Meryl, our featured author, is the one who actually told me about this horrific fact in the U.S.: Black women are astonishingly more likely to die from pregnancy related complications… solely because of the color of their skin.
I was embarrassed that I wasn’t aware of this disgusting stat. I had, however, just discovered that the U.S. maternal death rate has been steadily increasing since the ’90s. American women are dying from childbirth and pregnancy-related complications at a higher rate than any other developed nation. Yep. And women of color are most at risk.
At Mind the Mat, we have had the pleasure of Meryl’s company for four years. So, when she told me she was expecting her first baby, it was beyond special that Sara and I got to be a part of her pregnancy, though virtually, through our specialized prenatal Pilates and yoga programs. We asked Meryl to share her story:
Hours after my baby was born, Lisa, the world’s greatest labor and delivery nurse, told me, “You know, you should talk about this.” So now, I am. My son, Harrison, was born via C-section after over 60 hours of a failed induction. Even though my induction failed, I am not a failure. I want to share my story with the belief that: accepting a birth plan is a living document.
When Megan Brown asked me to share my story, I thought back to the actual steps, the process of my failed induction and thought, this is what I’ll share. Women should know exactly what I went through because it doesn’t seem like anyone went through this, quite like me. Unlike me, I want everyone who walks into their induction to know the possibility that this is not going to go as you thought. Then reality sunk in and I realized I have a greater story to tell: my son was brought into this world during the most challenging time of my lifetime. I could even say our most recent decades.
Can I be real for a moment? It has been exhausting being a Black person in 2020. It has not been easy. Can you imagine waking up and wondering, “Why us?”, “When is this going to stop?” or seeing the consequences of being a person of color and how the virus tore through communities without care? Many moments last spring, I thought, will we be next? Then, while grieving over George Floyd and having just celebrated Easter, all in a global pandemic, I found out I was pregnant with our first baby.
Learning we would be having a baby and this knowledge coming at the start of the pandemic was a lot to swallow. The unrealized weight felt like so much, knowing exactly what research has said about Black maternal health, how would this pregnancy treat me? Can you imagine knowing the odds are truly against you all because of your race? Black women in American are at nearly a 3-4 times higher rate of death than our white counterparts. Or, how about this, college-educated Black women are at a 5 times higher rate of death due from childbirth than white women. So now it may make sense why I decided to select a Black OB as my caregiver because, in my mind, she’ll take care of me. Surely a Black provider will fight for me like I was her sister.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, Covid-19 positive infection rates were rising and there did not seem to be any slow down. I had spent months in isolation with my husband and dog, only walking around our neighborhood and FaceTiming my friends. We worried that Covid would change how our baby would be brought into the world. Would the hospital allow Dyami, my husband, into my room? Would we have to find alternative methods for delivery? I went to nearly every appointment alone, coming home and telling my husband the details but the amount of disappointment was real. Our first baby… and he was denied access to my “big” 20-week appointment and we both felt sadness.
Fast forward to the end of December and my due date, Christmas Day, was creeping closer and closer. My OB told me that I would get induced due to my history of high blood pressure during week 39. Having High Blood Pressure and being a woman of color was no shock, but I was not sure how this would impact our baby and my delivery. Ha! Well, it certainly did. I was overly excited, telling everyone I knew that I’ll get this baby out and have an entire week at home before Christmas. What did I know about any of this? In my mind though, I was READY. I was drinking the labor tea. Eating dates. Dropping it low with squats on the regular. Munching on pineapple. Walking nearly 5 miles a week. Cuddling with my husband (if you know, you know)! And shameless plug, I spent nearly my entire pregnancy working out with Mind the Mat. I thought my body had done its job and was more than ready to push out our baby. But God and the Universe work in magical ways that don’t make sense. On December 18th, I checked into the hospital, ready to meet our baby and… I was hardly a centimeter dilated.
Imagine for a moment, lying in a hospital bed, getting examined every four hours, hoping progress was being made. We watched movies, joked with the nurses, and at one point I ate tuna sandwiches and Diet Coke. It was tiring. The waiting literally felt like hours, which in fact, it was. I remember falling asleep and when the nurses checked on my blood pressure in the middle of the night, my only thoughts were, “Is my baby okay?” I remember one smiled and hugged me, “Of course, baby is great.” Can you believe that? Harrison was fine, not stressed, and yet I just wanted to know everyone was taking care of him.
