people that are willing to deconstruct assumptions made about women’s identities, families at the low end of the income spectrum, birth, communities, and the ways in which we all are part of the whole.

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