Serena Williams giving birth was one of the most exciting things that occurred in 2017.
To see such a powerful legend whose femininity has ruthlessly been denied over the years, survive one of the most difficult physical trials a person can experience was awe-inspiring. In fact, Serena reveals in her recent Vogue feature just how terrifying and inspiring it actually was. She relays the many complications she faced during childbirth including an emergency c-section with hemorrhaging, several blood clots and spending her first weeks of motherhood bedridden.
For many, it was shocking to even entertain the idea that one of the greatest athletes of all time could have lost her life to something as seemingly regulated as childbirth. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. There is a commonly held misconception that with the advancements in modern medicine, issues and complications during childbirth are a thing of the past.
Death from childbirth is only something that happens in “third world countries” and not here in almighty America. However, this narrative is faulty as many women continue to face life-threatening complications during childbirth, and the demographics of victims are disproportionately black women.
When my best friend gave birth this past summer she had the same experience as Serena Williams, wherein which her baby’s heart rate dropped extremely low and she had to be rushed to an emergency c-section. As I anxiously tried to comfort her husband over the phone, waiting to see if she and my future godson would survive was one of the scariest moments of my life. The doctors gave us little to no information and we later found out that my friend also received the same minimal treatment.
When she woke up, she was disoriented and lost, searching for her son and a confirmation of his survival.
Serena’s story and the story of my best friend are just two out of thousands of stories highlighting the inherent racism still prevalent in healthcare. The CDC reports that black mothers die almost at four times the rate of white mothers and are 243% more likely to suffer complications during pregnancy and childbirth than any other race.
This is one of the widest racial disparities in women’s health.
Researchers claim to still be unsure of why black women are dying at such a dangerous rate, but the answer has long been a known phenomenon in healthcare. There has been and continues to be institutionalized racism in healthcare, from socioeconomic factors that affect who gets health care to the quality of individual care that black patients receive.
This medical discrimination affects even those black women with ample health coverage, higher socioeconomic/educational standing and peak health.
As a black woman growing up in a racist and patriarchal society, I am expected to already be a mother at the age of 22 and with each passing year, I receive more and more questions about settling down with a family of my own.
As annoying and ignorant as those questions are, I always assumed that I would have to endure these minor inconveniences as a woman.
But I don’t feel that way anymore.
We need to leave women alone and learn to refrain from addressing them with such insensitive questions.
Many women deal with so many complications during pregnancy and childbirth like infertility, miscarriages and so many, like myself, are faced with the reality that if they decide to get pregnant, they could very well die or even lose the child they’ve come to love.
Besides, it is so easy to mind your business and let women lead the lives that they choose.
We need to start taking extra care and listening to black women. Serena explains how when she started feeling weird after delivering her child, she instantly knew what the issue was. Her doctors ignored her suspicions, running another test before discovering that said concerns were correct.
My friend would have lost her baby if she hadn’t been adamant that something was wrong even after her doctor repeatedly told her to go home.
Black women are so often cast aside when they are the ones who need the most care and as a result, there are far too many medical horror stories of women just like that of my best friend and even Serena Williams.
I pray that we change to work actively in lessening these disparities.
And maybe then, black women can finally live.