Updated: Jul 6
Racism & loss trigger warnings ahead, read at your own risk. Comments will NOT be responded to regarding this blog. I’m sharing this on my website because this story deserves a house to live in other than my mind. #hearher #sayhername #blacklivesmatter #blackmaternalhealthcrisis #blackmamasmatter #rainbowbaby
This is me a few hours after going through the storm in my womb.
These items were helpful for comfort, convenience and hygiene.
This was my last outing while pregnant. We got to take our angel baby to the beach. For that I am forever grateful as bodies of water are symbolic to me and keep me calm in the fire.
“We have to tell the truth until we can no longer bear it.” —James Baldwin
We experienced the loss of our unborn baby one month ago and it’s been beyond devastating and brutal on our already somewhat tattered heart & souls. The toll has taken and enormous amount from us and then some, passed go and collected more than two hundred dollars this past past 2 years.
While I hadn’t experienced an unexpected pregnancy loss myself until now, I had been a bereavement doula for a few years which—inadvertently—led me to being an (in)fertility doula for a few clients who asked, because there was need for it and my sisters were asking, so I provided it. Even though I’ve had to help others learn to cope with loss, I didn’t know how to cope with my own. Suddenly, a flood of emotions came over me as I wrote this because it brought back those losses I once held space for and never forgotten and now I truly “innerstand” their pain.
I’m having a hard time processing how everything happened and going through all the stages of grief over and over. I fear that I’ll never get over it, trying to find a light to carry on and continuing to help others as I work as a birth worker by day AND by night. But I’m exploding with rage over how much of myself I gave to others during this pregnancy and feeling like the stress of it all robbed my womb. I’m trying to figure out how to get back to serving the community in a compassionate way as I did before. I work with pregnant, postpartum and trying to conceive families on a daily basis. This will be hard, this shit is fucking hard. Excuse my language but I’m furious and it's okay for me to not be okay about it.
Daily, I have to manage a steady stream of folks reaching out with cries for help. Typically fielding questions and concerns of 5-8 different people at one time from sun up to sun down. It can be about anything under the sun from "is this normal? to how do I...?" and things like helping with safety planning to leave an abusive relationship or managing housing and food insecurity resources, just so people can basically live.
People have jokingly and adoringly referred to me as an "Olivia Pope" type for being a particularly and damn good unbiased resourceful person when it comes to perinatal and parenting related issues. While I can be great at "fixing" problems and I do like helping people, I'm really not interested in being a 24/7 helper.
Not going to lie, it annoyed me when people would ask me to help them after I lost my own baby, but I'd have to tell myself, It's not their fault and they don't know what's going on. Then thinking they may start to wonder why I'm being so short with them. I didn't want to tell them what was going on with me for many reasons from worrying about them thinking of me as a failure as a birth worker since I couldn't save my baby, to worrying about them being scared for their own situation causing anxiety I wouldn't wish upon anyone. Plus just not wanting to deal with "nosey" folks who just want to give me their well meaning anecdotal advice. Lastly, not wanting to hear "I'm sorry for your loss" yet one more time, it's my least favorite thing when someone is grieving and I avoid saying it myself at all costs. A note on talking to grieving folks, words have meaning, think before you speak.
When I had to start supporting people again just two weeks after my loss, my immediate internal thoughts would start running through my head like a stampede..."what about me? how am I doing? what do I need? Is anyone going to check in on me? No one genuinely wants to know how I might be doing or feeling myself". The stampede would get louder anytime someone would tell me I'm the only one to support them in the way they see fit, for their wellness, but no one is here for mine. And like déjà vu, I kept giving myself the harsh reality pill, that this isn't the reality sis. Had to remind myself why I do this work, because others are in my situation too, you are not alone. I realized a support group is truly what I needed, but couldn't wrap my head around searching for or creating one at this awakening moment.
Leading up to this planned pregnancy, I was the 'me' for me. I did everything right and more, I exercised as often as I could, I ate healthily and I took the things recommended to me by my care team, I was in therapy and I educated myself. I did all the things, but as a birth worker it drove me insane not being able to do more, but also knowing there wasn't more to do. I was doing everything and the shitty cards I was dealt were already in my hand, I couldn't trade them out or exchange them and I didn't want to give in to that idea. Self blame can be a real bitch in the presence of her sisters depression and anxiety.
I still struggle to understand how my daily work to save the very people that is also me, but there is no me to save me. “You’ll be fine” they say “You are a Strong Black Woman” they say. It is true but yet it is also a myth, one that endangers so many Black women like myself. Marita Golden taught me that. The main initiative at my day job is to help Black women and families to have more positive pregnancy and birth outcomes through provided free support, resources and guidance. I navigate people through their own fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and reproductive paths and struggles to help them make informed choices that won’t cause them harm or trauma. I’m told I’m a modest and humble person so it’s been hard for me to say this but, I do some of the most selfless work on this planet, trying to eradicate these heinous disparities of the Black Maternal & Infant Health Crisis like a daily David and Goliath battle. When I asked my “well meaning” white female supervisor for support, I was met with what I very much expected but also had hope that I would hear something different, but in my ask, I was met with “it would be a conflict of interest to allow you to be supported in this program.” Mind you one that saves Black women and babies from this very situation. I don't qualify, yeah ok.
It sank in...ok yeah, so what the hell do I do to protect myself, my pregnancy, my baby from this striking but real statistic that WE are 3-4x more likely to die of pregnancy and childbirth related complications? This is due primarily to systemic medical racism embedded and interwoven so deeply into our history as a country that it's like a never ending ball of yarn. This is fact not fiction. I guess I’m just supposed accept that the reality is, my work on this field makes me an unprotected class. I didn’t want to accept that and I wouldn’t accept it. I’m not superwoman and I’m not THAT strong, but as usual, I did what Black women do "best", I navigated myself, through this process since seemingly no one else could.
“The New Age Strong Black Woman gives herself permission to say no and make it a one word sentence, and makes self care a regular part of her life.” —Marita Golden
I took a week off work, when a few of my clients did not respect my boundaries in a request to not contact me for a few days while I was dealing with “health issues" when in reality, I was having concerns around my pregnancy and didn’t want the weight of my worries to cause them stress within their own pregnancies or related anxieties. I was feeling defeated as I couldn’t take the scheduled worry time I oh so needed.
I returned to work, now I was about 6 weeks pregnant, my stress hadn't lowered much. Immediately back to board of education work, dealing with threats from white supremacists—it’s election season (I’m not even running again) and the same day, I had to file a mandated report, more heaviness. I had to field concerns and questions on pregnancy, breastfeeding (formula shortage) and postpartum, all while praying I was ok myself. I worked hard and often until I couldn’t anymore that week. End of the week, I took an extra day off, I needed it.
At work, I was made to believe wouldn‘t be able to do this job pregnant, with many positively doubtful comments wrapped in a sneakily disguised cloak of gaslighting. Now I sit and ponder, how will I take care my family?! Frantically, I started searching up on pregnancy disability, something I’ve helped many others apply for thinking maybe it would be my saving grace to getting me some rest for my body and my baby. I can’t believe this is all happening I kept thinking, why me, why my baby, why did the White woman who was pregnant, who just quit to be a stay at home mom get better treatment at work and more grace with her pregnancy than I'm getting? Because according to 'their' wrongfully perceived notions, I’m stronger than her on the basis of my skin pigmentation alone. “you’re a rockstar birthworker” once stated in an email. Giving the false notion that all would be fine, you can do it. It was not fine, I couldn't do it. I knew I needed REAL reassurance from someone who understood and listened to me, but I had to accept it wasn’t coming from there, even though I foolishly assumed it would being in the line of work I'm in. I was wrong, very mistaken. I learned some hard truths this week.
This baby taught me things in our time together, and for that I will be forever grateful. How to slow down, to speak up for myself and to ask for help. Things I previously would not have done when I know I needed it most, most Black women don’t do this until it’s too late because we don’t have a choice, we have never had choices, our ancestors didn’t have freedom of choice. It could take me to an early grave being this “strong” community servant. "Stop, quit while you are ahead" I thought, I was in full life crisis and didn’t know where to turn but my faith. My spirituality got me through it and allowed me the strength and courage to even be writing this to share with the world my stories of heartache and pain.
This baby taught me to ‘read some damn books’ as their daddy would say, a doctoral student (education for social justice), this would be his response to most people who begin to question the existence of racism and the role it plays individually and systemically in our lives. Inspired by his love for reading, I read and skimmed, many empowering books written by Black women during this time. As I grieved, mourned, and bled, I read, to grow and escape my truth. I educated myself to further comfort myself into knowing this wasn’t my fault.
