No number of stats can replace the trauma playing out in hospitals all over this country. These words—shared during BlogHer Health—resonated with me. As a Black woman, I’ve been overlooked and not taken seriously by doctors during multiple health scares. The stakes are even higher for Black mothers and Tatyana Ali knows this firsthand. During her chat with Thai Rudolph, the actress and birth equity advocate spoke in length about her first birth story and how it not only transformed her view of the healthcare system but motivated her to invest in reproductive justice work on behalf of other Black and indigenous mothers.
“I went to Harvard. I was a child actor. I lived a very privileged life. The birth of my son and my pregnancy was really my first interaction with a type of racism that could kill me and affect the health of my child,” she recalled. Rudolph also shared some numbers that reveal just how dire the situation is. According to the CDC, “pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births (the pregnancy-related mortality ratio or PRMR) for black and AI/AN women older than 30 was four to five times as high as it was for white women.”
And though all of us are ultimately the same “when we are stripped down in the hospital,” the cause of these disparities boils down to unfair bias toward women of color as both patient and midwife.
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“Even the most caring caregiver will admit they have biases. [Microaggression] is a reason to absolutely seek care elsewhere,” said Ali when asked about what the experience taught her. “[Indigenous and Black women] are the original midwives of this country and it got taken away.”
After discovering she was pregnant again, Ali opted for Black midwifery care and a VBAC birth at home, a decision she previously detailed in an essay for ESSENCE.
“Start asking the mothers you know about their experiences. It’s stunning how little we share with one another. We are so used to questioning our intuition and the strength and beauty of our bodies, not just in appearance, but also in function,” she wrote. “We internalize other peoples’ gestures and comments—even more so when those people are health care professionals. Now, I’m fairly used to being a Black woman in this world. I put on the necessary psychological armor when I leave my home. But who has time for all of that when they are in labor?”
For mothers or mamas-to-be who want to protect their right to pleasure, joy, and a beautiful birth experience, Ali says to work with professionals you feel respected by.
“You do whatever is right for you and don’t stop searching. Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re feeling is wrong. That’s the best way to advocate for yourself.”
And if you’re a content creator who wants to shed more light on reproductive justice, you play an important role as well by ensuring that you’re not trivializing Black pain through your work.
“Be mindful about how you’re telling the story. Tell the story in a way that doesn’t create fear or further traumatize the people you want to help.”
Additionally, “any mother of any ethnicity knows we need community.” The same goes for creators. In addition to Ali’s must-read books about the birth equity movement, she also recommends supporting the work of organizations like Sister Song, Black Mamas Matter, Birth Place Lab, and Birth Future Foundation. But for now, add these three titles to your reading list and rewatch BlogHer Health in the video above.
Scholar-activists Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger provide a primer on the intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender politics as it relates to the Black birthing experience.
$26.83 at Amazon
Julia Chinyere Parah and Alicia D. Bonaparte’s book centers on the perspective of Black mothers, scholars, and activists, showing how readers can help fix the broken maternity system.
$56.95 at Amazon
Michele Goodwin’s shifts attention to the politics of reproductive justice. Specifically, how legislation and other policies are used to criminalize women for stillbirth, miscarriages, and more.
$29.99 at Amazon
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