Giving Birth Is Particularly Risky For Black Women. Here’s How To Better Protect Yourself.

A few days after coming home from the hospital, I knew something was seriously wrong. I’d just given birth, and my baby was fine, but I had a blinding headache, which was soon compounded by chest pain. Five days later, I found myself gasping for breath during simple actions like walking around the house.

By that time, my already swollen leg had inflated so much that there was a visible fluid line right below my knee — making it unbearable to wear even a pair of flip-flops. I panicked and did what many of us would — I called my mom. She was the one who told me to call my doctor. But the doctor’s office was slow to respond.

I have been studying the various inequities in the healthcare system for years, so I knew that our hospitals in the U.S. are stretched thin. I also knew that postpartum checkups are typically six weeks after birth, meaning that the clinic could not fit me in to see my doctor for days. But experiencing these healthcare flaws firsthand was something different. As a biracial woman, I felt like a statistic — one of the Black women who are nearly three times more likely than their white counterparts to die either during pregnancy or the days and weeks after.

I ended up in the hospital diagnosed with preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication that often involves an unsafe spike in blood pressure. Left untreated, it can be fatal. But I survived. Other mothers have not been so lucky.

Black birthing people are too familiar with the realities of living through one of the more dangerous times to give birth in the U.S. While babies rightly receive attention and resources from our medical system, the people giving birth to them are sometimes abandoned, especially in the increasingly deadly postpartum period.

Over years of interviewing women about their pregnancies, I’ve heard stories of Black women treated poorly by the healthcare system so routinely that they are thrilled just to have made it out alive. Those stories helped my team and I to create a pregnancy app — one designed to serve the health of pregnant women, not only the babies — as well as develop steps that people of color can take to better arm and inform themselves so that they don’t become casualties of our system.

My own crisis taught me a simple truth: Our medical data, tailored resources, and communities are crucial to guaranteeing our survival during these most vulnerable times. When facing a flawed system, they can provide the confidence to advocate for yourself, offering life-saving knowledge and peace of mind.

But it takes a change in mindset, truly understanding that our health is as important as our babies’ health. Even while facing the feelings of helplessness and everyday challenges of pregnancy, birthing people of color can assert control, take action and build resources rooted in our well-being. Here are the three biggest takeaways from my research and my birthing experience — I hope it serves any vulnerable pregnant person well.

Build the right support network.

For Black women especially, a support system is crucial during pregnancy. Get trusted recommendations from your community, then interview potential physicians, midwives, doulas and nurses — not just about how they’ll meet your baby’s prenatal and postpartum needs, but also your own.

Find out if they’ll be accommodating. You’ll want to know the earliest you can get a prenatal appointment after a positive pregnancy test if they do telehealth, how they handle after-hours requests, whether they are a hassle to travel to, and if they have hospital privileges that align with your birth plan. Also, take special note of how all of the staff interact with you and each other — not just the person you’ll be working with.

Also, consider adding a team member who solely advocates for you. Doulas have become a staple of the Black community for a reason. Don’t underestimate what their combination of birth knowledge and empathy can bring to a potentially risky healthcare situation. A great doula will not be an adversary to doctors or other support team members but a collaborator who can convey information that makes a provider’s job easier and is not afraid to advocate for you when necessary.

Use tools that actually help keep you safe.

Any app can use messages or images to make you think your needs are being addressed. But while cutesy apps that tell you fetal growth compared to the size of fruits and vegetables can be entertaining, they won’t help you in a genuine crisis. The reality is that studies show increased rates of high blood pressure in Black communities — it’s one of the most basic things to track. If an app doesn’t serve specific, data-supported needs, it may not be worth your time.

The good news is that plenty of services have stepped up to meet the pregnancy challenges facing communities of color — apps such as Health in Her Hue, which is a great resource for finding a vetted provider of color. Similarly, the Black Maternal Health Center of Excellence has a number of incredible resources targeted specifically to the Black community.

Then there’s the Wolomi app, which has done a wonderful job building an online pregnancy community for women of color, as well as Dr. Renaissa Anthony’s Shero, which provides pregnancy education and group prenatal care support in one digital location. Guided by this shared mission, I’ve even created my own app, The Journey Pregnancy — a tool to document everything about your maternal health from your positive pregnancy test through postpartum recovery. And as more founders of color are given the funding to address our needs, we’re sure to see even more innovative solutions.

Arm yourself with your own data.

In a medical crisis, your body’s data can be your best resource for being heard, whether at a checkup, in the delivery room or managing postpartum recovery. So, it’s important to know yourself. Start early. Pay attention to your menstrual and preconception health and become your best expert on your body. Then, record any other important medical information along your pregnancy journey.

Log your blood pressure and document your symptoms between prenatal visits using digital tools, which can also be accessed by members of your support network. This will help you have more productive, data-driven conversations about your care. Having objective data could also reduce bias in care, especially as medical systems are increasingly taxed. Data also breeds confidence. It gives you or your advocate the power to speak up for your health with authority when things are moving fast and being heard matters.

Remember that throughout your prenatal and postpartum journey, it pays to be proactive, informed and empowered. As people of color, the current reality is that we face greater risk. But that doesn’t mean we can’t protect ourselves, ensuring a pregnancy journey where we not only survive but thrive.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *