Research Suggests Police Violence and Racism Threatens Black Women’s Reproductive Health

She-Tara Smith, a professional doula, with her daughter Cheyenne, 5 months old, in her Newton home, May 11, 2021. (Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ann Ringwood)

Police violence and racism in general can be insidious threats to a Black woman’s reproductive health, damaging her own well-being and possibly even the DNA of her children, growing research shows.

Transgenerational trauma – defined as trauma that passes through generations – has long been documented in descendants of enslaved people, refugees and Holocaust survivors.

In the case of Black women who have witnessed the countless deaths and injuries of Black people at the hands of police, or been hurt themselves, their children may be unintentional genetic recipients of their wounds, both psychological and physiological. And in some cases, it’s making them think twice about having children.

“If you have a Black woman that already has this within her DNA and she’s experiencing community trauma, what is that doing to her body before she is even thinking about conceiving?” said She-Tara Smith, a Newton, Massachusetts birth and postpartum doula serving Greater Boston, also a mom of three. “Then you fast forward, not only is all of this trauma affecting her, now it’s affecting her baby.”

Police violence and brutality framed as a reproductive health issue encompasses its inherent, though often overlooked, impact on Black mothers. It affects their decision-making process whether to have children in the first place, and then psychologically – and likely physically – if they do.

“Weathering,” said Smith, is the accumulative effect on Black women from both micro- and macro-aggressions. In the case of Black reproductive health, “the womb is weathered and that causes huge systemic problems both for (parent) and baby.”

Witnessing or being part of such traumatic events, either directly or indirectly, can leave a permanent mark in lineage.

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SOURCE: The Providence Journal, Hadley Barndollar

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