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Black women, childbirth, and advocacy

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

As I am typing this, I am celebrating my 15th year as a mom. I look at both of my children, and like many mothers, I wonder where has all the time gone. Then I look at my children again because I am not just any mom. I am a Black mom, and that is different. Incredibly, I can watch my children grow up, let alone be able to write about this because I nearly lost my life giving birth to my eldest.

Sadly, I am not the only Black woman with a story like this to share.

I was at a scheduled checkup when I was pregnant with my oldest child when a nurse asked me if I felt any pain. Confused yet truthfully, I responded, no. At the time, I was five months along. Thankfully, the medical team and my Obstetrician were on top of things. They advised a medical procedure called a Cervical Cerclage (stitching of the cervix) for a healthy and safe birth. Bed rest was also recommended. Little did I know that the bed rest would go from one week to three months in the hospital. That is a story in itself.

The day of our child's birth began pretty typically. My spouse and I arrived at the hospital and completed all the forms and requirements for the arrival of our little one. I was being prepped for a spinal in the operating room, and this is where things began to go awry. Within a moment, I had problems breathing. I told one of the nurses, who said to me that everything is fine and that this feeling is normal. The response was interesting because breathing difficulty was not mentioned to me, and I asked about the possible side effects ahead of time.

My breathing became increasingly challenging. The anesthesiologist told me - wait for it - "if you can talk, you can breathe."

By this time, I was panicking, and on top of it, my spouse was not in the room yet. He was not allowed because I " was not stable enough for him to come in," and yet, the medical team did not think that my breathing challenges were severe. This in itself is an oxymoron. Next, I looked at my Obstetrician. By now, I was in full panic mode and unable to speak; we locked eyes, he nodded his head, and the next thing I know, I looked up and said, "I'm ready for her to be born." My doctor said, "Jenn, look across the room." When I looked, I saw my daughter being attended to by some nurses. Next, I looked for my spouse. He was not in the room, which was confusing because he was supposed to be in there.

Two medical team members took me to a recovery area, which is when I saw my spouse for the first time since being taken to the operating room for the birth of our child. He was standing at the door with a look of fear which confused me. I was super cold and did not see my OB; however, nurses were present to assist me. As the day went on, our families came to see our new bundle of joy. My spouse changed her first diaper, and I was exhausted. Again, I did not see my Obstetrician. He said he would be in the room with me after the birth.

Fast-forward to later that evening, and my chest and throat began to hurt. The nurse said to me,

"Oh, that's normal after having a breathing tube in your esophagus." Wait, What?! A breathing tube? No one told me that I had a breathing tube.

The nurse then said to me that my doctor was on his way to see me. I'll cut to the chase. My doctor came in and told shared with me that I flatlined while giving birth. He said to the medical team . . .

everyone who came into the room alive and breathing better be the same that comes out of that room alive and breathing, plus one, being my daughter.

My Obstetrician was away from me for the day because he was chastising the team and making sure that no one else would go through what I endured. He was livid.

I am sharing this information because, as a Black woman, I am saddened and frustrated so many of us continue to have difficult childbirths, which are largely unnecessary. My birth team, including my doctor, were white. Except for my doctor, no one listened to me. My spouse was not allowed into the room because I was having health challenges; however, the team assured me that I was not having problems because I could talk.

Every time I hear the phrase, "I can't breathe," from someone who is in distress, the trauma of a time that should have been glorious envelopes me. When I heard this phrase from Eric Garner, Javier Ambler, and George Floyd, who all ultimately died as they uttered the words, I can't breathe, a floodgate of emotions came back. Expressly, with George Floyd, another utterance was stated to him, which was "If you can talk, you can breathe." He died because those in power did not value his life. I lived because my doctor listened to me, heard me, and respected me.

My story had a good outcome. I am alive, and so is my child. And through that experience, we still chose to have another child mainly because of my Obstetrician. There are so many Black women, specifically 3 to 4 times the amount of white women who died during childbirth each year. The Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, specifically H. R. 595/S. 346, which directly addresses the health crisis present for Black women. The following link will connect you with the Black Maternal Health Caucus:

The following is from the Black Maternal Health Caucus and may be read in its entirety via the following link:

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 is composed of twelve individual bills sponsored by Black Maternal Health Caucus Members. The legislation will:

1. Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.

2. Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.

3. Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans and support VA maternity care coordination programs.

4. Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives culturally congruent maternity care and support.

5. Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it.

6. Support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

7. Improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.

8. Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.

9. Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and continuity of insurance coverage from pregnancy through labor and delivery and up to 1 year postpartum. 10. Invest in federal programs to address the unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy and to advance respectful maternity care in future public health emergencies.

11. Invest in community-based initiatives to reduce levels of and exposure to climate change-related risks for moms and babies.

12. Promote maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies

Reach out to your federal House of Representative and Senate member to let your voice be heard. Share the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act with family, friends, neighbors, employers, and other community stakeholders. Lead by taking action!

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