You Lucky You Got a Mama.
My name is Brittany Ferrell and I am a Registered Nurse, public health professional, organizer, and activist from St. Louis, Missouri. Over the past year I've been developing this idea to address maternal mortality in America and I'm finally ready to share it with the world.
I worked as a high-risk labor and delivery nurse after graduating with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing in 2015. I fell in love with being of service to and providing primary bedside care for pregnant Black women and people during what was one of their most vulnerable, sacred, and often frightening moments. As a nurse, I saw and experienced a lot of joy. It would fill my heart to walk into a patients room seeing their ENTIRE family waiting for the baby to show up. I often was asked "when is the baby coming?" as if I had a direct line to call the baby and ask "aye fam, your folks wanna know when you coming up outta of there." The excitement was palpable often. I was enamored with the way folks cared for their friends and family. Grandmas would bring collard greens and chicken for my patients for them to eat after delivery, give tips on how to "snap back", and poked fun when my patients would say that they weren't having anymore children by responding "mmhm, you said that the last time." I would bond with my patients over Peruvian bundles and Fenty makeup in-between discussing pain control options and what to expect when it's time to push. I was able to fully SEE all of my patients. Everything wasn't always happy, though. Fetal demises, maternal deaths, unexpected c-sections, and inadequate pain control was a reality, too. I've seen and felt Black laughter and Black grief fill labor suites from wall to wall.
I witnessed a lot that broke my heart. From the way some staff talking about patients before going in their rooms to provide them care, the racial biases that plague our healthcare system, and the complications, and sometimes deaths, that result from negligence and oversights of providers. These experiences and observations lit a fire inside of me that I have been unable to put out. I parted from my career in July of 2017 to pursue other endeavors with the desire to come back to maternal and reproductive health with more autonomy, knowledge, and power. Along my journey, I birthed this project that I hope you all will receive with open hearts and support with your money, social networks, and attention.
It's time to do a deep dive into the birth experiences of Black women and non-binary trans and/or gender non-conforming people and the American medical system that is failing us all.
And so, I present to you all You Lucky You Got a Mama: A Memoir , an artistic effort created, directed, and produced by me with the collaborative production of St. Louis' multidisciplinary artist Damon Davis.
About “You Lucky You Got a Mama.”
You Lucky You Got a Mama shows the daily life of black women and non-binary people through various stages of their pregnancy. This project will explore the intimacy and humanity of pregnancy as a natural condition and birthright. You Lucky You Got a Mama seeks to humanize each subject, canonize black pregnancy, and highlight the vulnerabilities that precede complications and death that is all but uncommon for black pregnant women and people.
This project will document 3-5 black women and non-binary trans, and/or gender non-conforming people from varying backgrounds, neighborhoods, and income levels through one, if not all, trimesters of pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum period using photography, video, and writing. It is important to see trans people and people who do not exist within a gender binary as individuals who, too, have the autonomy to get pregnant if they are able and chose to do so. Because non-binary trans people are faced with the same consequences of being black when pregnant in America, this project will include their often unexplored experiences with birth, birthing outcomes, and navigating the American medical system.
The outcome of this project will be a feature length documentary that will be accompanied by a book of photos with written testimonials of the subjects’ individual journeys. Together these works of art will tell the stories and detailed experiences of these people.
How does it feel to know that while having or after you have your baby you may die simply because you are black?
This project was imagined out of the need to tell the stories of black women and non-binary trans people and to make visible their experiences, fears, and challenges of being pregnant.. Maternal mortality is the most troublesome health disparity facing black women and birthing people in the U.S. today. Black pregnant people in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of whites. This disparity has persisted for years and for black pregnant people, it continues to grow. The deaths associated with black birth are ramifications of racism, structural inequity, and trauma. These deaths can be an imminent consequence from which education and class provides no protection.
In addition to telling the stories of black pregnant people, You Lucky You Got a Mama seeks to canonize black birth, document black pregnant people in some of their most intimate settings, and use still photography to bring forth the sacredness of their worth. This project will give an example of the black woman and pregnant person’s capacity to hold multiple truths, as they often do navigating the world. In this case those truths are the ability to give life and possibly die as a consequence at no fault of their own.
Women aren’t the only people who get pregnant.
