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5 Ways Black Women Can Maintain Healthy Pregnancies

Motherhood

Pregnancy was the first time I didn't feel in control of my body.

When any first time mommy-to-be asks me what to expect because she is expecting, this is my go-to line. The lack of control, however is both beautiful and terrifying. There's the moment you realize that flutter of fetal movement referred to as "quickening" is probably your baby's feet and not gas from that Taco Bell chicken chalupa. Suddenly, it hits you there's a person growing inside of you and you have no control over when they decide to get into a more comfortable position, even if it means their elbow is in your spleen.

There was also the beginning of my third trimester where I found myself trying to organize the children's library at my job (I didn't know that my actions were a result of my maternal instinct to "nest") until I realized I couldn't bend over like a normal non-pregnant person, and had to squat to pick Dr. Seuss's collection up off the floor. Did I mention my husband couldn't hug me normally for about four months? There was also that point mid-pregnancy when I learned that a slight case of placenta previa made me a great candidate for a scheduled c-section.

This was actually a relief to me since while some women dream of natural childbirth, they were actual nightmares for me.

I've never felt a labor pain, nor do I want to.

The placenta previa, a condition where the placenta attaches itself too close to the cervix or actually covers it preventing the fetus to pass through, was the first time I truly felt like pregnancy had hijacked the driver's seat to my body and I was a helpless passenger whose only request was watermelon and grape tomatoes. When my OB/GYN first suspected that it might be an issue in the middle of my second trimester, she maintained that it wasn't too big of deal since my placenta was merely "too close for comfort" to my cervix but not actually covering it.

She decided the best option was to keep an eye on it for a few months with the hope that it would move. This meant plenty of ultrasounds for me, and great pics of my daughter playing with her thumbs in the womb, but also a few weeks playing the natural birth or scheduled c-section tango.

Even with the support of my spouse, family, and friends, awesome health insurance, and a chill, but skilled doctor, I was a bundle of anxiety. Although my doctor explained placenta previa "just happens" sometimes, I wasn't used to not being in control. Three years later, and I realize the lack of control was a subtle introduction to what parenthood can be most days. Today, I have a normal, healthy three-year-old whose favorite word is "no" and has literally watched the same Muppet Babies episode on the tablet at least 23 times in two days. But even with a pesky placenta and my iPad now being held hostage, I've realized that although pregnancy and parenthood can make you feel not entirely in control all of the time, that doesn't mean you have to feel powerless.

The CDC published a report earlier this year that shed light on the dangerous health threats that women of color are more likely to face during pregnancy. About 50,000 women suffer complications during pregnancy and black women are three to four times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy. What's even more alarming is that these statistics have as much to do with persistent poverty and inadequate healthcare as they have to do with health risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

I work on a sexual and reproductive health hotline during the day as Health Resource Specialist, meaning that many days, I'm one of the first people women talk to when they're facing a positive pregnancy test and the panic of not having health insurance. For some women, especially those who are parenting for the first time, hormones, and fear may have them wondering if they are going to be raising their child in a cardboard box by the time they're finished paying for healthcare, hospital stays, and childbirth costs or if they'll end up having their baby at home in the bathtub with the guidance of YouTube tutorial.

I try to help them balance their excitement with their anxiety by giving them the resources and education they need to feel empowered.

Regardless of their financial situation or the amount of support they may (or may not have), there are some steps every woman can take to ensure they are doing whatever is in their power to keep herself and her unborn child healthy:

Research prenatal care as early as possible, regardless of whether you have insurance or not.

I speak to far too many women who have put off prenatal care until their last trimester out of fear of outrageous clinic costs because they weren't insured. Fortunately in Philadelphia, there is an abundance of low-cost clinics or even hospital-based clinics that will assist in helping women apply for insurance through the state. Don't assume you're not eligible for certain programs based on your income or living situation. Explore your options regarding state assistance or even payment plans and programs offered through individual healthcare facilities. At the very least, research your local ER or hospitals that offer labor and delivery services so that in the event you do go into labor, you can have a safe delivery and work out payment later.

Choose a provider you feel comfortable with, both physically and emotionally.

I didn't know exactly what to look for in a provider but one of the factors I considered early in the game were distance (you'll have to travel regularly for appointments so you may want a place you can get to easily). In addition, look into appointment availability, if early Thursday afternoons work better for you don't be afraid to communicate that. A good provider will find a way to make sure prenatal care is convenient for you.

I also knew I preferred a female doctor. My OB/GYN was close in my age which means she was up-to-date on many guidelines and procedures, but she was also a young mother of two which meant she could relate to where I was in my life professionally and personally, and wasn't so far removed from the birthing experience herself. She did an awesome job at taking my concerns seriously while also helping to not create more anxiety for any hiccups that came along the way.

Your relationship with your OB/GYN is important. You'll develop a close relationship with this person and will see them often. Your OB/GYN should treat you with courtesy, respect, and if the connection just isn't working for you, you're well within your right to find another provider.

Take your symptoms seriously and when in doubt, seek your provider's assistance.

When it comes to health concerns, at its best, Google can be a great resource for information and at its worst, it can be an anxiety wormhole. Every pregnancy is different and what might be a normal symptom for one woman might be a cause for concern regarding your own pregnancy. In addition, every pregnancy is different. That morning sickness that was a foreign concept in your first pregnancy may have you changing your address to the bathroom floor in your second. When in doubt, consult your provider. Don't diagnose yourself via Wi-Fi.

Keep stress to a minimum.

My hormones were a mess during pregnancy and even with a solid support system, I found myself crying over everything from mismatched paint for the nursery to the release of TLC's 20 album. Choose your battles. A misspelled name on a baby shower cake is not worth the flood of hormones you're sending to your fetus while you spend hours crying in the backseat of your cousin's car. Trust me, you'll have the rest of your life to panic on a regularly scheduled basis once your child is actually here. So eat the cake and take some pictures so one day Lil' Dwyane can laugh too.

Don't disregard your postpartum care.

Pregnancy and childbirth, especially for mothers with limited or no support can bring added anxiety and stress into anyone's life, regardless of it's their first child or their fourth. This is why it's important to monitor your own well-being and take advantage of help when it's offered. If you have a few days of hospital stay, allow nurses to care for your baby or even take him or her to the nursery when you need rest. You'll have plenty of time once you're home to bond.

Also, whatever the case may be, make time for your "six-week check-up", even it doesn't happen until nine weeks after. An NPR piece from last year highlighted a study that found two-thirds of low-income black women never made it to their doctor visit but did find time to make sure their child made it to their first doctor's visit.

The lengths we go to to nurture our children always amazes me but self-care is just as important.

Touch bases with your provider to talk birth control, baby blues, or any other issues you're dealing with in those first few weeks of motherhood. Lastly, while help from family friends can help lighten the burden, trust your intuition when it comes to what kind of support you need and when. Don't feel like you must be everything to everyone.

Always remember, motherhood is personal and looks different on every woman.

Featured image by Andre Adjahoe on Unsplash

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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