Finding out you are pregnant is typically looked at as a glorious and exciting experience. With unique pregnancy announcements and fun gender reveals flooding social media, we often gloss over the harsh reality of birthing babies in the United States, specifically as black women.
The history of black births in the U.S. dates back to slavery, where Black and brown babies were merely commodities, sold on the auction block for the profit of others. Forced breeding to create the perfect slave was the norm. During this time, African Americans weren’t looked at as whole persons, as the world dismissed their pain and experiences. Time progressed and remnants of society’s thoughts on African Americans trinkled through time. Black women were no longer forced to be wet nurses but were still experiencing inequalities while navigating pregnancy and childbirth.
If you aren’t familiar with the black maternal health rate, this term is the calculation of the number of black women who die of pregnancy-related illnesses and conditions.
While reading that explanation one may think that pregnancy-related illnesses and conditions are merely medical, however, there are other things that can play a role like mistreatment by medical professionals. We can play the what-if scenario games all day, but the reality is no black woman is exempt from the dark cloud of birthing inequalities, regardless of socioeconomic status and even education. When Serena Williams disclosed that her vigilance to advocate for herself kept her from being another statistic as doctors continued to dismiss her concerns regarding blood clots during childbirth, it became even more clear that no amount of money could solve this problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021 the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, which makes black women 2.6 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women. While this may be alarming to those who had no idea this issue was affecting our communities, communities they are in proximity to, and the people they love, there are so many advocates and educators speaking on the topic.
In the summer of 2023, Cedar Sinai held a panel titled “Embracing our community: Live! Advancing Black Maternal Health,” which is now available to be streamed for free. During the panel, subject matter experts discussed the inequities around black maternal health in America, linking many of the issues black pregnant women are facing to systemic issues in the community, including but not limited to socioeconomics, accessibility to healthcare, trauma, childhood abuse, racism, unconscious bias, and sexism; and provided tips and suggestions to help mitigate the issue. While many of these issues are systemic, systems can be challenged and restructured to be more equitable. That is where we, the people, come in. If we change what we deem to be the norm for childbirth experiences, we may see some change.
As a mother of three who has experienced inequalities during pregnancy and childbirth, I know all too well that so much needs to be done.
My thoughts that doctors know how to do their jobs trumped my fear of advocating and keeping myself safe. The few times I did, I was belittled, chastised, and dismissed, leaving me feeling unheard, unsupported, and afraid of what was to come. While I was able to leave the hospital physically unscathed and with my baby, that is not the story of many. I vowed to myself that I would never allow another doctor to turn what should be a beautiful experience into a negative one. So, I proudly birthed my next two children myself, in the comfort of my own home, free of chastisement and fear of my birthing experience ending in tragedy.
I do not want to rain on your parade by speaking of all the doom black pregnant women come to face. I only intend to be a support for those who want it and to educate those who need it. Through my past experience with childbirth and rewriting my birthing stories I’d like to share some tips and suggestions.
Advocate for yourself.
Your birthing experience may not go as planned, however, your wishes should always be taken into consideration. If you aren’t interested in cervical exams, say that. If you are uncomfortable with your doctor, find a new one. It’s never too late to say, “I don’t feel comfortable with this”. If you’d like to use a birthing center for a highly-personalized and maternal-centered experience, Oasis Women’s Health is a Black-owned and operated practice open in the Ensley area offering birthing center services to low-risk moms.
Use your insurance coverage.
Your insurance covers you. Utilize the benefits you are paying for. If you are unsatisfied with the care, you are being provided or you need to file a complaint, you can reach out to the patient liaison assigned to you by your insurance company to help mitigate issues you may be experiencing.
Support is key.
Having a support team for pregnancy and postpartum is essential to your experience and healing. You can utilize friends and family, as well as supports like doulas. Doulas often offer prenatal and post-natal support and can even be covered by insurance. If you cannot afford the cost of a doula, BirthWell Partners offers free and reduced-cost services to local mothers, based on Medicaid guidelines.
Try nontraditional methods.
Midwives have been around for ages, so opting for a midwife as opposed to an OBGYN may fit your specific needs. Midwives work in a variety of spaces and can offer nontraditional birthing options like water births and even home births. For in-hospital midwife services, UAB is our only local option, but there are ample home birth midwives serving the greater Birmingham area.