Veena Hampapur (VH): This whole idea of callings was really interesting to me. Especially at a time when it’s becoming more and more common for people to have multiple jobs. 

Saba Waheed (SW): So for me, a calling isn’t necessarily a preassigned pathway more than realizing that in order to kind of find yourself, you have to choose pathways that appear in unexpected moments and it turns out to be the right turn.

VH: This sense of calling, it makes me think of – I don’t know if you’ve seen Sister Act – but there’s a part in the beginning when all the nuns are talking about how they got the calling to do religious work. And Whoopi Goldberg’s character is trying to make something up because she’s actually, basically in witness protection. 

SW: From the UCLA Labor Center, we bring you Re:Work. I’m Saba Waheed.

VH: And I’m Veena Hampapur.

Kim Durdin (KD): I really do feel that I’m led and I’m guided. And I just follow that and that it’s kind of gotten me here, but the most beautiful thing that I love so much is really learning more and more about the history of Black midwives in this country, how powerful we were and learning why our profession got wiped out. And not only just the learning about it, but really feeling intuit as if we’re all getting messages out here to reclaim this.

VH: You know at one point, it was pretty common for women to be giving birth at home with a midwife, and that historically changed. But today we’re seeing that more women are choosing to give birth with a midwife again. What does it mean to be responsible for bringing life into this world, and what’s it like being a Black midwife in a predominantly white industry that is in the process of growing right now? In this episode today, we’re going to be focusing on birthwork. We’ll be talking to Kimberly Durdin, or Mama Kim as some of her clients affectionately call her.

SW: It is part one of two episodes where we bring you the stories of two Black midwives in South Los Angeles devoted to helping women experience empowered births through their foundation and their birth center.

VH: Kim sees her experience coming into this world as shaping her path into birth work.

KD: I was born in 1965 in the era of Twilight sleep. It was kind of touted as this amazing wonder drug. It actually made the mom have amnesia more so than pain relief. The moms still felt pain in childbirth, but they wouldn’t remember the experience. And I’ll talk to my mom about my birth, because she said she loved it, she was like, “Well, actually I don’t remember.” And that always puzzled me even as a young kid. I was like, “How can you not remember?” 

My father moved us to South Jersey. And we lived in a community there that was modeled after Levittown. It was one of the first suburban planned communities. It was totally normal to just be a free child in the world. My mother would tell us to go outside, and we’d kind of come back for meals. And as soon as the streetlights come on, then you know you have to go back home. And that was our lives, and it was so much fun. 

VH: Kim’s father was 15 years older than her mother, and he had been married before. 

KD: Their marriage was a little controversial because my mom was raised a strict Catholic. To marry someone who was previously divorced was considered a big sin, so she carried the guilt. That said, they were a wonderful couple and wonderful parents. My mom was the strict one and my dad was like, “Hey, you know, try it. It’s okay to go out there a little bit. It’s okay.” And he also recognized that they’re two sides of the pendulum in how they viewed life created a good balance for us. 

SW: Her father had an innovative spirit, and it was something that trickled into the family.

KD: He believed strongly in entrepreneurship. “I can make money doing my own business.” Living life is about taking risks. You can’t just stay safe. That was a big theme for him. My mom was a seamstress, but my dad helped her see that she was a fashion designer. He was the type of dad that understood that when your kids have a gift, have a talent, that you want to nurture that. I was always doing art and drawing. He put us into art programs and then he would say, “Look, people will tell you, ‘Don’t be an artist. You’re never going to make any money.'” And he would say, “That’s wrong. You have to do what you’re here to do.”

VH: So while Kim was growing up, she was the type of person that always wanted to help others.

KD: My father would joke and say that I was like the character Lucy of Charlie Brown, where she used to set up a little psychiatrist table and charge 5 cents. People would always just come to me. I remember when I was in sixth grade and one of my best friends, she’s like, “I really need to talk to you. My mom, she won’t let me get training bras. And you know, it’s time. I don’t want to be bouncing around town.” And she was completely flat-chested. So it was just so funny, and I’ll never forget that, but she really was like, hurt. She came to me for advice.