My baby was taken at a early stage partially because of the stress and toll that racism plays in our society that did not afford me the support and help I desperately needed and deserved even after I cried out and begged for it, knowing and fully understanding all of my risks factors. This wasn’t necessarily just a DNA error as they say most miscarriages are, just not viable embryos. Maybe yes, but maybe also because I’m a Black woman, over 35, previous high risk pregnancy and history of preeclampsia & pregnancy related hypertension, my great grandmother died as a result of the Black Maternal Health Crisis when her doctor ignored her concerns, my baby died because no one heard mine. I just wanted to be seen early for specific tests & vitals measured, that's it, no unrealistic requests.
Not to mention the extreme stressor of working two low paying high stress jobs. One, as a perinatal health navigator managing a caseload of 50+ families at a time, per month, more like 80 if you count my role as a lactation counselor. Two, as an elected public official dealing with racism and discrimination that I face as a Black female school board member, still getting threatening messages. As a Black women don’t get to be angry or speak out or we are labeled as hostile and unstable for showing ANY emotion, I was even labeled once as "too loud" for being excited. Just as four little Black girls at a school on the East coast were strip searched by White adult school employees for being “too giddy” at lunch time, Black women and girls are constantly being blamed, ridiculed and harassed by society for their emotions and mere existence yet they expect us to do everything for them and remain strong no matter what.
“The stress of coping with racism become a toxin that infiltrates the body, creating an incubator for other diseases.” -Marita Golden
My mom was suddenly in the hospital barely holding onto life, she almost died several times, the doctor told me to start making arrangements for her funeral and I did. Now she is in a skilled nursing facility for sudden onset vascular dementia due to a battle with the weight of the world and being a Black woman for 60+ years. All of these events coincide with the racial stress that flows through my body just as the blood flows through my veins. Dare I go into talking about the great Dr. Nadine Burke Harris how she explains how toxic stress & racism runs deep as the ‘deepest well’, adverse childhood experiences.
“A mentally strong Black woman cries and asks for help because she knows she is stronger in community.” —Dr. Kanika Bell
When I asked for space and time, I was loaded with more work and responsibilities. Expected to carry heavy boxes to weekend work events and add extra meetings to my week, be on at all times, despite how I was feeling or what I was going through. The strong Black woman mask was expected to be on like a cape, like a uniform. I was simply offered the opportunity to use my sick time to “take the time I needed” and nothing more. A white woman in this very situation would be met with “what can we do to ensure your safety, and the well-being of you and your baby” for me as a Black woman, it was expected that I can continue on as normal because in the eyes of many White people, Black women are the image of this mythical strong Black woman and it hurts us bad, it tears us down, it eats away and then we are broken. We walk around broken and no one sees it because we wear the mask so well. I decided after reading The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women by Marita Golden to reclaim my time, my space and my sanity. I learned that it is ok to take of the mask and we should! I don’t need people to see me being strong, I know I’m strong, but not all the time and that’s ok. I need people to see that I too am broken, I need support, I’m a human too despite the amount of melanin in my skin and the youthfulness of my appearance, I am hurting and I am broken.
I knew something was wrong. I knew my risks. I begged for help from the medical system. I didn’t get it. I found out I was pregnant at 4 weeks as I was using the Ava band to track my cycle and ovulation, partly out of curiosity and keeping up with my body but also because I knew my 'clock was ticking' to have another baby if we wanted to do so and we did. I woke up at 6am one morning took a test because I “felt” pregnant and it was positive, all 3 of them. Then at 6:30am I began assembling my care team writing a note in my phone to keep track of it all, everything I needed and wanted and which doctors I did want so I would have the ability to choose and not the other way around. For months prior after going off the mini-pill, I had already began on a daily regime of prenatal vitamins and supplements beneficial to me, no need to start or change anything there. I was also going to acupuncture on a “palace preparation” plan and chiropractic weekly with a few prenatal adjustments. All I needed was a good listening OB and an experienced midwife to guide me clinically and tell me what preventative measures I should or could take to prevent having another high risk pregnancy and to carry this baby successfully.
