Pregnancy. It should be one of the most amazingly joyful moments in a woman’s life, filled with thoughts of baby showers, chunky little toes and mama and me outfits. But for many Black women the happiness is often overshadowed by thoughts of things far worse. As if worrying about how to protect our Black sons and daughters from the police after they’re born isn’t enough, we have the added burden of worrying about whether they will make it into the world at all – or if we will survive to raise them.
In the United States Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than women from other races. We also face the biases that come with a mostly white medical field and are less likely to receive proper treatment as a result. Why is this happening and what can we do about it is a question that comes up often. After all, according to the CDC 60 percent of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are preventable. It’s definitely not an easy problem to solve.
However, until the system becomes one that provides high quality care to everyone equally, it is up to us to prioritize and protect ourselves as much as possible in the journey to motherhood. These five tips will help you be your own best advocate when it comes to maternal health and help you have the safe, supported and joyful pregnancy experience you deserve.
Plan as much as you can and gather solid family health history
We all know that the journey of pregnancy is one that comes with twists and turns that can’t always be predicted. Add to that the challenge Black women face when it comes to finding high-quality health care, and you’re left with a perfect storm ripe for tragedy. However, one way that we can turn the odds to our favor is by planning as much as we can for the potential “what ifs.” Making sure that we have a plan for things like where to go after delivery should something go wrong, is critical information to have on hand. Also, making sure that we have as much information as possible about our personal and family medical history can help your attending physician make better choices for your care. Create a folder or virtual drive with records, lists of medications, past surgeries, existing health conditions, family history of diseases, etc to help take some of the pressure and worry off your shoulders.
Research and interview your doctor
The same way you would research a potential contractor or hair dresser to make sure they’re the best and the right fit for your needs, that’s the same way you should approach your search for your doctor. You and this person will be spending a lot of time together during the course of your pregnancy, so you want to make sure that not only do you trust them and feel comfortable with them, but that they are aligned with your birthing views and goals, and will be an advocate for you throughout the entire process. Make sure to Google them, look into past patient reviews, take a peek at their social, and ask your circle if anyone has any insight into their work. When you go for your initial meeting, treat it like an interview. Check out their office and take note of how you feel in the space and how diverse the staff is or isn’t, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions like how they are ensuring they and their staff are trained to recognize and confront racial bias.
Use your voice
Yes, it’s true that medical providers are the “experts” and we should defer to them and trust their judgment, but it’s even more true that no one, not even doctors, know your body like you do. If something doesn’t feel right, speak up. If you feel they aren’t listening, speak louder. If you feel they aren’t treating you fairly, speak even louder and then go find another provider who will and get a second opinion. Never be afraid to be your own advocate. Your doctor may know science, but you know what’s best for you as well. If you’re feeling unheard, speak up and ask for the head nurse, doctor or head of patient safety, don’t be scared to be seen as “difficult” when advocating for your health and the health of your unborn child. Use your voice, in all ways and always.
Find your village
As women, the ability to create and carry life makes us one of the strongest creatures on the planet, but that doesn’t mean we’re superheroes. Pregnancy is not the time to decide that you can do everything yourself and place harmful and unrealistic expectations and burdens on yourself. Seek out and create a village of family, friends, doulas, seasoned mothers, and supportive providers who will not only encourage you to advocate for yourself, but will be in a position to advocate for you as well and support you along the way. Also, don’t forget that your partner is also part of this village. Prep them by making sure your partner knows about anything really important to you and what questions to ask and what alternative options there might be. It will help you both feel more comfortable about the process.
Prioritize your emotional and mental health
The fact that Black women are at higher risk for pregnancy associated mortality can create extreme stress and anxiety that take its toll on your physical and mental health, and can potentially place stress on your baby. While we might be able to remove all the causes for this distress, what we can do is unapologetically make time for protecting our wellness. If you’re having a tough time during and even after pregnancy, try talking about it with family, if that’s not enough, use platforms like TruCircle to find a provider that you’re comfortable with to speak to one-on-one or seek out group therapy to find a community to lean on.