SW: Kim’s mom was a seamstress. Correction – she was a fashion designer – and Kim found herself also interested in designing clothes. 

KD: My brother, he says, “Remember, I grew up falling asleep to the sounds of the sewing machine going.” That would be my mom sewing at night. But sometimes I would get my heart set on an outfit so I think that’s how I started just making my own because I couldn’t wait. High school, I started really getting more into the fashion part of the design.

SW: Is there any particular outfit you remember?

KD: Oh yeah, sure. The preppy look had come out. I would get plaid. I would make these little skinny little skirts. It was a fun, fun, fun time. But where I lived in Jersey and just my wanderlust, I knew that I wasn’t going to stay there. So pretty much high school graduation, three months later, I was out.

VH: Kimberly wanted to go to New York but it just wasn’t in the cards at that time. She ended up going to Rhode Island instead, and studied fashion merchandising.  

KD: I met my kid’s father there, so there was a reason that I was there, but being there, I knew that I was going to New York. And I really feel like that’s where life really took off…in wild ways. I transferred into Parsons School of Design and it was wonderful. 

SW: So, what happens next? Kim moves in with her partner, she finishes her degree, and now she is ready to jump into that 1980s fashion industry.

KD: Actually, the working in fashion design really kind of burnt me out. It was a little bit of creativity, but a lot of long days, and then go to a party, and then do it all over again the next day. You had to be on drugs to live that lifestyle and it wasn’t for me. Also, at the time, women didn’t have a lot of power in that industry. It was not inviting for someone like me. And there was very few people that look like me that were able to just be in fashion design. I mean, even now, how many Black woman fashion designers can you name? 

VH: Kim found herself at a crossroads.

KD: The person I was working for hired another Black woman and we got to be really good friends. As I was just talking about how depressed I was and just so confused about going forward in design, she was like, “Just go have some babies.” And I was like, “What?” Is this the time now? Just go have some babies?” I mean, that is a pivot, but I end up quitting my job. 

And I got a phone call from someone who had a friend. They needed what we call bookers back in the day. I pivoted, went and took that job, and decided that me and the boyfriend were going to start a family. I wanted to get married first and we did. My last day of work was the day before I went into labor with my daughter.

SW: Kim had a plan for what would happen after her daughter was born. But then, her perspective shifted.

KD: I legit was like, “Yeah. Well, I’m just going to give her to somebody,” seriously, and I’ll just go. Now, that’s not what my mom did, but that’s just what I thought you did until I had her and then I was like, “I’m supposed to leave her with someone? I can’t do that.” For me, this overwhelming need and desire to take care of my own child outweighed everything. I even understood why somebody might want to give up their child for adoption, because if they thought that their child is going to have a better situation, then they’re truly still taking care of their child, right? And I understood that I had to fit my life around her, not fit her around my life. That discovery was very freeing, because then I figured if I allow myself to think out of the box, I can do whatever I want. I mean, I don’t have to have a nine to five and put her in daycare, like, “Who said I had to do that?” I had to unpack all that stuff. And I also had to figure out what I was going to do, because I knew I had to bring in some income. 

These are critical junctures in women’s lives and parents’ lives. These are the things that don’t get put on your resume. They’re not on your CV, these kind of pivots and pit stops and left turns and right turns in terms of your personal life and your family life. 

VH: So Kim needed to figure out what to do, and the answer that she came up with brought together some of her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and also her mom’s fashion skills. 

KD: A recurring theme in my life, which is I was to just start my own business. I started designing children’s clothes and sewing them myself while I was home nursing my daughter watching her grow up. 

SW: Kim loved being with her new daughter, but even with all that joy, being a new parent can be isolating.

KD: Another really fortuitous thing that happened is that Jani’s about six weeks old. I walk into this woman’s living room, this brownstone in Brooklyn, and there’s a room full of women nursing their kids. I realized at that moment that I was not the only person with a little baby nursing all day. There was this whole other world.

The leader from that La Leche League meeting kept inviting me back to these groups. At the same time I was making these baby clothes and these baby carriers. And so she was very into it, she was like promoting it. 