By Monday around 3pm the OBGYN came back after my last check of Pitocin dosage, the decision was made for a C-section. Since Friday, every single step had been made and checked. My body was moving slowly or not at all. It was like running a race and that one annoying person screams, “last 400 meters!” How could I be here and my body is creeping along? But the words “failed induction” slipped out of her mouth and I eagerly agreed to have them wheel me to the operating room. Why wait any longer? It had already been days of no progress and using every process and nothing truly getting me to active labor. My birth plan went out the window, but the reality was, I had no birth plan. The only plan I had, which I told my husband the week prior was simple: stay with the baby no matter what, C-section is an option, and advocate like hell for me.
The excitement and joy melted into “what is happening and why” versus “any moment now!” Most women get that rush of excitement because their bodies react in labor but not for me – not when the OB breaks your water and has to manually dilate you.
One thing that reassured me was the love that I felt from my team and Dyami. Being in the same bed for days meant I met many nurses and OBs. A majority of the OBs that I saw were Black. Again, the level of relief washed over me because something told me, “she’s got you.” In reflection, I still can’t get over how many women were on staff and how many were women of color. For many women and families, this might not seem like a big deal or even a deal-breaker, but for me, it brought a sense of gratitude. Lastly, keep someone close who can listen clearly to the nurses and doctors so when decisions need to be made, you know it’s in your best interest. In the new world of pandemic babies, you can only bring one person with you, so educate that person of your needs and wants.
The first thing I said when Harrison came out and my husband said, “it’s a boy!” was, “it’s not a girl?!” then, “does he have hair?!” I met a tiny baby with some fuzzy black hair and the sweetest nose and lips. Dyami brought him to my face and I kissed his perfect face, right there moments after he was born. The surprise gender baby was here and would be Harrison William, named after his maternal great grandfathers.
After the C-section, all I wanted to do was to get up, shower, and be my old self again. Impossible, and anyone who has experienced a C-section knows this. I did not know about, nor was I prepared for any of this. My one regret was not coming into the hospital so uninformed but frankly, I did not think I needed all of the delivery details. We were in the hospital for five nights and then, “take him home and start your life together.” The nurse manager asked if we were ready and in my mind I thought, sure, we have everything at home but how can you be truly prepared for parenthood? Dyami wheeled me out and I waited for him to pull the car up. I sat there, looking at tiny Harrison, thinking my entire life has forever changed.
Here is where things got complicated. I was overjoyed when Harrison came into the world. So much so that my heart shattered into a million pieces once I first saw him. But by the end of the first week with him, I felt an immense sense of shame and guilt that my boy and I were in such a long labor. I blamed myself for not having done with what I thought I was prepared to do. I allowed my thought to circle the drain and I replayed nearly every hour of my experience. I felt like having a C-section after all that I experienced meant I failed. It led to nothing but sadness. It took me weeks to realize that I did nothing wrong and frankly, it went exactly how it was meant to be. I asked so many times during my labor and the resounding message was, “sometimes this just happens and it’s not your fault.”
I woke up one day and just felt better. How? By telling my story and being vulnerable with my husband, family, and friends, I realized that my story is unique and it’s perfectly fine. Instead of focusing on the “what went wrong,” I’ve been able to focus on the present and center my thoughts solely on the success of my son’s birth. How lucky am I that I, a Black woman during a global pandemic, gave birth and still have a story to tell? Regardless, I realized that women are superheroes who literally can do anything.
Harrison’s first month was incredibly memorable. For starters, I was emotionally in a raw place for the first few weeks. I remember my mom coming over and I cried until my face mask was heavy and wet. I knew this would be hard but between my incision pain, sore breasts, and complicated heart, it was very difficult. Then we had moments of hope and disappointment:
The Covid vaccine was given to front line workers and health care employees.
Our families and close friends met Harrison from the other side of the screen door.
Then the Capitol was stormed by an angry mob of white terrorists and President Trump got impeached.
But hope shone so brightly right as his first month came to an end. President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in. A month into being parents, Dyami and I started to breathe like we hadn’t in months. Maybe Harrison will be just fine and we are already on the come up.
My hope for you is that your plan becomes what you hope it will be. I do know that our world needs not just hope but good work and good people doing their best. Whatever your calling is, do it to your highest potential because someone out there is counting on you. Whatever goal you may have or dream you have dreamt, I am cheering for you. You may be waiting for something that you’ve wanted for years or months and just know; it’s worth the wait.
I wish you a 2021 filled with hope and the possibility that 2020 taught us exactly what we needed: baby giggles, ice cream on the waterfront, and exploring the local trails.
Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.
Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.