Front cover of Safe in a Midwife’s Hands: Birthing Traditions from Africa to the American South, by Linda Janet Holmes, featuring a photo of a Black infant being cradled by two sets of Black hands.

Safe in a Midwife’s Hands

Birthing Traditions from Africa to the American South

Linda Janet Holmes

196 pp. 5.5 x 8.5
6 Illus.
Pub Date: June, 2023

Subjects: Black Studies
Gender & Sexuality Studies
Cultural Studies

Imprint: Mad Creek

order Paperback $22.95 $18.36 Save 20% and get free US shipping ISBN: 978-0-8142-5866-8
Order PDF ebook$19.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8278-6

A Ms. Magazine “Most Anticipated Feminist Book of 2023”

“A singular and significant work.” —Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine

“Through in-depth interviews and driven by personal passion and experience, Linda Janet Holmes weaves together the histories of African and African American midwives to share an undertold story of birthing traditions and justice.” —Linda Villarosa, author of Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation

Safe in a Midwife’s Hands captures in vivid detail the power and endurance of Black women who protected life from the history of enslavement to the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Like the midwives about whom she writes, Linda Holmes has given us the gift of women’s knowledge and power at the beginning of life.” —William Ferris, cofounder, Center for Southern Folklore

After a less-than-positive experience giving birth as a Black woman in the 1970s, Linda Janet Holmes launched a lifetime of work as an activist dedicated to learning about and honoring alternative birth traditions and the Black women behind them. Safe in a Midwife’s Hands brings together what Holmes has gleaned from the countless midwives who have shared with her their experiences, at a time when their knowledge and holistic approaches are essential counterbalances to a medical system that routinely fails Black mothers and babies. Building on work she began in the 1980s, when she interviewed traditional Black midwives in Alabama and Virginia, Holmes traveled to Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya to visit midwives there. In detailing their work, from massage to the uses of medicinal plants to naming ceremonies, she links their voices to those of midwives and doulas in the US. She thus illuminates parallels between birthing traditions that have survived hundreds of years of colonialism, enslavement, Jim Crow, and ongoing medical racism to persist as vital cultural practices that promote healthy outcomes for mothers and babies during pregnancy, birth, and beyond.

Author photo
Author photo credit: Keshawn R. Everett

Linda Janet Holmes is an independent scholar, the former director of New Jersey’s Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, and a women’s health activist. Her writing—including articles in medical and feminist journals—has contributed to a resurgence of international recognition of the significance of African American midwifery practices. She is the coauthor (with Margaret Charles Smith) of Listen to Me Good: The Story of an Alabama Midwife, author of A Joyous Revolt: Toni Cade Bambara, Writer and Activist, and coeditor (with Cheryl A. Wall) of Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara. She lives in Hampton, Virginia.


List of Illustrations



Note on the Text


Chapter 1        Korogocho: Massage Techniques, Spiritual Cleansings, Urban Gardens

Chapter 2        Baringo County: Naming Traditions, Pouring Libations, Preparing Fermented Milk

Chapter 3        Wolaita Sodo: Caretakers of the Process

Chapter 4        Afar: Timeless Bonds, Smoking the Mother, Extended Care

Chapter 5        Kpana: Healing Plants, Upright Birthing, Afterbirth Ceremony

Chapter 6        Ejura: Lineage Apprenticeships, Spiritual Cleansings, Born with the Gift

Chapter 7        Montgomery: Massage, Birthing Prayers, Burial of the Placenta

Chapter 8        Lowndes County: Medicinal Herbs, Dirt Dauber Tea, Craving Earth

Chapter 9        Selma, Dallas County: Outdooring Ceremony, Keeping a Birth Fire, Elements of Protection

Chapter 10      Mobile and Beyond: Advisors, Advocates, Lifetime Caregivers

Chapter 11      Hampton to Charlottesville: Rebirthing Midwife Traditions

Epilogue          Unearthing Black Midwife Stories





Related Titles:

Book Cover

Listen to Me Good

The Story of an Alabama Midwife

Margaret Charles Smith and Linda Janet Holmes

Book Cover


The Birth of a New American Profession

Laura E. Ettinger

Book Cover

Building Confianza

Empowering Latinos/as Through Transcultural Health Care Communication

Dalia Magaña