When it comes to the responsibility of improving outcomes of Black women in the peripartum period, in an ideal world, the onus would be on the healthcare system and on politicians who have the power to enact change on a societal level. We should also rely on individual healthcare providers to fight personal biases and give Black women the care that they need to be and stay well. Unfortunately, this world is not ideal, leaving Black women responsible for ensuring they are fairly treated. In cases where an individual is not able to advocate for themselves, the outcomes are deadly, which we have seen over and over and over again. In the current climate, we must advocate for ourselves.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period are transformative experiences that can make even the most well-informed and resource-rich person become vulnerable and disempowered. During this time, we need help; we need care; and we need resources from our community. By actively engaging in self-advocacy, black women can take control of their own health, make informed decisions, and address disparities within the healthcare system on a person-to-person level. By actively participating in their care, black women can challenge discriminatory practices, demand equitable treatment, and contribute to improving outcomes for ourselves and for generations to come.
But how do we begin to effectively advocate for ourselves? Take the following steps to empower yourself during this vulnerable time .
- Educate Yourself: Research the process of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care. Understand your rights, available options, and potential risks and benefits associated with different interventions. Knowledge is power. Some good resources include tinyhood.com and loomhq.com, a resource developed by Erica Chidi, a black doula and health educator.
- Communicate Effectively: Develop open and honest communication with your healthcare providers. Clearly express your concerns, preferences, and questions. Ask for explanations, and request additional information or alternative options if needed. Do not be afraid to mention your concerns about black maternal health disparities. Oftentimes, seeing a provider’s reaction to your questions can tell you all that you need to know about your potential relationship and the care you will receive.
- Build a Supportive Network: Surround yourself with a supportive network of family, friends, and other expectant parents who can provide emotional support, share experiences, and offer insights. Seek out community organizations or support groups specifically focused on supporting black women during pregnancy and postpartum. This may be easier said than done, but there are many online resources and virtual groups to join if you are struggling to find an in-person community. You could even start your own virtual meet up!
- Seek Second Opinions: If you have doubts or concerns about your care, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from another healthcare provider. Different perspectives can provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions. You may also find that you connect more with a different provider. If you decide to change providers, just make sure that you do not have any gaps in your care and that you bring records to your new care team. Speaking of records…
- Document and Keep Records: Maintain a record of your medical history, appointments, and conversations with healthcare providers. While you are not allowed to record audio during conversations, you can take notes on important topics that you discuss at appointments. This will help you stay organized, recall important information, and will ensure continuity of care.
- Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Advocate for your own well-being by taking time for rest, relaxation, and seeking emotional support when needed. Advocating for yourself can be time-consuming and frankly, exhausting. In order to be there for yourself, you need to be well-rested with a full emotional tank.
When we advocate for ourselves, we advocate for our future selves: the black birthing individuals who will come after us. Creating change on an individual level is a powerful tool. So please, speak up. Ask that question. Bring up that article. Having the knowledge and the confidence to actively participate in your own medical care is priceless. It could also save your life. I will reiterate here that your voice matters, particularly when your life (or your baby’s life) is in question.