When the English began to colonize the North American continent, they set in motion changes in how the women who lived there gave birth. The traditions surrounding it did not change quickly at first for the Indiginous peoples of the land or for the Europeans. But Africans brought to the continent unwillingly as slaves had a catastrophic break in their traditions, cutting African women off from their familial and community support and any comforting measures they may have been familiar with. In North America at first, white women took control of black women’s childbirth. Then, because it was less expensive for enslavers, black women began not only to help their fellow enslaved deliver babies, they began delivering the babies of their white enslavers. Decimated by new plagues from Europe, Native American women at first suffered the loss of experienced elders, but retained control for a few more centuries even as colonizers pushed them from their lands. English and other European women experienced interruptions through their sometimes unwilling resettlings, but for the most part kept their traditions until they became convinced that they were the weaker sex and needed specialized medical help.

Explore the different ways that these stories played out in the United States for midwives and the women they helped.