To Be Young, Pregnant, Black and Dismissed

To be young, pregnant, Black and dismissed. @MissLori

Serena Williams is not the only one.

I’m flying out to Vermont this week to care for my eldest before, during and after his ACL surgery at the University Hospital. He is 19, cooked and done, but since his birth I have learned that you are never too old, too young, or too pregnant to need a medical advocate…especially if you are a person of color.

“You are never too old, too young, or too pregnant to need a medical advocate.” ~ @MissLori

My education about the necessity for medical advocacy began when I was pregnant with my son two decades ago. As a first-time mom I was at the mercy of all the experts out there. I was being led by the nose and disoriented by an over-abundance of advice, fear of condemnation, and a whole lot of self-doubt. It was just that combination of foibles that kept me from standing up for myself when someone who was supposed to be a trusted partner in one of the most monumental events of my life betrayed me. My obstetrician.

Young, Black, pregnant and dismissed.” ~ @MissLori

None of my friends around me were pregnant, and since I was adopted my mom was not a resource, so I became a serious student of pregnancy. I got all the books and my nose was constantly buried in the pages. From jump I knew that I wanted to have a “natural birth” so we enrolled in Bradley Method classes. (We had to travel outside of the city because they were only being offered in the North suburbs.) Armed with my newly acquired knowledge and a clear Bradley objective of no unnecessary intervention, drugs, or procedures to spur the birth on, I headed to my first obstetrician appointment. I chose my OB practice as wisely as I could without benefit of recommendations or suggestions. It was a downtown practice affiliated with the hospital I wanted to birth at and the OB was a woman. Sure the practice was all white, but it was the 90’s being “the only” in a room was my log-standing normal. At my appointment I presented my new OB my very specific, written list of what I did not want done, including but not limited to a “cervical sweep.” My obstetrician was all smiles of agreement then, but I came to learn later that she was just shinning me on.

“My obstetrician was all smiles of agreement then, but I came to learn later that she was just shinning me on.” ~ @MissLori

Once I got over a pretty dastardly case of morning sickness my pregnancy progressed very well. According to the books I hit all my marks with no monumental red flags. All was good. When we were less than two weeks from my due date I had my near final OB appointment. The news was as good as always. I was even dilating significantly already. Everything was on track. So I went home and proceeded with my baby prep … until … I started to spot. Then I got cramps. I checked my books. This was not the Braxton Hicks I had been expecting. This felt wrong. I hemmed and hawed for hours, in pain, not knowing if I was overreacting. Finally I made a call to my obstetrician. She got on the line and quite casually informed me that there was nothing to worry about. She said, “Spotting can happen when the cervix is swept. It’s to be expected.” I’m sorry, what?!? “YOU SWEPT MY CERVIX?” Not only had my OB violated my trust by performing a procedure I had not consented to, she did it without informing me. Then she sent me, a nine month pregnant new mother, home to experience unexpected side effects that left me terrified and in pain. How could she betray me like this? I was mortified!

“Not only had my OB violated my trust by performing a procedure I had not consented to, she did it without informing me.” ~ @MissLori

I called the head of the practice and complained. I told him that I categorically did not want my OB anywhere near me at my birth. I wanted his assurance that one of the other doctors in the practice would take her place so I could feel safe. He said he would get back to me. Then he proceeded to delay, divert, and dodge my calls until the day of my actual due date when he finally responded. His response, “You get who you get.” The Practice refused to make any promise that I would not end up with the obstetrician who had violated my trust and abandoned my well-being. So I got on the phone frantically searching for a replacement OB. The kindly pediatrician I had chosen recommended a nurse midwife. However, when she called me back I was woe to learn what my obstetrician’s practice had clearly known all along, once I hit my due date I was not allowed to switch practices. I was stuck.

“The Practice refused to make any promise that I would not end up with the obstetrician who had violated my trust and abandoned my well-being.” ~ @MissLori

I sobbed, utterly distraught by my situation. My fear and depression slowed my previously fabulous progression and I was now 4 days overdue. Lost and feeling utterly alone it was my son who saved me. He punched out my water sending me into full-on labor. And I mean FULL on. I went from zero to “transition” in a blink of an eye. I was contracting so hard I had to crawl to the elevator to get out of our condo building.

“My fear and depression slowed my previously fabulous progression and I was now 4 days overdue.” ~ @MissLori

We arrived at the hospital in record time. I was rushed up into the birthing ward only to be met with a wall of resistance. The admitting nurse kept calling me someone else’s name… Mrs Johnson. She would not listen to me even as I desperately tried to warn her that she was about to have two patients. That peachy nurse finally got my name right only to pat my hand and say, “Oh honey, new mothers always think things are moving faster than they are.” What she didn’t know was how determined my son was to get out and help his mommy.

I got in my birthing room and lost all sense of modesty. I stripped buck-naked and mounted the exam table on all fours. That’s exactly how the bullish young Resident found me when he came in to check on me. He wanted me to turn over so he could see how dilated I was. I said, “When I turn over this baby is going to come out. So, if you want to check me you’ll have to do it just as I am.” Flushed red he did. When he discovered I was 10 centimeters dilated he literally ran to get the doctor. Shortly after my room began to bustle with furious activity. Then, much to my relief, the head of the OB practice appeared, taking his place at the end of the table. With his guidance, 5 pushes, and exactly 90 minutes after my water broke, my son took his rightful place in my arms.

“I told the resident, ‘When I turn over this baby is going to come out. So, if you want to check me you’ll have to do it just as I am.’” ~ @MissLori

My son and I were doing great, but I still had a pit of frustration in my stomach. I felt like I should do something about my OB, but I wasn’t sure what, or if I even had a right to do anything at all. Then the burning started. Not in my stomach, somewhere far worse. That 90 minute speeding bullet train of a baby of mine had caused me to tear at birth and now those stitches had busted. I had to go back to the OB practice. This time I brought my mother and my one-week old newborn with me. I was nervous but determined to speak my mind and stand up for myself. However, once again the practice thwarted me. They held me up, only finally taking me back nearly 45 minutes late. Then they got me exposed on the exam table and while needles were stabbing into my nether regions, the only other female obstetrician in the practice talked at me non-stop about my offending OB trying to convince me that what had happened didn’t really happen and that everything is fine. (Needle insert here.) However, despite the violation all I could focus on was the identifiable screams from my starving newborn in the waiting room and the milk those screams were causing me to leak. A full two hours after we arrived at the office I was finally able to escape their clutches. Traumatized by my baby’s anguish I ran from the practice and never, ever looked back. Which is probably what they were working towards all along.

“Traumatized by my baby’s anguish I ran from the practice and never, ever looked back. Which is probably what they were working towards all along.” ~@MissLori

Almost twenty years of parenting experience and overall personal awakening later I can see how blatantly I was taken advantage of, manipulated and violated. I know now that I wasn’t overreacting then. If anything I under reacted and thus allowed an arrogant OB to carry on without answering for her abuse of my trust. If I could do it over again, I would not let her, or the practice, get away with it for a second. I’d SUE. Of course do-overs aren’t an option, (another thing I have learned these past 20 years). Though what is an option is to openly share my story to empower young mothers doubting themselves, unsure of their rights. That’s exactly why I’m writing my story today, because a woman’s ability to trust her doctor should always be protected.

“If I could do it over again…I’d SUE.” ~ @MissLori

SMILE On!

ML

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