I’m A Black Woman Who’s Afraid To Get Pregnant. Here’s Why
I’m 34 years old, two and a half years married, and childless. You can probably imagine the pressure I’m feeling to get knocked up. While everyone seems to be getting pregnant around me (my friends, my work colleagues, my family members), I’m shying away from the whole idea. It’s not that I don’t want to have children. I’m just nervous. No, not just nervous: I’m downright scared. I’m afraid I won’t survive a pregnancy. And, if I do, I’m afraid my baby won’t. And while I’m sure that’s something every parent has nightmares about, it turns out that, statistically, the odds are against me.
Of course, my husband and I worry about the normal things: Do we make enough money? Will we be okay so far away from our families? Can we afford a home in a good school district? We also have the unique set of worries that come with being an interracial couple. We worry about the duality of existence our children will face. We wonder how we’ll teach them about blackness and whiteness in equal measure, to be careful for their own protection but also carefree, and to celebrate their culture without feeling the need to constantly prove they’re entitled to do so.
But all of these worries are irrelevant right now because we’re not pregnant. We’re not even trying. Why? Well… we understand that the standard worries are just that: Standard. We are smart enough to know that if we got pregnant, everything would be fine and we could work it all out. The things I’m most worried about, though, are completely out of my control and have everything to do with my race and the race of my future children.
The first time we thought we were ready to get pregnant was after our honeymoon in 2017. As soon as we returned from the trip, I read a stat that told me black women are 243% more likely than white women to die from pregnancy or birth-related issues. Maternal death rates in America are more disappointing every year, and black women are catching the worst of it. A more recent study explains that, for every 100,000 births, about 40 black women will die compared to 12 white women. Serena Williams, Beyoncé and other stars shared their hospital horror stories. If women of such caliber were facing challenges with staff, who was I to think I’d have no problems when it came time for me to give birth?
I’ve had more than one bad experience in hospitals when I’ve let someone know I’m in pain, only for them to shake me off. “Yeah, sometimes it’s uncomfortable,” they’ll tell me. And it will take something urgent like me going into shock or (WARNING, GRAPHIC) my blood spraying everywhere for them to understand how serious I was. I can’t imagine trying to tell a team of nurses and doctors I’m in pain during childbirth. Obviously: It’s painful! But knowing there’s less of a chance they’ll listen to me during such a crucial process is terrifying.
Yes, my husband is white. Will they’ll pay more attention to him than they will to me? If he tells the staff I’m in pain, maybe I’ll stand a chance of them listening. Then again, maybe I’m fooling myself. And how is that fair? Read: It absolutely is not. I think of families like Charles Johnson’s. His wife, Kira Dixon Johnson, died shortly after giving birth to their second child. She was in peak health. She’d given birth before and knew what to expect somewhat. She voiced her concerns. On the outset, everything should have been just fine. According to Mr. Johnson, the doctors never seemed concerned when things took a turn, even when his wife told them that she was scared. A few minutes later, she was dead. Now, Mr. Johnson is fighting in the courts to pass the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act. All of this to say: This is a real and serious issue.
Charles Johnson’s story and the stories of others scared me right back into that DINK (double income, no kids)-forever mindset. So we put the idea of starting a family on the shelf for another year, thinking we’d enjoy just being married for a little while longer.
We visited Costa Rica, which is located in a region affected by the Zika virus. For safety, my OBGYN prescribed a six-month no-baby-making period. We’re rounding the corner on the end of that time and, just like clockwork, another report hit my feed: Black premature babies are less likely to survive than white, Hispanic or Asian preemies. According to the study, black premature or low-weight babies receive care at lower-quality NICUs than white infants.
Yes. I realize it’s 2019, but this is still happening, people. Mothers and babies are dying due to racist negligence and sociodemographic factors, and it’s not just scary, it’s disgusting.
So here I am, back to being too afraid to try. My friends and colleagues are announcing their pregnancies and sharing stories of their road to getting pregnant. They all seem so sure of what they want despite the fears of having and raising a child this day and age. Meanwhile, I’m here trying to shake the fact — the FACT — that I have a much lower chance of surviving my pregnancy and labor, and that my baby’s chances might not be much better.
Is anyone else out there feeling this way? How do you get passed the fears?
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