The medical system failed me per usual, no surprise and I expected that. I knew I had access to “good care” and such but what did that truly mean? I was about to find out. After drama trying to get my “good” PPO insurance accepted somewhere, many were perplexed by it, adding to my stress. I contacted my doctors office first to get in and get a blood test and monitor my blood pressure. My doctors last comment at my postpartum visit 9 years prior was “ha, I think you are allergic to being pregnant!” And “you should seek prenatal care right away should you become pregnant in the future” both stuck with me, the first comment was rude. I tried to seek care immediately as per the doctors orders and I was met with “you are not really high risk at this moment, so we can’t see you until 8-10 weeks” that’s too long I thought, they need to get me on BP medicine stat or at least see how my BP is to make sure it doesn’t affect the viability of this pregnancy as I knew that was the cause of my previous high risk late preterm pregnancy, dealt with IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) due to placenta being small due to sudden onset prenatal hypertension. I will be dead or lose the baby by then I thought. I knew I was now truly even higher risk as they were already brushing me off and downplaying my very valid concerns and I felt defeated, lost and hopeless.
I put myself on daily baby aspirin 81mg, and I booked the next available appt, some 4 weeks out and waited in agony. As I waited I continued to assemble my own holistic care team. I hired a independent non-Black midwife (who was amazing) I chose her because she was conveniently located inside of my chiropractors office and had good vibes. As I paid for my chiro visit her business card jumped out at me like a full moon in the night, I took it as a sign and I contacted her immediately to see if she was accepting new clients, I wanted early care and she provided it. I also had a Black midwife friend who had just moved back to California who was getting her local midwifery business up and running again, she was graciously checking in on me and providing me with her generous wealth of knowledge on general guidance. The nurses line became saved in my favorites, I’m sure they got tired of me calling but I wanted it all on record if anything happened because that’s as close to my OB as I could get, the triage line.
When I started having pain on my left side I contacted a community colleague who was a fertility specialist to seek an ultrasound but the pain soon subsided and I went on without the appt, determined with my care team that it was likely my sciatica. Still scared and unsure, I put myself of pelvic rest and cried for days confused and left to wonder, being too aware as a professional birth worker was my downfall, I knew what it all meant.
As things progressed I started having strange vivid random nightmares, nothing about the pregnancy. But soon I had to go back to work because I couldn’t afford not to. Let’s be real for a second, Black women don't make shit compared to the rest of the world, this is a fact. I live in my beloved state of California, and I will likely never leave but these houses cost too much, rent is too damn high, and gas is over $6 a gallon. My lactation clinical rotation hours for exam qualification could not be paid (and I worked over 500+ unpaid hours). I often spend more than I would like on my clients during the year, going above and beyond to fix things and provide items to them to keep them alive, well & meeting their goals because I’m a giving person by nature and giving is in my blood. I’m blessed to have a decent savings (for now), but can I get a decent living wage to match the amount of effort and expertise I put into this work.
“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” —Baldwin
I did my best to care for myself and my partner was no doubt instrumental to how long we did carry, he made me slow down, I did. We took good care of us and our baby. I told my midwife I was scared because I started spotting and wanted an ultrasound to see if things were ok, she ordered it right away and I was scheduled to go in 3 days later. Then the unimaginable began. The morning I was to go in for my ultrasound, the brown spotting turned to red, that was thought to be all normal early pregnancy according to the triage nurse was not normal for me. I didn’t believe this was my case my intuition didn’t lie. As I sat in a staff meeting on Zoom, giving out lactation advice to colleagues, I started cramping and I knew this was the end. I went to the bathroom and saw more blood, I screamed and ran to sit in the shower not knowing what to do next. Scared and fearing the worse, my partner (thankfully working from home too) rushed me to the hospital where I went to the OB and begged them to see me and tell me things were ok, to check my HCG levels and see where the bleeding was coming from, I was in a state of shock and delusion as they sent me downstairs and across the street to the dreaded ER at Sharp Grossmont. I called the ultrasound office to tell them I wasn’t coming because I was at the hospital.
I walked over noticing my body becoming more weak and symptomatic, the walking was making it worse. I stood in line, still bleeding and now trembling with uncertainty, I anxiously watched the security guard waving people through to be checked in. I didn’t want to deal with people at this vulnerable time but knew I’d have to so I put on my armor of God. At the hospital entrance, the security guard took my small Gucci disco crossbody purse—a status symbol in hopes that it may just erase some of the racism I face by showing a little “privilege”—and started slowly rummaging through my belongings in which I asked him to stopped touching my extra underwear that were in my bag and the bloody tissues I saved in a ziploc. I said “I’m bleeding please let me in” he said “do you have any weapons or knives?”, “No. Please sir I’m pregnant and they need to save my baby” he ignores me and proceeds to rummage through my things and finds a small TS approved size container of edge control, a type of hair gel. He says “what’s this? I have to wand you down now.” My partner yelled at him “we are losing our fucking baby let her in!” Of course now we are labeled as the angry black man and woman that we are right? Again, Black folks don’t seem to have the right to show emotions in this country.
