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Miss Margaret

by Diana Paul
color, 40 min, 2008

Once there were thousands of licensed Granny Midwives throughout the South. Now there are none. Who were they? Where did they go? Because of segregation, many Americans knew nothing about natural home birth with experienced Grannies like Margaret Charles Smith who learned from each other and could deal with breech deliveries, multiple births and other situations with no medical instruments or drugs. Miss Margaret's mother tells of saving a one-and-a-half-pound baby by making an incubator out of a cardboard box and hot water bottles.

Miss Margaret successfully attended over 3,500 home births without a single maternal death, worked a farm like a man and triumphed over the advesities of Jim Crow, poverty, lack of education and the slavery of sharecropping. "I've been through the wringer," she says of living in Greene County, Alabama, a Ku Klux Klan stronghold where, according to Ralph Abernathy, "racism was so entrenched that winning the right to vote there was more historic than man's walk on the moon."

Film crews gathered footage and interviews from Miss Margaret and her neighbors in Eutaw, Alabama in 2001 and 2002. Music, archival photos, footage from the 1950's George Stoney film All My Babies, and Miss Margaret's narrative move us through 100 years of history in a unique community far from mainstream America.  In Mrs. Smith's own voice, themes of work, birth, death, and faith are explored.

Today, Eutlaw is still self-segregated, and 95% of US births happen in hospitals, 90% of babies are born on drugs, 24% of the births are by cesarean section, and most obstetricians have never attended nor even seen a natural birth. Shy and modest in service to others all her life, Miss Margaret says, "I ain't scared to tell what I know. I'll die with what I know."

 

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