Navigating Pregnancy While Black

Facing a pregnancy as a Black woman can be filled with uncertainties, anxieties, and fears. In New York City and around the country, many of those uncertainties have only been elevated in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and protests against racial injustice. However, there are steps you can take right now to ensure that your voice is heard, your needs are met, and your dignity is honored. You and your baby matter. Read on to learn about your risks and how to combat them.

The Risks

If you are Black and pregnant, you are at a higher risk for complications during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery. In the United States, a Black woman is 3 times more likely than a white woman and almost 4 times most likely than a Hispanic woman to die from pregnancy-related complications. Because of systemic inequality for black Americans and “unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system,” Black women are more likely to be left untreated for complications such as hypertension and blood clots. Research has found that it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, have a college degree or not: Black women are still dying at an alarming rate for a medically-advanced country like the U.S. 

There is Hope.

Though nearly 700 women died in childbirth in 2018, the chances of mortality are still relatively low when you consider that millions of babies are born in the U.S. each year. The likelihood of facing a prenatal or postpartum complication is further reduced when you seek prenatal care early in your pregnancy and surround yourself with a group of trusted friends and health professionals who will help advocate for your needs.

Know Your Rights

  • You have the right to receive quality health care from an OB/Gyn that you trust. Your care team might also include a midwife or doula who will check in with you throughout the pregnancy and be at your side for labor and delivery. They are professionals who are trained to help you feel comfortable, supported, and focused during the birth. You can discuss your needs and expectations ahead of time so that everyone in the delivery room will be on the same page. These health care professionals can also work with you throughout your postpartum recovery to ensure that all your concerns are being addressed. The National Black Doulas Association has a state-by-state directory to help you find a licensed Black doula in your area.
  • You have the right to deliver at a hospital where you will receive high-quality care. ExpectNY is a website dedicated to providing important information about hospitals in the New York City area. You can research hospitals near you and learn about the safety measures and success rates of each facility. You can also use a resource like Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Grade website to check the rating of your chosen hospital or compare multiple hospitals in your area.
  • If you are employed in New York State, an employer cannot legally fire you for becoming pregnant. You also have the right to maternity leave when you give birth. Time off from work after a pregnancy and delivery is important. You deserve rest, recovery, and the opportunity to bond with your baby.

Safety in Birthing

Doula, birth advocate, and owner of The Starting Place, Ashley Causey-Golden, suggests taking the following steps when you are planning for your labor and delivery:

Create Your Birth Plan

  • Taking even a few minutes to write out what you want or don’t want from your birthing experience can help you advocate for your needs as you talk with your health care team. Share this birth plan with your care team and loved ones so everyone is on the same page.

Know What You Want from Your Hospital

  • Maybe you know you want to avoid things like a C-section, an episiotomy, or an induction. Likewise, you may want to explore options like an epidural or unmedicated birth. Know what your hospital will or will not provide ahead of time by using ExpectNY to research the data from your chosen birth facility.

Trust Your Body

  • Causey-Golden also encourages her clients to practice meditation and self-care throughout their pregnancy as they prepare for labor and delivery. “Sitting still and tuning into your body can help you build resiliency against fear or the uncertainty surrounding birth,” she explains. “Being in touch with your body can help you build the confidence to vocalize your needs.” She suggests using meditation apps like Calm or The Mindfulness App and dedicating specified times to tune into your body.

Talk to Someone

Having someone by your side to help advocate for you is essential to a happy and healthy pregnancy. Whether it is a partner, friend, family member, birth worker, or medical professional, it is important to have a person you trust to walk alongside you. The Family Institute at Northwestern emphasizes the importance of mental health counseling for Black expectant women and new moms. You can find a wealth of Black birthing resources in this article on their site, including a checklist that helps you recognize signs that mental health care may be needed.

Avail NYC exists to be a safe place where women facing an unexpected pregnancy can process their feelings and make a plan to move forward with confidence. If you are pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant, and want to discuss your options in a confidential setting, Avail is here to listen to you. We provide emotional support and a network of resources so you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Additionally, we can offer a referral to an OB/Gyn for comprehensive prenatal medical care for clients with or without health insurance.

To protect our clients and staff during the outbreak of COVID-19, all appointments are being conducted online. If you are in need of a pregnancy test, we can send one to your home, free of charge. We know this is a challenging time, especially if you are facing the uncertainty of an unexpected pregnancy. Click the Make an Appointment button to schedule a call with a compassionate client advocate today.

Avail NYC exists to be a safe haven for women and men facing an unexpected pregnancy or seeking support after an abortion. We are not a medical provider.

Additional information retrieved from “Navigating the Birthing World While Black,” a presentation by Ashley Causey-Golden. 19 February 2019.