Ebony J. Ford
#BlackMaternalHealthWeek: My Story
As you all have come to learn, our family is extremely candid about all we’ve been through. From our infertility journey to Reign’s NICU journey up to our present reality we’ve taken you along for the ride. But I want to zero in on a part of our journey that so don’t get to share as much, MY STORY. I can be honest and admit that sharing these pictures and videos isn’t easy. But I feel it’s necessary to bring context to the statistics I’m about to share.
In recent years, as high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S. have alarmed researchers, one statistic has been especially concerning. According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health. Let that sink in—THREE TO FOUR TIMES! Put another way, a black woman is 22% more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71% more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. Feel that weight on your heart and mind yet? That’s exactly what I experienced March 23-25, 2018 as I suddenly began to experience symptoms of what I later come to know as preeclampsia. But the journey DIDN’T start there. It started a few days earlier in my high risk OB’s office. I came in for my 6 month appointment to find that my doctors had been called into an emergency c-section and I would be seeing a colleague of hers. The appointment went on as usual until I showed him my newest pregnancy symptom: slight ankle swelling. He looked at my ankles, then in my chart and proceeded to tell me to that worry was normal given our history of loss. He went on further to say that although my blood pressure WAS more elevated than the last appointments that it wasn’t concerning and though I normally do labwork each appointment that it wasn’t necessary. He then cleared me to fly for my upcoming trip. I left feeling like he downplayed my concern but convinced myself that because my pregnancy had been uneventful that it was nothing. After all, he was a doctor who knew my history right?
Fast forward to March 23 and slight ankle swelling progresses into severe extremity swelling, fluid retention, headaches, vision changes, dry mouth, nagging abdominal pain, a blood pressured 262/140, a brain attack be called, a diagnosis of preeclampsia & HELLP syndrome, an emergency csection which I endured intubated, sedated and ALONE, waking up in the ICU strapped to a bed while on a ventilator, missing the first 2 days of my daughters life while facing the reality that I almost died giving birth to my baby girl and she now has to face a lifetime of prematurity related complications all because I WASN’T BELIEVED.
Could him doing bloodwork have caught the preeclampsia sooner? Maybe. But could me running 100 mph towards premature death have been avoided? ABSOLUTELY!! Glancing into my chart a second longer would have allowed him to see that not only am I black woman but I was overweight AND a lupus patient —THREE of the major risk factors for preeclampsia. But even if he didn’t take the time to look, he should’ve taken the time to LISTEN. And that’s what I believe the cure for America’s black maternal healthcare crisis is—listening. When a black mom says she’s in pain, believe her. When she says she doesn’t have the resources, believe her. And when she trusts you enough to take off her cape and tell you that despite her facade she’s not feeling too super, LISTEN! It could be the only chance you have to save her life.
It is my prayer that by sharing my story, another woman will find the courage to share hers and that a provider will join in the fight by refusing to succumb to the stereotypical thoughts that have taken too many African-American mothers away from their children. I pray that after seeing a survivors account, America will be compelled to make sure that no other woman has to suffer through what I've been blessed to survive. This is why I became an Ambassador for March of Dimes and more specifically participated in the "It's Not Fine" campaign. Far too many of us haven't been believed for far too long. Although I love the fact that there's a week acknowledging the injustices towards African-American mothers in our healthcare system, I only wish there weren't any injustices at all. A week doesn't even scratch the surface. But it is a great start, one I pray I'm able to build upon with my work here on andsheshallreign.com.
Were you a mother who during their pregnancy or postpartum recovery experienced symptoms that weren't acknowledged, addressed or even believed? Have you ever had to switch doctors because you believed that inequality was keeping you from receiving the care you deserved? I want to hear from you!! Scroll to the very bottom of the page (under the previews of previous blogs) to share your experience with me. Follow us on Instagram at @andsheshallreign to follow Reign & I's journey and join our community of prematurity advocates.