New Year, New Me right?… its 2019, and I have entered into this year as a mother to a new bundle of joy. Ten months later and I’m responsible for another human to raise, grow, and support. While I couldn’t be happier I knew that my first birthing experience could have been better. It was during this pregnancy where I began to question myself and my last experience, then decided to make a change. People tend to see your growing belly, and decide that is the moment to tell you about their horrible birthing stories.
The problem I had with this was that it was usually my melanted friends that usually seem to have issues with the staff. In every story there was talk of being force into having a birthing experience they did not ask for. While for some it was being persuaded into having an epidural, for others it was having an unplanned C-section, as well as having their doctor not listen to them concerning their bodies and how they were feeling.
These were the stories that gave me pause about being pregnant again. The ones that I took into consideration when looking for an OB and a midwife, because although my first experience wasn’t the same, I knew it could have been better.
The bigger question for me was why can’t black women trust their doctors?
Now many prominent women of color are opening up about their struggles of conceiving and birthing. From Beyoncé, to Gabrielle, to Michelle, and Serena; more black women are speaking out about their complications and I for one am here for it.
Many people did not even know what toxemia or preeclampsia was until their favorite entertainer came out to world, or why one of basketball’s favorite couples hadn’t conceived their own child. Lest not forget former forever First Lady discussing her IVF journey, and arguably the greatest athlete in our lifetime having to have such a disturbing postnatal experience are stories that shouldn’t have to be shared; and yet here we are.
Because the myth that social economic class, education, and adequate health insurance as a determining factor is a lie.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 700 women die each year in the United States due to pregnancy or delivery complications. The risk for black women and pregnancy-related deaths are three to four times higher than those of white women and nearly 60 percent of these deaths are preventable.
Remember Their Names
In the case of Kira Dixon Johnson, April 12, 2016, was supposed to be a joyous day for her husband and their ever growing family. Daughter-in-law to TV judge, Glenda Hatchett she delivered their second child a healthy baby boy at the age of 39, but never left Cedars-Sinai Medical Center due to complications with her C-section. There was blood in her catheter, and 10 hours after her delivery, a series of tests, including a CT scan, there were three liters of blood found in her abdomen. An autopsy confirmed that Kira Dixon Johnson died of hemorrhagic shock due to acute hemoperitoneum, which according to a lawsuit her husband filed was caused by doctors’ failing to properly treat and diagnose her symptoms.
Dr. Shalon Irving, a lieutenant commander for the Commissioned Corps of the U. S. Public Health Service and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the age of 36, her research and goal to expose how structural inequality, trauma, and violence from childhood experiences affected individuals health later on in life, in part attributed to part of her demise. Three weeks after giving birth to a healthy baby girl, Shalon collapsed and died from complications due to high blood pressure. In the end her B.A. in sociology, two master’s degrees, dual subject Ph.D., gold plated insurance, and research to eliminate disparities in health access outcomes couldn’t save her from being a statistic to one of the very things she was trying to prevent.
Mothers-to-be who couldn’t get doctors to believe they were having a heart attack, wouldn’t check them when their lungs that were filling with fluid, or examine their body when their heart was failing. Pregnant mothers whose doctors had assumed they smoked weed because their hair consisted of dreadlocks. Black mothers who while in labor were forced to have an epidural when they were dilated at 7 cm after repeatedly telling them “NO” they preferred to have a natural birth. High-risk pregnancy mothers who changing their doctors in the seven month because they weren’t being listened to, only to endure a fatal postpartum emblemize and stroke. Mothers like Tahmesha Dickey, Erica Garner, Lashonda Hazard who were failed by the system that essential was supposed to provide and protect them.
“It tells you that you can’t educate your way out of this problem. You can’t health care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.”Raegan McDonald-Mosley
Many would have you believe it is because more black women are uninsured; we are more likely to have conditions such as obesity, gestational diabetes, and or hypertension; they would even try to convince you that our neighborhoods, food, schooling, and jobs affect our morality rates. While any of these factors could contribute to our problems these same factors affect other communities as well, so it begs to ask the question it can’t just be race, but it must also be racism.
Changing the Narrative
So what can we as a community do to change a system that like so many others was setup so that we would fail?
“I wanted to create better experiences for moms better than the one I had,” states Kieashia Edwell, an early child care educator and nanny whom is currently studying to be a certified Doula. She believes that there are training and racial biases issues that affect our relationships with our medical providers.
“There are literally medical journals, textbooks, articles that have been published that claim that black people and black women feel pain differently or less intensely than other races, that these were once published as reputable sources of medical information and a lot of this has been passed on; and then couple that with personal racial basis, intentional racial basis, and systemic racial basis that is a tough thing to shake.”
All of this appears to be a culture in the medical field, but there is hope that this can change.
“If it is a learned behavior then it can be unlearned,” states Edwell, “but we have to be willing to speak up, we have to be willing to sometimes keep banging on some doors when they slam them, you’re going to have to be willing to be persistent.”
“We do so much standing up for other people we got to stand up for ourselves.”
Deja Jackson, a labor and delivery RN, BSN, knows that in her field black women are stereotyped all the time, from not being tested or examine when needed to even having judgment calls made on them due to their social standing.
“Education, Education, Education,” Jackson says is how black women can begin to take control of their birthing experiences. “A lot of patients don’t know that they can question and become informed on their healthcare and their needs.”
Black women have a host of problems to contend with every day without having our health care professional(s) be one of them. There are already so many other roadblocks and stressors that go along with bringing a child into this world that when it comes to our labor and delivery all we ask is that it be our most positive adventure. This story while personal was an extremely hard one, because as a new mother of two now, I fully understand how important it is to tell our stories for our children and our children’s children.
What’s happening to us must be documented, because this is a crisis one that for all intents and purposes can be avoided and is preventable. At the end of the day black mothers have a right to birth (too.)