Pregnancy as a Black woman in America is challenging. When other women are thinking of baby names and stroller selections, many Black women are being prepared for the worst.
I’ll never forget it, my heart was pounding and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me if my at home pregnancy test was accurate. She walked in and started the exam and I was in fact pregnant, I looked at my partner and was excited and really scared. We didn’t plan this, we had only been dating five months, so many things were rushing through my head.
My doctor looked at me and asked my partner to step out of the room and said, “Listen, your blood pressure is very high and you are at high risk.” I laughed because I had never had high blood pressure related to heart disease, but I did have anxiety. I said, “look I am really nervous, please just take it again. I wasn’t expecting this and I am just really anxious.” She didn’t smile she didn’t hug me, she told me that based on my age and race I was 4 times more likely to die during child labor than a white woman and based on this one appointment I was a prime candidate for pre-eclampsia.
That is how the first 27 weeks of my OB/GYN visits went. I was treated like an insurance liability instead of a woman having a baby. No one asked how I felt or if I was scared, they just sent me to a high risk doctor and gave me an ultrasound every 3 weeks.
I was scared, but I was prepared. I knew all that could go wrong and how little would go right, because I was a Black woman in my thirties. I read every book on pre-eclampsia, read all the scary data and read Beyonce and Serena Williams’ scary labor stories. I had a doula and she prepared me for the best and the worst. However, at 27 weeks after an appointment where the doctor couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat and I panicked and she told me to calm down with no emotion, I switched practices. I decided at that moment, I didn’t want to be treated like I would have pre-eclampsia. I wanted to be treated like a human with emotions.
My partner and I went into this doctor’s office fully prepared to assume the roles of good cop, bad cop. He was a middle aged Jewish man, a highly sought after OB/GYN. The first thing I said to him was, “I don’t have pre-eclampsia and I don’t want to be treated like I will because I am Black”. He looked at the both of us and said, “I am sorry we have really let Black mother’s down in this country and you are safe here. You will have a safe birth and you will have a healthy baby.” I was so happy to hear that, then he said “I agree with Colin Kapernick kneeling” (which was super awkward), but I believe it was his way of saying, I see the Black struggle. I don’t know, but I laugh at it often.
Long story short, at 38 weeks I had preeclempsia and my labor was induced. I arrived at the doctor and they took my blood pressure, excused themselves and said, “we have to go now.” I was prepared for this, knew this was a possibility, so I was escorted across the street to the hospital. I sat alone and I cried in the waiting room as I waited for my partner and doula. My doctor saw me and said, “what are you crying for ? We spoke about this and we have a plan, you will be safe.”
Right then and there I was prepared to advocate for myself as a Black woman, I was prepared to bring my baby into this world safely and I was prepared to be treated like a potential fatality. What I wasn’t prepared for was any of the mental health issues that may arrive postpartum.
No one spoke with me about my feelings about my harsh treatment early on. No one spoke to me about being a Black woman having a baby and how that made me feel. Nobody spoke to me about how my past history with anxiety could increase my risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.
I remember crying when my baby was 5 days old thinking, “no one knows that I am scared to be a mom”, and no one cared that I wasn’t prepared for this.