I have officially been pregnant 7 months now and this experience has taught me a lot. I learned that while pregnancy is not an illness, it is certainly a condition. It has required monthly and now bi-weekly doctor’s visits. I have been on antibiotics three times and am now on them daily. I have gained 30 lbs over the course of this 7 months. My employer does not offer maternity leave, so I will have to use sick leave and even then I will only be able to do so up to 6 weeks for a natural birth or 8 weeks for a C-section. Any more time I’d like to spend with my new homie after that will be what you all know as vacation time. Fathom that I will not have sick leave left to take him/her to the required infant doctor appointments for many months after birth. And through all of this I have learned that women in the U.S. have little to no control over their reproductive rights and birthing.
This is not about the politics of the day, which has our president offering private companies the option to deny women the option to time their family planning. And this isn’t even about the politicians who ask their mistresses to have abortions, while pretending that pro-life is even a real thing (…because, it is not a real thing! To say you are pro-life, but not pro-social services to help that life throughout its life is bullsh*t. So, yea, it’s not a real thing). This is about the daily micro-aggressions of being a person who is exhausted, heavy, with limited mobility who has tried to navigate self-care and the healthcare system in our nation’s capital.
As everyone who will listen knows by now, since I arrived in DC in June I have seen three different medical practices. They all (somewhat) sucked. I say this because the idea that a patient should see 7-15 doctors in a practice, just so that the random who is on call the day you deliver has the benefit of having seen your face before, is also bullsh*t. This system is geared to the benefit of the doctors, not to you as a parent or a patient. There’s also no continuity of care in that process. How many times have I had to say, “the last time I was here…”? And, frankly, it’s insulting to think that one of the most important moments in a person’s life will be a crap shoot of audience members, treatments, and services.
Oh and the audience is large. No one is comprehensive in their care, by the way. You are expected to have a doula, have taken childbirth classes, done some form of birth breathing or massage class, and attended prenatal yoga or pilates – at the least. God, forbid your doctor/midwife actually discuss labor with you. The discussion isn’t their job, I guess, just the labor itself (which really isn’t about you at all). And there is the expectation that you will be ok with medical students, nurses, and doctors you’ve just met that day seeing you at your most vulnerable. This feels like a sporting event where you are unsure if you will be the referee, an audience member or a contender. It’s simply not up to you. And not even about you.
I have given up on riding the metro at this point, because no one gives up their seats for pregnant ladies. My fingers are too swollen to wear my wedding ring and even one of my doctors gave me the condescending look when asking (despite this having been on my chart) if I was having anyone with me throughout this process. It’s not polite for a pregnant lady to say, “Yes, yabish, the man who fathered this child and married me!” But, I’ve come to accept these looks and judgments of an expectant Black mother. The city is gentrified and I have only come to see brown people at Latinx & Black events. Finding ways to navigate self-care, without a co-pay and ignorant assumptions has been quite a feat in this town. I was the only Black woman in my pilates class, except the instructor, and the Indian girl who was my soul sistah (I don’t think she knew it though) dropped after the 3rd class (obviously she didn’t know if she left me behind). No one else spoke to me throughout the course and perhaps it was for the best.
Maybe because I’m physically less able or maybe because I’m just too tired to play coy, I’ve learned to observe and not react to the assumptions made about me, the family I am creating, and my choices as a woman. I can truly attest to the fact that there is a business to birthing and it hasn’t even pretended to care about my agency as a person. Whether it’s waiting a week to get medical results for an obvious infection, because the web portal wasn’t working (My insurance pays you $400 per visit, you mean to tell me you can’t pick up the phone to call me? #reallysandy?) Politeness does not at all indicate advocacy. And everybody is worried about an impending lawsuit that has absolutely nothing to do with you. And this isn’t just the docs, this includes the otherwise very nice childbirth instructor who said none of her doulas were allowed to do a home birth because of the insurance liability she wasn’t prepared to shoulder as a business owner. Well, thanks, that wasn’t what I was asking, but I guess your business liability is my concern now too… good to know.
All in all, I lament this moment publicly, because I have found myself feeling isolated in this space. I’ve become accustomed to seeing women and partners in waiting rooms, abuzz with other waiting couples, so excited or scared about giving life that they really do not see how they are being treated more like chattel than people. It seems that people have become resigned to this level of care and have accepted that this is what they deserve. I venture some of this is because in this area, women are having children later in life. Believing their pregnancies some miracle of modern medicine, rather than their own bodies, they assume that they should rely on, defer to, and accept any medical treatment that gets their kids birthed in tact – regardless of what this means for their own maternal health. But I guess the same could be said for any woman made to feel as disempowered as this entire process intends. We are made to believe that the doc is our biggest asset – not our own bodies and certainly not our mental & emotional well being. Until very recently, I felt alone in the realization that this doesn’t work for me. But, I can’t possibly be the only one.
People seem so excited to have children that the “how” of the matter doesn’t seem to matter much at all. If your employer screws you, it’s ok. If your doctor can’t pronounce your name, that’s normal. If the nurses haven’t read your charts, it’s understandable. And, this is, after all, my observation coming from the privileged position of having a job and excellent health insurance. I can only imagine what it would be like to be even more financially and physically vulnerable. Multiple DC area hospitals closed their maternity wards in the last year and one can only wonder if that was a good thing, considering reported conditions.
I call this piece revelations, because these are experiences I could never have understood before this moment. Being made to feel like an anomaly, demanding crunchy granola, for asking to be seen – truly been seen – as a human giving life has been stressful and draining. I can’t say that I’ve allowed it to be degrading or that I’ve permitted it to be dehumanizing. If that ever happens, trust me, it will be against my will and I will be telling a very different kind of story here. Yet, I have fought with all my might to not have the sour business of birth diminish my own relationship to pregnancy and my body. It has been a journey. I’m sure that I am not alone in this trial and after 7 months, I know this is bigger than me. I am not asking too much. I am not being rebellious. I am simply stepping into parenthood in the present, rather than in the “after the baby is born” future.
If anyone else out there feels similarly, I simply want you to know that you are not alone, I see you, and you are not asking too much.