Labor Pains: Birthing While Black in America
by Staci Lowry
No recognition, awards, or accolades exist for those who birth a child. In the United States, most mothers would probably agree that they hope to have a safe and trauma-free pregnancy, birth, and healthy baby. Unfortunately, it is not often the case for many black women like myself. Black Women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As I await the birth of my baby, I am honored to work for an organization that advocates for paid family medical leave (PFML) and lives up to its values. Sadly, 12 years after experiencing a high-risk pregnancy without PFML, not much has changed federally or culturally regarding policy and medical competency for black women.
When pregnant with my daughter in 2010, I often used vacation time to attend doctor appointments with genetics and maternal-fetal specialists. At one of those appointments my doctor told me my baby had Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) after a routine ultrasound. Any parent can imagine the emotional toll that took on me, and the physical and mental stress that came with balancing a full-time job that I was afraid to lose while caring for my two other children and my unborn child. It seemed as if corporate America, the healthcare industry, and the government expected me to function as a well-oiled machine when I was sliding into depression.
Several times, I felt like my race and socioeconomic status affected how I was treated during my pregnancy and delivery. I always wonder if I had not asked for the head attending doctor when I did, if I would have died that day when a male physician told me that I was not in active labor when I knew I was. I have pondered if my daughter’s current medical issues now result from the care I received. Or if the inability to breastfeed her successfully was because I returned to work before my six weeks for fear of losing my job since exhausting my vacation time, hiding my postpartum depression from everyone. But I still consider myself one of the lucky ones because I am still alive to tell my story.
Fast forward to 2022. I am currently pregnant and considered high risk. Since I have PFML, I have managed my complications with support from not only my employer but my obstetrician. I feel mentally strong and have taken solace in physically resting, but I am an anomaly in the system. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many women, especially black women. The U.S. maternal mortality rate continues to increase, with Black Women disproportionately impacted.
When will our legislators act to solve The Black Maternal Health Crisis in a comprehensive way? The longer we ignore that systemic and institutionalized racism within our maternal and infant policies is largely failing black women, the more we will continue to see the disenfranchisement in our health, families, careers in our communities, and mamas deserve so much more!