You Lucky You Got a Mama is a name that comes from the overwhelming number of black women who are dying as a result of childbirth, however, it’s is not only women who are apart of this documentation. With normally functioning reproductive organs, black non-binary trans, and/or gender non-conforming people can get pregnant, too. In addition, non-binary trans and/or gender non-conforming people share the same disparities with black women that arise from unconscious biases that are embedded throughout the medical system— medical providers who equate being black with being poor, uneducated, non-compliant, and unworthy. This project aims to impact the culture of how we talk about gender in reproductive health and birth as we share the stories and experiences of pregnant non-binary trans and/or gender non-conforming people.
Black bodies are viewed differently through the lenses of black artists.
You Lucky You Got a Mama is unique because it is a project being directed and produced by a black queer woman who is also a registered nurse, birthworker, public health scholar, and mother. These multiple identities and professional and lived experiences bring perspective. In addition, the co-producer and other contributors of this project are also black with a diversity of identities. The subjects of You Lucky You Got a Mama are black and are sharing black experiences, black stories, their black bodies, and are at risk of complications and death as a result of being pregnant because they are black. This is important. Black bodies and experiences are viewed differently through the lenses of black artists. Shared lived experiences matter. To shoot the footage necessary to make this documentary a success we will be invited into people’s homes to join them and their families, to their prenatal appointments, and listen to and document their personal stories before organizing all of the footage collected to produce an accurate representation of what it means to be pregnant and black in America. This requires an immense amount of trust, familiarity, and a team that is qualified to do the job.
The subjects will be the center of this project. To add context to their experiences there will be an exploration on film of the medical institutions and systems that are failing black pregnant people. In addition to the day-to-day documentation of black women and non-binary trans people, this project will include some interview footage of medical experts, birthworkers, public health experts, and historians to speak to why black people are dying from childbirth and making clear the history of how obstetric practices have been established and advanced by experimentation on black women’s bodies.
This feature length documentary component, will total anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes depending on the amount of media collected. For distribution, the film will be played theatrical style at select theaters and marketed for a broad audience including medical professionals, birthworkers, communities, and institutions. We will begin filming in April of 2019 and run through December of 2019. Our goal is to premier in Spring of 2020.
The photography component of You Lucky You Got a Mama will included portraits of expecting black women and non-binary trans, and/or gender non-conforming people showing through facial expression and gesture the complex mental and emotional journey of pregnancy. Set design will at times be used to add props, floral arrangements, and mirrors to aesthetically articulate the canonization of the black women and non-binary trans person. There will be candid shots of subjects in their homes, with their families, at their doula appointments, cleaning, working, and grooming, everyday tasks that seek to humanize black women and non-binary trans people who are often thought to live obscure lives that contribute to maternal mortality. The writings will be printed as is, journal-style, handwritten by the subjects themselves, to make the finished product personable and novel as a piece of art, yet still powerful. In the book, the writings will be placed with still photography based on how the excerpt, passage, or quote relates to the image of each subject.
Why your support is needed.
There has not been a project that explores the intimate lives of black pregnant women and non-binary trans, and/or gender non-conforming people in relationship to the data available that shows that they are taking a gamble on their lives during what can be considered maternal health crisis. It is oftentimes believed that black pregnant people are doing something different than any other pregnant person and are responsible for their own demise. This is not true. This is a deeply systemic issue rooted in racism and structural inequality and inequity. You Lucky You Got a Mama can serve as an awakening for people who do not have access to the data, who do not know this problem exists, or who simply don’t understand the magnitude of this crisis. This project can not only bring awareness while humanizing black women and non-binary trans, and/or gender non-conforming people, it can also be a tool to help shift the culture in birthwork for and how black birth is valued in our country. By funding this project you will help build our production crew and provide development funds to offset the cost of expenses necessary to make this project a success.
"“There’s absolutely no reason why black women should be dying at the rate we’re dying. Just like state violence is allowing black folks to be shot dead in the street, and no one’s being held accountable or even having to atone for the death of black bodies, the same thing is happening in these medical institutions”."
- Brittany Ferrell, BSN, RN
Interested in tapping in and seeing where you can help? Want to know how you can be part of You Lucky You Got a Mama? Drop me a note.