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.