Honoring Black Maternal Health Week through Transparency
As we celebrate Black Maternal Health Week, I reflect upon my journey to motherhood. At first, I hesitated to share this moment of transparency but quickly recognized that, in my transparency, there will be release, healing, and hopefully improved birthing outcomes. 10 years ago, at this time, I was blessed to be three months pregnancy with my daughter. I had struggled to become pregnant and had experienced a miscarriage the year before conceiving. I had all but given up, making peace with God in turning my ability to procreate completely over to Him as, for the first time in my life, I could not manifest something that I had set my mind to do. He finally answered my prayer, and I had the honor of this little person growing inside me. Based on what I read, saw, and learned from others, I set all kinds of expectations for myself, my body, my then husband, my employer, and this little fetus taking up room in my uterus about how glorious and amazing pregnancy would be-just like the images in social media. Yes-I fell for the hype! No one posted about the simultaneous trifecta of gut-wrenching nausea that lasted until the last month, heartburn, and constant hunger. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional disconnection from my life partner because I could not fully show up as a wife while managing the physical, mental, and emotional roller coaster that pregnancy takes you through. I had no clue that working at 150% effort and not being able to take on more would be responded to with, “Suck it up. Everybody is being asked to do more. Pregnancy is no excuse.”
Even though my expectations weren’t met, I felt it was my duty to mask my disappointment in myself and in those around me by simply pushing past it all. There is a condition in pregnancy known as melasma, or the mask of pregnancy, which is more common among women blessed with melanated skin. As I think about it now, it is quite ironic that this is the name because this is the reality for many of us as Black expectant mothers, to mask our birthing experiences, to keep a stiff upper lip and move through pregnancy suffering in silence. As amazing as my obstetrician was and as supportive as my mother and friend circle were, there was no space to admit how hard it was to show up with a smile for my patients every day or how strained my marriage was or the intense level of anxiety I felt about losing the pregnancy. I bottled it all up and kept my mask on, even when I could not find her heartbeat on the day of my baby shower or when she stopped moving one week before her due date. However, there is a price to pay for wearing that mask and bottling all of that stress up. For me, it was a critically high blood pressure the day after my daughter was born. A near-death experience, a nifedipine drip for two days, and 9 months of blood pressure medication pushed me to be more open about my birthing experience, to be real with my post-partum journey and to consider becoming a doula. The loss of Dr. Chaniece Wallace, who lost her life to pregnancy-induced hypertension, made it my mission.
Despite being a pediatrician and having a master’s degree in public health, focusing on maternal and child health, it wasn’t until I felt compelled to “push past” the trials and tribulations of pregnancy that I learned that the key to tackling maternal mortality, particularly Black maternal mortality, isn’t simply in providing more clinical care. When we talk about improving birth outcomes, we have to include conversations, programs, and services that elevate all aspects of a woman’s health and well-being before, during and after pregnancy. We say that it takes a village to raise a child. I would argue that, more importantly, it takes a village to bear a child. Every expectant Black Mama should feel comfortable and confident in taking off her mask and each person connected to an expectant Black Mama (healthcare professionals particularly) needs to check in with how she is doing emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally, and physically. It will save lives.