VH: After Kim joined this La Leche league group, she began to realize there was this whole world of birthworkers. There were lactation consultants who help moms with breastfeeding, and then there were also doulas who help moms during childbirth and also afterwards. 

KD: So I just got into this whole other world, and eventually, I started working as a postpartum doula. It was a really wonderful mommy job because I could go around my kids’ schedule and my partner’s work schedule, things like that. It was pretty good money and it was fun. So that is how I started learning how to integrate kids and my family life into this work. But also I learned about the work through my kids. I always say that my kids brought me to this work because without them, I don’t see myself going into working with families as I do now.

VH: We have a tendency to think of the private sphere – our home, our personal life – and then you have work which is outside and your public self. In Kim’s story, you see so much overlap between those two realms that are thought of as separate.

KD: When you look at another mother’s eyes, deep in her eyes, there’s that connection because you get it. You’re literally living on another planet. And when someone can be with you that’s also on that planet, we would just be vibing off of each other and moms would feel good and I would feel good. 

SW: It was 1998, and New York had just gotten way too expensive to live in, so Kim and her family moved to Virginia and there they were able to take care of her husband’s sick father. 


KD: And then I started working at Howard University Hospital and help create the first lactation clinic. I worked there for many years, and you know, LA just started calling me. We moved out here and I eventually got a divorce from my husband shortly after us moving out here. And I just really – very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very tough time. One of the things I’ll say is that with this work too, your partners have to be completely supportive because it takes a lot of time away from your family. I started working for Watts Healthcare and I also worked for a birth center called The Sanctuary as a director of lactation and did childbirth education. And then eventually, I enrolled in school for midwifery.

VH: So when Kim decided to go back to school to become a midwife, she became a part of this much longer history we have in the United States of Black midwives.

KD: So there’s a lot of ancestral remembrance happening, and I think our ancestors are making us look and pay attention to what’s come before us. And what I found out is that there is this huge history of black midwifery in the United States that nobody knows about. 

VO: In the early 1900s, you start to see the rise of OBs. There’s this white medical establishment that wants to discredit midwives. And it was easy for them to do this because the women doing this work were primarily immigrants and women of color, Black women. 

SW: So then what we see is basically an erasure of a long tradition of Black midwifery that even predates the United States. 

VH: What you were saying makes me think about, you know the private sphere and the public sphere. The focus being outside spaces – hospitals with white male doctors – versus with just women in the home.

SW: The private sphere has historically been reduced, not seen as real work. And we see how the state plays a role in this in eradicating generations of experience and wisdom that at the same time moved midwifery out of the birthing process. Today, only 2% of midwives are Black. 

KD: This whole midwifery thing came at me from a lot of different angles. It’s literally and figuratively a calling. When they calling, you got to be ready to go. And it’s beautiful, but it’s not glamorous. You’re going to have blood on you sometimes. You’re going to see some body processes that a lot of people would think are gross. You may not sleep much. You may worry about the people you’re taking care of or their babies. As a midwife, we practice in a holistic manner so we’re not just saying, “Wow, it really sucks that her blood pressure is high.” We’re also thinking about, “Why is her blood pressure high? Is she exercising? Is she eating well? Does she have access to good food? Does she have a place to live?” We love to really take care of the whole person, and so by default, we also end up taking care of the community. I’m not trying to loan anybody any money, but resources. I’ll say resources, definitely. And it’s that holding space also for not just the great outcomes, but what about when stuff goes in a different direction. So we have to hold space for the happy and also the sad and the disappointing. All those things. It really is a calling.

SW: Kim raises such interesting things about what exactly a calling is.

VH: What does that mean when you put together callings, and gender, and women’s work. And how does that play out? 

