There are levels and layers to Barbara Vernéus that will stop you in your tracks. This woman is fiercely devoted to her path, a path that is guiding and supporting a strong young daughter, a path that models working daily to live the dream of activism and service. Barbara is grace and power embodied. Somehow this futuristic midwife is putting herself through school, maintaining a doula practice, single handedly raising a daughter and directly addressing inequities in birth through her activism and work.
We are honored to walk beside you Barbara and we have so much gratitude for your generosity and example you are setting, not only to your daughter, but to all of us.
Can you tell us a little bit about your transition to motherhood? On October 28, 2013, I took a few pregnancy tests and all of them were positive. I was both in shock and denial. I had dreamt of a beautiful wedding and a faithful husband—nothing like what I grew up with (I had witnessed my mother’s abusive relationship with her boyfriend). But here I was having to call and tell the man I didn’t want to be with that I was pregnant with his child. Instead of support, I was met with emotional abuse. Our relationship became a series of empty promises and absences at prenatal appointments, the gender party, and baby shower. So my transition wasn’t a smooth one. I struggled with depression during most of my pregnancy. But I pulled up my big girls panties and did what I had to do. I eventually moved back to my Philadelphia to be amongst my supportive community. And at 6-7 months into my pregnancy I got a job to support my child and I. Eventually, I got my own apartment as well.
What was your postpartum period like? My postpartum period was only doable because of my church community in Philadelphia. But when I arrived home with my daughter, I felt very overwhelmed and undone. I cried because I couldn’t help her latch on to my breast, making breastfeeding difficult and painful. I cried because hearing my daughter’s cry reminded me of her absentee father and that I was doing this alone. How would I care for her? I could barely take care for myself. The magnitude of my baby’s presence and power was so overwhelming that it highlighted my own shortcomings (which I continue to struggle with but currently deal with much better).
But one day something clicked for me. Looking at my daughter, I realized I was witnessing God’s glory before me in such a small person. This epiphany ignited a fearless spirit in me.
My daughter finally pushed me to pursue midwifery after knowing I wanted to do this since 2000. Many days I was having suicidal thoughts but then struggling with the thought of forever leaving my daughter behind. At the end of the day I always wanted to be mother, just not this way. I never wanted to be a single mother. I saw how my mother struggled and saw how living in a one parent home affected me in many ways. I wouldn’t change anything I went through because it has made me stronger, and gave me a calling. I have seen and continue to see the grace, mercy, and glory within it all.
Can you tell us about your mission as a birth worker? The population which I desire to serve are families of the African diaspora in the urban communities and also overseas like Haiti, which is the homeland of my parents. I have completed my Master’s in Christian Counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family in order to counsel those who have experienced some form of traumatic experience in their life. Since the year of 2000 I have always had a strong desire to help other women bring about precious life into the world. In my various work experiences, I see everything colluding to bring me back to what’s most important and where the most impact in one’s life can begin. I believe it is in the very moment of conception. And in that moment we have the opportunity to assist in helping a mother know her power, resources and choices for herself and her baby. All my work experiences have been related to the family unit and realizing that many of the organizations in which I have worked are not built for producing holistic healing of women, children and the family, but conversely serve in merely handling parts of the whole, as if the absence of other parts is not important to the integrity of the individual.
I am grieved by the abuse of women and children and the lack of value of the the African-American family. I want to help to bring the importance of the family unit back in the urban community through womanhood, motherhood and even fatherhood which usually is forgotten and not seen as important. All parties, however, are vital to the development of the family which in turn revitalize the prosperity of one’s community. I truly believe all that can be done as a “Counseling Midwife”. In many cultures the midwife was just that–both the counselor and healer, which went beyond the scope of birth.
How does your work as a doula/activist and midwifery student weave into your motherhood journey? Some days they intertwine and some days it’s like oil and water. Since deciding to truly pursue this journey, life has been extremely difficult. The well-being of my daughter comes first, and because so. I have had to reassess and change route to my ultimate goal several times. Many times, I just want to give up because pursuing this path with limited physical support for childcare is tremendously difficult, in addition to the financial limits due to being a student midwife, because it’s a non-paying role, which necessitates finding other means to support your family while being on-call 24-7.
