Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity’s.
Last November I birthed my beautiful baby girl in the backseat of my SUV. With my husband in the driver’s seat, intently focused on getting us safely to the hospital, baby Charlotte decided that she would enter the world on her own terms.
When I tell this story, most people listen in disbelief and assume that it was a frightening experience. On the contrary, I felt safer and more protected in my car than I did at the thought of entering a medical setting. I was terrified to go to the hospital. In the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 and painfully aware of the bias that Black women face in the healthcare system, I was terrified to labor and deliver at the hospital. In fact, in my state, New York, Black women are eight times more likely than white women to die during childbirth.
I am fortunate that my daughter is healthy and there were no complications. Though an unassisted delivery in the back of a moving car was not at all planned (nor recommended), the sad truth is I would do it again. This is a sad truth because too many Black women are paralyzed with fear that we will walk into the hospital to give birth and leave traumatized, or at the very worst, not leave at all. This is a sad truth because too many Black women are robbed of the joy of bringing new life into the world because we are consumed with trying to preserve our own.
I am educated, I have access to resources and I have a small but mighty village who will speak up and speak out when I can’t. My OB-GYN is Black and runs the obstetrics department at the hospital where I received prenatal care, and I enlisted two doulas to support me through labor and delivery. All this planning and preparation did little to ease my concerns.
A universal implicit bias training must be adopted at every level of health care and across public and private hospitals. Sure, many public institutions have implemented implicit bias training, but America is sorely lacking a comprehensive plan that includes public and private health care. I’m not talking about a 30-minute webinar that lets you mindlessly click through prompts and move to the next section after the required amount of time has passed without reading the content. It starts with rigorous coursework in medical school and all types of medical training so that students are forced to confront biases that can influence their standards of care.
I recognize that this is much easier said than done, but that’s no excuse not to try.
The pandemic shined a bright light on systemic racism that Black people have endured for centuries. We can’t waste this moment. Black women, and all women of color, must demand culturally competent maternal care that is responsive to our needs. It is the very least that we and our babies deserve.
If not now, when?