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Wisconsin's First Afro Latina Midwife Reflects On The Impact Of COVID-19 On Her Business

Sasha Bariffe
Courtesy of Sasha Bariffe
Sasha Bariffe opened Prism Birth Services on Milwaukee’s west side shortly before the pandemic, and serves mostly Black and brown families.

The last few weeks, we’ve been reporting on how minority-owned small businesses and other earners have been affected by the pandemic.

WUWM's LaToya Dennis continues our COVID Earners series with Wisconsin’s first Afro Latina, certified professional midwife. Sasha Bariffe openedPrism Birth Serviceson Milwaukee’s west side shortly before the pandemic forced many businesses to close their doors, at least temporarily. Bariffe services mainly Black and brown families, which even before COVID-19 had some of the worst birth outcomes in the country here.

She says the pandemic shined a spotlight on midwifery for families of color. “I feel like in the beginning I was flooded with a lot of inquiries, especially from folks who had not ever dreamed of having a baby outside of the hospital system,” says Bariffe.


But a home birth, which is what she offers, wasn’t necessarily what some of the people reaching out to her wanted.

“It posed a couple of challenges of just really working with clients who this wasn’t their vision for several years. It was more or less something we really had to work to — in getting home birth to be their safe place,” she says.

Bariffe says that in some cases, people not really wanting a home birth resulted in more hospital transfers for pain management reasons. Still, she says she was able to help a lot of people over the past year.

Bariffe partnered with an organization called Maroon Calabash, which offers doula services, and together they raised $100,000 between donations and grants. She says that money was used to help people pay for the care they needed.

One of the most surprising things about these pandemic times is how community has come together, she says.

Courtesy of Sasha Bariffe
Bariffe says that despite all the pain the pandemic has caused it has in many ways brought her community closer together and given mothers more time with their newborn babies.

“I’ll put out a Facebook post of we need funds for X, Y or Z — whether it be for families trying to access something, whether it’s monetary donations for their care, a doula, equipment. The community has come together so, so well, so amazingly to back this and to really help,” says Bariffe.

Another positive is that this time has allowed families time with their babies without feeling to rush to get back to normal pre-COVID-19 activities.

Still, Bariffe says the inequities are clear. Even speaking with her white midwifery colleagues about the ways in which they have been able to navigate seeing clients during this time is different than what she has experienced with her mainly Black and brown clients.

“A lot of the midwifery community, they were talking about, 'Well, I’m not going into clients homes if they’re having family over,' and this and that. And I’m just like that’s not how I’m able to really move through this with Black and brown families. It’s just not the way we tend to do [things],” she explains.

As for the impact on her family, Bariffe says that it’s no different than what others have experienced when it comes to isolation. While more and more people are now getting vaccinated and schools in Milwaukee are scheduled to reopen, she says they’ve made the decision to keep their children home. Bariffe says it’s likely that at the ages of four and 10, one or both of them will catch a cold and she doesn’t want to have to shut down her practice or miss a birth until they figure out whether it’s COVID-19 or not.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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