KD: I have a dear friend named Claudia Booker and she’s a Black midwife and she transitioned about a year-and-a-half ago. And I remember a phone conversation that we had a couple of years ago. I was talking about it being a calling. She’s like, “Girl, midwifery ain’t a calling, it’s a business. The reason why we say it’s a calling is because you can’t run away from it. It’s like a wolf that hunts you down. It’s coming for you. And if you don’t surrender, it’s not going to work. A lot of people talk about how they try to get away from it. Stuff happens that makes them have to go back and allow it to take over their life. But yes, it’s a business too. It appeals to me because I have the entrepreneurial spirit. I can create it however I want. But also the business I would say is where you get your boundaries. You also have to have really good boundaries so that you don’t get totally burnt out. 

As we hear about maternal mortality in our communities, it’s really activated Black women to look into that history and then do it themselves. I think I would be in despair if I didn’t see so many Black women around the country that are reclaiming midwifery, that are doing whatever they need to do to kind of do this work in their community. So I’m seeing our numbers grow and that part is really uplifting. 

VH: We saw a growing movement for Black lives last year, and it just made me think about how bad the maternal mortality rate is. 

SW: Here in the United States, Black women today are 243% more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or by some kind of childbirth related cause. 

VH: What can be really surprising is, this is regardless of education. This is regardless of income level and even fame – we saw this a few years ago when Serena Williams and Beyonce went public with their pregnancy and birth complications. I think it’s astounding that someone like Beyonce who is worshipped, or someone like Serena Williams – like who is in better physical health than that – if this is something that they’re struggling with, what must it be like for so many other women?

KD: It was just everything doom and gloom for Black and brown folks having babies. Basically we just didn’t hear solutions. It was kind of like tragedy porn.

VH: Kim knew the stats, and how bad they were, but what she wanted to do was focus on solutions. What could she do? And at a conference in Long Beach in 2017, she and her friend Allegra came up with a plan to address maternal health disparities.

KD: By the time we got to the last session, we sat at the table and started planning what we could do to make a difference. So one, we thought was really important, was to get more Black and brown folks trained to do birthwork. That was key. 

KD: We decided to open up some kind of a small little office space where we can have classes. We also were very clear that we wanted to have this resource in the community that statistically speaking is suffering the most from the mortality and morbidity.

SW: That small office grew into a non-profit with big solutions.  

KD: The Birthing People Foundation is really where we started in creating an organization that was going to be focused on training folks from marginalized communities to do birthwork and to be trained by folks that look like them. The access to trainings from people like us were few and far between. We see growing the community as part of our responsibility and give back, and this work has always been a passed-down-knowledge kind of work. There was the people who caught the babies and delivered the babies and help the babies get to the breast and they pass that knowledge down. 

It’s a calling within people. It’s a human thing to want to support and help people in different ways. 

So we’ve been doing this doula training and right now we’re working with the Department of Health. Now we have about 30 new folks that we’re training, all in the LA area where they have even higher maternal mortality rates. Folks are being inspired to reclaim that community care and kind of have a doula on every corner or midwife on every block.

Midwifery should look like the people, right? And the people are all the things and so the midwives need to be all the things. Folks of color and folks from more marginalized communities, queer folks. Also something that we are talking about is non-competing. We need as many people getting turned on to this work because our communities really, really, really, really need it. 

VO: Kim and Allegra, they created this whole world of birth workers, and they could see the impacts of this collaboration. 

KD: A lot of families of color that I’ve known over the years will say, “I wish I could have someone Black at my birth. I wish my baby could be caught by Black hands.” I mean, seriously, it’s like if you’re experiencing racism, why would you want to go birth your baby with somebody that could potentially be racist towards you at your most sacred time? You’re scared. There’s safety when you’re going to a care provider that looks like you and shares your history. There’s so much less that you have to explain. Also, we have clients that have a real need but they’re just not financially able to swing it. We’re going to provide them the doula and we believe that these doulas and these birth workers must be paid. Folks in our community that are doing this work are many times, at the same socioeconomic place of the folks that they’re supporting, right? They need to make a living wage. We raise funds to make sure that we can sponsor some folks’ doulas. 

SW: So then in 2018, Kim and Allegra opened up Kindred Space LA, which was offering childbirth education classes, support groups, and basically creating a sense of community for parents.

KD: Kindred Space LA is the brick and mortar for activities which are more for-profit. We had a private space for prenatal visits, and postpartum visits, and for lactation, but we didn’t have a space for birthing. 2020, that was an intense year. The good news is that we were able to get a birth center operating.

VH: The COVID-19 pandemic made life so much harder for everyone, but it was an especially scary time for people giving birth.

SW: I can’t imagine what that was like. I mean, you were in it so you totally know. I don’t know if you want to even mention that.

VH: It was terrifying. There was just so much that was unknown. Could you catch COVID while you were in the hospital? People didn’t have access to the resources and help they might normally be getting after they gave birth. There were petitions going around to allow birth workers in, especially given all these maternal health disparities that we’ve talked about.  

SW: Yeah and I think, as with so many other things, what the pandemic had done was to once again, unveil some of the inequities that exist in our society. And you can see that, even with the birthing process and the lack of support. 

KD: You think to yourself, “Is this the time to bring a baby into the world? How am I going to get my community support or see my family?” Our moms that are typically low-risk are just starting to have more issues. Our moms and our dads and our partners need more support. In our trainings, we have my friend Dr. Sayida Peprah, who’s this amazing Black woman psychologist and doula. She has been teaching our birth worker trainees about intergenerational trauma and how that shows up in our lives as Black folks, as brown folks, as marginalized folks. To know that we are already impacted by so much intergenerational, transgenerational, current trauma – on a good day – overlay it with the pandemic. 

One of the trainees said, “Well, when I was pregnant, I was going through so many difficult things.” She was expecting their baby might be kind of traumatized. But she said, “He’s the happiest kid.” So Dr. Sayida asked her, “Was there anything that you did in your pregnancy to mitigate the trauma and the stress?” She said, “Well, I had a doula. I had a midwife,” and she named a couple of other things. I think she said she was in therapy. It was so brilliant because it was like, “You know what? Stuff gets crazy.” That’s a reality for us. But you can do things to mitigate trauma and stress. The takeaway for me from that was really, our raison d’etre for doing what we’re doing as a birth center, as a community resource. That’s the beauty too of being an entrepreneur, that if we see that the community needs something, we can kind of create something in real-time, in the moment.

VH: Callings can be part of an intergenerational story.

SW: The calling is a coming back to something that has been a part of your own tradition and your own history and herstory. Finding that calling is a way to find yourself. It’s a calling forward and it’s a calling back.

VH: She went through lots of different journeys. You can have different experiences and end up right where you think you should end up, even if that’s not what you were doing all along. There’s something comforting about that, and I think that’s really different from the message we often get in society where it’s like, “Hey, find the thing that you love and do that. And that’s your life.”

KD: I really truly believe that the energy of my own birth brought me to the work that I’m doing right now. There’s just a connection with your own birth experience, whether you remember it or not. Somewhere in you, there’s a remembrance. And it does color a lot of our experiences once we get here on the planet.

VH: There’s that whole history that she’s connecting into and then also her experience being born herself. So again I kind of see these different spheres coming together in her story. 

SW: I really appreciate what you said about her own birth because that story really struck me. When she talked about how because of the drugs that were popular at the time, women lost their memory of that birthing experience. And in many ways, this story is about recovering that memory, and I mean memory in like our broader communal memory of things that have come in that have dismissed midwifery in our history. Calling those back to life. And I really feel like Kim upholds that journey in terms of erasing the erasure.

VH: So Kim found her journey. She found her calling, or maybe you could say it found her. Or maybe it was something that was just within her all along.

A special thanks to Kim Durdin for sharing her story. If you want to learn more about Kindred Space LA or the Birthing People Foundation, you can find them at You’re listening to Re:Work, which is a production of the UCLA Labor center. This episode was produced by Veena Hampapur and Saba Waheed. Subscribe to Re:Work Radio on your favorite podcasting platform, and find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Check out our new website

After credits

KD: We met at the birth center that we worked at. I just was really excited to see her come through there. There wasn’t a lot of black birth workers around that I knew.

VH: That was Kim describing how she met her business partner, Allegra Hill. And in Part 2, we will share with you Allegra’s story and how she became a midwife and ended up co-creating Kindred Space LA.