And of course, I am faced with my own birth experience and that of the many other women I have helped as a doula/activist, along with the fact that echoes in the walls of my mind every night–we need more Black and Brown midwives. Furthermore, Black women and babies are dying at a rate of 4 times more than white women and babies. Believe it or not there is an attack on the Black family, which I often feel also includes myself. So I have to live my life knowing my daughter is watching my every move, which causes me to be very intentional in the way I live and what I expose her too. My life is not perfect but she will know the possibilities will be endless for her because I am not only fighting for the Black families I encounter but I am especially fighting for her future – Glorious-Zoelle Shaddai Verneus.
So because I wear so many hats I often vacillate about who I think I am versus who I am which is a forever evolving process as I work to master the balance of giving so much of myself as mother, birth worker, activist, and student midwife. There is the perpetuity of having to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, never truly feeling stable and stretched all over the place which is the reality of a these roles, right? So some days are better than others while I’m fighting to make my dreams become a reality. I live in a state where none of my friends and family live, so I get extremely homesick very often. In 2016, I moved to Texas to pursue becoming a CPM. I chose Texas because it was one of few states where CPM’s are legal workers. Texas was also a great place to be trained as a midwife. But is wasn’t until I moved to Texas that I actually saw what I knew to be true. That out of the 15,000 midwives accounted, Black midwives account for only 2% midwives in the state and that Black women and babies were dying at a rate of 4 times higher than white women and babies. I could count on one hand how many Black midwives were available in each of Texas’ major cities. Then I started looking into other states, like Louisiana where there are only 3 CPM’s in the state of Louisiana that I know of. Being face to face with this reality ignited a greater desire to pursue midwifery because, as a nation, we are dealing with an epidemic at this point.
Do you have any advice for expecting or new parents? And/or wisdom/advice for fellow birth workers? 1.)If you are single parent like me, I would suggest to build your support system while pursuing this journey, because it’s extremely lonely. 2.)Get in the practice of forgiving yourself because you will miss out on many experiences and moments with your family. 3.) Create practical goals but hold those goals loosely as long you keep to the overall end goal. 4.) don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG because if it doesn’t scare you it’s not big enough. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. 5.) don’t forget your little one is watching you and they are already proud of you and you haven’t failed them because you haven’t given up. 6.)You are divinely chosen to be a birth worker, a mom and many many more because you are here so bask in that gift called life and unwrap it everyday with anticipation of new miracles and blessings with a mindset of gratitude! Your mind can be your greatest battlefield where you have decided whether you have already lost or won. 7.)Feed yourself truth everyday and remember your strengths because life will always remind you of your shortcomings. 8.)Be your your own biggest supporter. And lastly 8.)it’s ok that some days you absolutely do nothing and be in your feelings and cry as long as you don’t give up on yourself.
What is your greatest vision for your own future as a midwife? Vision board with us! We’d love you to share with us what your practice will look like inside, the vibe, who you will serve and how far and wide your message will reach? Not ready to share as yet. But there is so much and I can’t wait to see it all come into fruition. Some people thought I wouldn’t have made it this far and here I am refusing to take no for an answer and creating my own opportunities for myself and others.
How can we support you further? Well like I expressed before, this journey has not and continues to not be easy. I chose the PEP route due to the inability to afford the tutions at many midwifery schools, some of which do not offer financial aid. Another barrier to my practice is that some institutions and apprenticeships won’t take you on if you’re a single mom. Having unreliable childcare is another huge barrier which goes back to why it’s hard to find institutions and apprenticeships that accept the very reality in which MANY midwives currently live. Overall a lot of these institutions create barriers, especially for Black and brown women who want to become midwives.
In September 2018 I will be entering into Phase 2 of my journey to becoming a midwife. For 3 months I will not be able to work. I still need assistance financially to be honest. The cost for 3 months tuition is $2,500.00 but no donation is too small. I have left my gofundme campaign still active so if you feel led to donate to my education, you can do so at gofundme.com/mercyinaction or you can reach out directly to me at email@example.com (even if its because you’re reachout out you as well, maybe curious how you should pursue the path into midwifery and need someone to listen; sometimes that is all we need). By doing this it would lessen the load even though I would still need to come up with funds for room and board, transportation, food, etc. If you can’t donate please share my story because you don’t know who it will reach and inspire. And lastly, you can follow me on instagram @tinyandbrave and on my facebook page Tiny & Brave Holistic Services and witness my journey into midwifery. You are my village.
Help support Barbara to directly fight racial inequity in birth
Hear Barbara speak at the M/Other Conference in LA in May