The first time I gave birth, in 2017, I was joyfully ignorant to all of the issues surrounding black women and our disproportionate death rate during childbirth.
When I gave birth to Skylar, my biggest concern was not getting my epidural in time. I was very concerned that my water would break similar to those seen in epic movie scenes. The way I pictured it, I would be in a New York City taxicab.
My water would break dramatically as I was on my way to some classy event.
My husband would freak out and try to comfort me by making a joke that I would NOT find funny at all.
The taxi driver would be panicked, but not too panicked because he has been through this before. He would call 9-1-1 and explain the situation as we rushed to the nearest hospital.
In my nightmare, we would get to the hospital just in time for the doctors to tell me that there was no time for an epidural. As I would attempt to wrap my brain around the pain of childbirth that I saw in movies, I slowly would wake up out of my nightmare.
After the reality of my first childbirth experience was complete, and nothing like my nightmare….I made it in time for the epidural, I began to join a number of “mom groups.” I was a new mom so I joined every “Indiana Moms group”, “New moms of Facebook”, etc. I also joined the more specific groups “Black Moms Group”, “Black Mom’s of Facebook” and other accounts that specifically targeting the African American mom.
In my conversations, specifically in the Black mom’s groups, I began to learn a lot about the issues black women have during childbirth. In the beginning, I took the information and stored it as conversation points for friends and family members. I was aware of the statistics, but was able to push it under the rug for the time being.
On July 28, 2019 at 9:45 PM that all changed. That was the exact moment I found out I was pregnant with our second child. Immediately, all of the stats, facts, figures and pictures came rushing to my brain…..I freaked out. I was concerned for a number of reasons:
- As a black woman in America, statistics show that I am 3.3 times more likely do die than my white counterpart during childbirth.
- I was 35 years old when I found out I was pregnant….in case you didn’t know, that officially made this a “geriatric pregnancy. (A senior citizen uterus!)
- I didn’t learn this until much later, but I would have the added stress of delivering a baby during an international pandemic known as COVID-19 or the Coronavirus.
My concerns were no longer about missing the epidural and feeling the pain. My only concern was LIVING. I simply wanted to live through the pregnancy. I had to devise a plan that would give me the best chance to make it out of this pregnancy alive. Because of the number of factors working against me, I had to be proactive.
There were two main factors in my survival plan. First, I needed to educate myself the best I could on additional health measures I could take to make sure my body was in the best shape possible. Second, it was my personal goal to find the absolute best OB/GYN in Indianapolis, but I also thought it was important for my doctor to be a black woman.
One of the main factors that lead to the death of black woman during pregnancy is perceived pain tolerance of the black woman. In studies, it is stated that healthcare professionals have discredited or taken too lightly the complaints of black woman post-delivery.
The perception is that we, black woman, can handle “it”…whatever “it” is. This unfair perception is the reason comments of pain by black women after childbirth oftentimes fall on deaf ears and can result in complications including death.
I was so concerned that any concerns I had would not be heard, I found it imperative to find the best OB/GYN I could and someone who I know without a doubt would listen to me in my most vulnerable moments expressing, what I considered, terrifying concerns.
I found that person in Dr. Tronya Hawkins. Dr. Hawkins is the most amazing OB/GYN who hails from Houston, TX (she is Beyonce’s long lost sister…that’s another story). Dr. Hawkins is surrounded by a fabulous team of African American female doctors, medical assistants and staff members.
I felt at home on every check up, every phone call, every everything…because the staff was speaking TO me and not AT me. They understood my concerns, because they’d heard them before and actually lived them on a personal level.
Dr. Hawkins and her team were able to navigate me through the terrors of delivering a baby in the middle of peak COVID-19 timing. In short, I never felt alone or unheard during the entire process. Even when I got to the hospital on delivery day, which was a CRAZY experience, my RN was the most patient, realistic and supportive person…..also a black woman.
I am not insinuating that you should only go to black doctors, or that only a black doctor can make you feel at home. What I am saying is that after learning and researching the facts around black maternal health, this is what made ME feel comfortable.
After giving birth, I had a conversation with one of the black nurses and told her I appreciated her keeping me calm and just her very presence probably sent me from going into shock. The nurse let me know that this was not the first time she has been told by a black female that her very presence alleviated some level of stress.
Unfortunately for me, I went from 3cm to 10cm in 19 minutes. I had 14 contractions and just like that the baby was here. Some may say, that sounds like the easy way to go….NOPE!!!
The force of those 14 contractions accounted for the pain I would have felt over 12 hours, in 19 minutes. Because labor was 19 minutes long, there was no time to call the anesthesiologist for the epidural. Since I had a 19 minute labor, my doctor, who lives less than 10 minutes away, wasn’t able to make to the hospital in time. Those 19 minutes barely allowed for the nurses on my floor to scrub in to receive my baby.
So….I. Felt. EVERYTHING!!!!!! EVERY…..THING!!!
At one point, I was screaming bloody murder. The words the nurses and other patients heard down the hospital halls were, “I’m dying, I’m dying. You are not listening to me!!!” I was in so much pain.
The one thing that kept me sane was not my husband in the room or that I was at one of the best hospitals in the state. I kept it half way together because my RN was a black woman and I kept thinking “she won’t let me die…she can’t let me die.”
As I reflect on the entire pregnancy experience, I hate that I had to have a major added stress on me because I am a black woman and studies show that people will inherently think I have a higher pain tolerance and “can take it.”
I hate that I often think to myself, in medical situations, maybe my doctor or nurse will take me more seriously because I am married to a white man. These thoughts are not okay, but in many scenarios, I have witnessed these thoughts to be factual and I would be correct in my assumptions.
I am so thankful for black men and women who go into professions where minorities are heavily underrepresented. Sometimes just seeing a face that looks like yours or can make a huge difference in the life of a patient and their family.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. To follow along on this crazy motherhood journey of mine, follow my on Instagram at @TaliaBrookshire