My partner took my bag and my AirPod case as I was quickly brought a wheelchair by a nurse who overheard this happening, she asked me to come over to the window to state my symptoms and be checked in. She said it might be serious indeed and I needed to get in right away. I was then taken my wheelchair by the nurse, without my partner because no visitor policy in the waiting room due to COVID. Scared and alone, terrified we both looked at each other kissed goodbye and I cried terrified to go it alone. I had a phone that was at 20% battery, only one airpod, my blanket from home and myself, that's it. I got checked in which was a slow process but the front desk young brown man was nice and when I said I’m scared he said “you are in the right place, you will be ok and cared for you are safe” his calmness put me at a little ease. Waiting in that waiting room alone was a dreadful time in that hard chair beating on my sciatica and the TV playing random commercials I used to distract myself. I played my gospel music in my one airpod and continued to pray. My dad called me as this was happening and I poured my heart out to him. He prayed for me and then the nurse came to get me.
I was rushed to a room and promptly got vitals check. The nurse actually listened and respected me the first time I told her “don’t say that again” when she said “your blood pressure is so high you could have a heart attack or stroke and die”, “I’m fully aware mam but there is nothing I can do to control it, please don’t say that as it makes my general anxiety disorder worse which raises my pressure.”. She said “ok I’m sorry” and moved on to an informed method of care. From that moment she did the right things and spoke to me in a manner I could respond to. She actually did troubleshooting and questioned my past medical history of which she was upset OB did not do before sending me there, she knew I was high risk and said “shit. Let’s get the doctor right now” and she did. They were upset with the people saying it was tubal because it wasn’t and I had no other symptoms indicating that so they felt it added to my pressure of 160/110. It did.
I got my blood drawn and my urine collected. Went to an ultrasound where the tech was helpful and understanding of my fear as I expressed it. As we went into it I said “I think I lost my baby.” He said “we will see, but I’m hopeful it’s just a vaginal tear the reason you are bleeding.” We both looked and as he moved the probe around on my belly and took pics he didn’t tell me yes or no but I knew there was no baby there. He said “I’m going to get a female chaperone, I need to do a vaginal ultrasound is that ok with you?” And I said “yes, but I know the baby is gone” he put his hand on my shoulder and said “it’s going to be ok, we will figure it out” vaginal probe, still nothing. He said “I’m sorry, I don’t see anything, but let’s get you to the doctor to explain” I silently wept in the darkness of the room, it was dim and the bed was cold and hard. The sheet stained with blood, my panties ruined, I asked for disposable ones.
I was wheeled back to my little exam curtain space and as I come back to my room, not knowing how to tell my partner or what to do when I discharged. There he was sitting in my room and rose up as I was wheeled in and he hugged me and we cried. I felt happy to see him but sad I had to break him. I said “they couldn’t find the baby.” Is all I could say. We sat and we cried and we waited for the doctor. My body weak and feeling empty, numb. The doctor, Dr. Vu was compassionate, kind and thorough when he said “I think you are experiencing an impending miscarriage. Your HCG levels are 300 and should be around 2,000+ at 7 weeks pregnant. You could just be early and that explains the level or you could be passing and it’s on the decline.” I believed the latter, he did too. I respected his diagnosis and his bluntness because I don’t like to be danced around. He told me to get my levels checked again in 48 hours. Gave me blood pressure meds to drop it a bit, and sent me on my way with instructions to go home recover and some paper on how to manage the loss.
That moment forward I was lost in a sunken place. My partner and I cried all the way home. I don’t remember much else it is a blur. The bleeding intensified as time went on and the emotions did too. I knew I was losing the baby, no need to get my levels checked. I told people who knew I was pregnant and asked for space and told my loving holistic care team what was happening and asked for their professional guidance, it was received. I did the best I could to manage and be my own doula and my partner was an amazing doula too. I did everything I would do for someone else but for myself and that is twice as hard because the emotional toll is so draining it’s hard to be physically ok.