The Midwife Who Risked Her Life To Care For Her Community

black midwife packing bag
Briona Lamback
November 16, 2023

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden pranced through the woods on her way home from another successful delivery. She stayed up all night with the expecting mother, and part of her thank-you gift was a large ham. 

“Graar!” Hayden heard a grumbling roar and was surprised to see what was standing just a few feet away.

With eyes wide open, she yelped and took off running. A large wild cat had gotten a whiff of her thank-you ham and wanted a piece. But Hayden couldn’t risk this. She had to make it out alive. 

She held her community together, and folks depended on her.

As a lover of the natural world, the incident couldn’t stop the midwife and herbalist known as “Granny Hayden.” When she wasn’t trekking in the late night through the woods to deliver babies in her North Carolina community, she was foraging and making medicine for the people.

Ground ivy, often used as a diuretic or astringent, and tansy tea, a bitter drink used for digestive tract issues, were two of Hayden’s specialties. Tapping into the ancestral wisdom of herbalism kept Granny Hayden thriving for generations and kept her birthing babies until her 90s.

The wellness of our people has always been in our hands. Like Granny Hayden, we must know we have the ancestral knowledge and power to care for our communities.