Midwife Spotlight: Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Claudia Booker

“Give your heart to strangers and give it in such a way that only joy comes back” ~ Claudia Booker

The midwifery community, and the world for that matter, has lost one of our greats. Claudia Booker passed away February 19, 2020 at the age of 71.

Claudia was born in Washington DC and lived there her entire life. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from University of Hartford in 1970 and her Masters in Education in 1971. She went on to complete her Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University School of Law in 1974. Prior to her work as a midwife and doula, Claudia was a lawyer and served two terms as a Judge with the DC Contract Appeals Board. She also worked several years as a DC Assistant Corporation Counsel and Chief Contracting Officer for several of the District’s largest agencies. She served President Jimmy Carter’s administration as part of his advance team.

Claudia attended two schools of midwifery as well as The Farm Midwifery School with Ina May Gaskin. She also completed a host of other specialized workshops while apprenticing with numerous midwives throughout the United States and abroad in Senegal, at the Kafountine Maternity Clinic. She became a CPM in 2011 and was a Licensed Midwife in Virginia and Maryland. Read an interview with Claudia about how she came to midwifery.

Claudia championed the efforts to bring Maternal Mortality rates, especially for women of color to the public eye. Black women are 3-4 times more likely to suffer a pregnancy-related death. Claudia worked tirelessly to improve maternal health and reduce health disparities for communities of color.

2013 Improving Birth Rally at the Mall in Washington, DC with banner gifted to Claudia by Ibu Robin Lim

In 2005, Claudia established one of the country’s first community-based doula and birth assistant programs at DC Family Health and Birth Center. She established the “Heads Up: For Infant Mortality DC Project”, which collected over 2,000 hand-made infant hats and delivered them to local District NICUs. Claudia served over ten years as a member of the District of Columbia Infant Mortality Review Committee. She was a key advisor for the Committee’s Stronger Together campaign, an initiative aimed at reducing infant mortality and premature birth. Claudia co-founded the Grand Challenge project, which challenged doula, midwifery, and breastfeeding programs to offer scholarships to African-American birth workers. She served as adjunct faculty member at Mercy in Action , and was a guest lecturer at Bastyr University, American University, and the Universities of Shady Grove.

2011 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Washington DC

Claudia lived her life to the fullest, always seeking new educational opportunities to add new midwifery skills and expand the services she offered. She engaged with midwifery organizations and government agencies in order to advocate for birthing families, especially people of color. Claudia was everywhere in the birth world. In addition to her midwifery practice, Claudia was a sought after presenter at midwifery events around the country. She was outspoken and eloquent, saying the things that needed to be said, yet no others had been able to articulate.

Claudia was an active member of many maternity care organizations, including the Association of Midwifery Educators (AME), National Association of Certified Professional Midwives (NACPM), Alliance of Independent Maryland Midwives, Virginia Midwives Alliance, International Center of Traditional Childbearing (now National Association to Advance Black Birth), DONA, La Leche League International, CAPPA, and DC Breastfeeding Coalition.

The Direct Assessment Taskforce, Ashburn, Virginia, 2015

As a Certified Professional Midwife and doula, Claudia served hundreds of families in the Washington DC area through her Birthing Hands Midwifery and Birth Services practice. In addition, she volunteered as an advanced practice midwife at the Bumi Sehat Clinic in Bali, Indonesia. In response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda, Claudia also volunteered as an advance practice midwife at a Birth Camp founded by Mercy In Action in Dulag, Lyete, Philippines.

In an interview published in the December 2010 MANA Newsletter, Claudia expressed why she believed in the importance of training midwives of color to serve in their communities:

“It is imperative that the broader community of midwifery understand, appreciate, value, and support the unique ability of women of color to serve each other. For us, being with women who look at us as their sisters, aunts, cousins, and/or mothers reinforces a care provider relationship that cannot be duplicated with any cultural sensitivity training. Every woman of color I come into contact, be she a ‘round the way girl,’ soul-sista, earth mother, or up and coming corporate woman, all are viewed through my eyes as a long lost cousin, niece, aunt, sister, and I treat them accordingly. We have an instinctive rapport at a DNA level that puts us at ease with each other. Our clients know, like, and trust us. They can see themselves in us and vice versa. Once again, it is birth political—a community who cannot birth itself cannot survive—if we have to go outside of our own resources to ensure the birth and growth of our children, our future is out of our hands.”

To say that losing Claudia is a great loss to the midwifery community is an understatement. There will never be another Claudia. She brought passion and vibrancy to every event she attended. Families in the DC area have lost a great midwife, and her loss will be deeply felt in the community.

Rest in power, Claudia.

Our words cannot ever fully capture the richness of Claudia’s life, legacy and spirit.

Please take a moment to listen to Ms. Claudia Booker herself here.

Donations are gratefully accepted to honor Claudia and support her family here.

eBlast emailed February 24, 2020

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