When I first heard about the death of three-time Olympic medalist and track star Tori Bowie, 32, who died at eight months pregnant while in labor this summer, my heart sank. I don’t know why, but my first thought was about whether or not she had a Black doctor or a doctor who is a person of color, someone who saw her as more than a patient.
You see, about 10 years ago, I almost died in childbirth. I blacked out on the delivery table after getting several doses of anesthesia, each stronger than the previous, before having my son via an emergency C-section. I was awake for the entire time and I could feel the doctor cutting into my abdomen, which is why I kept getting stronger shots from Anesthesiologist, a white man. But then I saw my OB/GYN, a Jewish woman, working hard to deliver my baby, and deliver me whole.
The last thing I remember before blacking out was pleading with God. “I want to live! I’ve just had this baby and I want to live,” I said with my loudest thoughts, unable to speak. My body was in shock. I went into convulsions. Shortly after, I blacked out.
But, I lived. I went on to hold my baby two days later, after the anesthesia wore off, and went on to have a wonderful next decade as a mom. No longterm effects. No postpartum after the birthing trauma, which was enough for me to deal with, quite frankly.
Looking back at that time, I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. I was a Black pregnant woman giving birth with complications who lived. I had a good OB/GYN and delivered in a highly-regarded hospital with all of the medical technology needed to save me in my time of crisis.
Tori’s death was called a “national crisis regarding Black maternal health” by CBS News.
Tori didn’t trust hospitals, according to news reports, and why should she? Black-American women are four times more likely to die from childbirth complications and one and a half times more likely to have a preterm delivery than European-American women. Then there’s this nation’s troubled history with Black people and medical experiments, such as the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis ‘Study’ and the U.S. birth control trials of the 1960s and ’70s that left thousands of Black and Puerto Rican girls, like Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf of Montgomery, Ala., sterile after they were tricked into testing out their bodies on contraceptives.
Is it the healthcare system, doctors and nurses, racism, or all three that supports this damning phenomenon of healthcare injustice in Black and Brown communities?
For answers, I recently turned to Maternal Health Advocate Angelina Spicer, a stand-up comedienne by trade who experienced a traumatic 10-day stay in a psychiatric facility after suffering from postpartum depression, as chronicled in Howard University Magazine. (Watch the video below for more.)
“I just want to open up the flood gates to moms and everyone to share about their experiences,” said Angelina.
As motherhood is marketed to women as “baby bliss,” Spicer says, giving birth is more complex than that.
“I felt duped. I felt lied to by the world,” said Angelina.
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Interested in reading more? Read how TV host Alicia Quarles got the cops called on her while pregnant.