Read the Introduction, Part Two, and Part Three.

During my fifth pregnancy, I contracted a rare infectious disease that made it necessary for me to abandon my plans for giving birth with a midwife at a birthing center and to find a doctor who would take me at seven months pregnant. You would think that this wouldn’t be a problem, but as I learned during my fourth pregnancy, not many doctors will take a patient that far along in a pregnancy. 

When I finally found a doctor who would see me, she ended up being trifling—she wanted to induce labor at 37 weeks so she could attend her niece’s wedding. I was not about to undergo an unnecessary and potentially painful medical procedure that would rob my child of precious developmental time just for my doctor’s convenience. I immediately switched to another clinic in the same medical practice and found a Black doctor that I felt I could trust.

Unfortunately, my doctor was out of town the day I went into labor, and so the practice’s doctor-on-call was assigned to do my delivery. I called the doctor immediately after my water broke, and my husband rushed me to the hospital. We arrived at the hospital at 6:55pm, and after waiting in triage for over an hour, I settled into my delivery room. The on-call doctor came in to check on my progress. I was 5cm dilated—halfway to where I needed to be to deliver. 

The doctor told me that she needed to go to her office (which was on the hospital grounds) and that she would be back soon to check on me. She expected that I would labor through the night—even though this was my fifth delivery, and labor often progresses faster with multiple births. I felt that the doctor downplayed my birth history and didn’t listen to me when I told her how my previous labors had progressed and didn’t consider how they might impact this delivery. She acted like she had all kinds of time left to check on me. 

The nurses hooked me up to an IV so I could receive medicine that would protect the baby from infection. The nurses also kept asking me if I wanted an epidural; I finally consented because they kept asking me.

My pain level started to increase. I grew impatient for the epidural, but I couldn’t get it until I was finished receiving the IV meds. As my pain level increased, the nurse, who was tracking my contractions on a medical device, told me that my contractions were “wimpy.” 

I asked about the epidural. 

The nurse insisted that I had to receive all of the IV meds, which would take about 45 minutes, before starting the epidural. 

She offered me another medication for the pain.

I said yes. I would take anything at that point. 

She left to get the meds. It felt like forever.

Suddenly, I felt my daughter descend into the birth canal. I laid on the “call nurse” button until another nurse came into the room. I told her that my body felt ready to push, and I begged her to check to see how dilated I was. She checked me. 

“Am I at a 10?” 

Silence. 

“Am I at a 10?” 

Silence. 

“Am I at a 10?” 

Silence. 

I realized that she was purposely not answering. 

I told her that I needed to push. 

She told me not to push. 

I told her, again, that I needed to push. 

She told me not to push because she had to check the baby’s heart rate. It was obvious that she was stalling. 

I was angry, but I was in too much pain to fully express my anger. 

The nurse told me that the doctor, who was just supposed to be at her office on the hospital campus, had gone home. 

The doctor was at home. 

Home. In the DC area, home could easily be a half-hour drive from the hospital, if not more. I was ready to push now.

The nurse was stalling because she knew that the doctor wasn’t there. She asked me to fight against my body’s desire to push to give the doctor time to get there…after I had told them that I had a history of relatively short labors. The nurse knew that I needed to push. 

Suddenly, several more nurses rushed into the room and surrounded me. I was lost in the moment, trying to process everything that had just happened through confusion, frustration, and panic. 

One of the nurses told me to push, and I snapped back to reality and started pushing. The nurses delivered my daughter. They called the hospital’s on-call obstetrician to deliver the placenta.

My doctor arrived just as the hospital’s on-call doctor had completed my delivery. 

***

I hope that reading my story has opened your eyes to the various ways that racism shows up in the prenatal and birth process. I hope you will see why we must advocate for culturally competent birthing practices and specialized care for the Black birthing community.

We need to expand our imaginations to think of how we can make reproductive health safe for the Black birthing community so that people can be treated with dignity, compassion, and tenderness.

I leave you with these words from Monique Melton: 

“When motherhood is a construct reserved for white women, there’s an even more tremendous need to amplify, support, and protect Black Motherhood.”