Today is Birth Mother’s Day and April was Black Maternal Health month.
I’ve been sitting in the discomfort of my lack of knowledge around my children’s birth mother’s birthing experience. At the time, their birthing experience was all in relation to me and my hopes of becoming a mother.
While I don’t know the details of Desi’s tummy mommy’s birth, I do know some of the details of Rory’s birth. We took his birth mom (who I call “m” when I write) to her final two doctor’s appointments. We were there when the doctor recommended a c-section.
I didn’t know enough to advocate for her. I didn’t know anything about Black maternal health numbers. It didn’t even occur to me to THINK about that. There E and I sat, silent, as the doctor insisted she have a C-section, but with little to know explanation as to why, other than using a scare tactic (upon reflection, I see this now) to convince her to agree to the surgery. I believed what he said. He said something about the baby being born….broken. Now, after research I believe the doctor was referring to “Shoulder Dystocia”. This was not explained to her. I was too trusting and too ignorant to REALLY think about what he was saying. Throughout my life, I never had a reason not to trust my doctors.
Yes, she was past her due date. However, the baby wasn’t measuring too big and she had given birth vaginally before. I did not know that in this country Black women are 2-3 times more likely than white women to die in child birth. I didn’t know Black women are significantly more likely to have a C-section. ( https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/why-do-black-women-us-have-more-c-sections-white-women/)
I didn’t understand the racism that exists in the medical field. How many white perspective adoptive mothers do? Women who forge deep relationships with the Black expectant mother making an adoption plan? Women, like me, who come to love this expectant mother in a deep intimate way. What does that love look like? What should it look like before baby is born?
Why don’t we know?
What should we know?
What is the education around transracial adoption and the birthing process/experience?
You can think I’m the bad guy. Maybe I was the bad guy, and maybe I still am. The ignorance, the privilege, oh boy does it run deep.
Part of understanding my children and advocating for them is advocating for their birth mothers and becoming an ally in more than name only.
I had no idea how Black women are treated during the birthing process. I should have known. Isn’t that part of the learning that we, as white women, who so brazenly think we can raise Black children, should be aware of?
The night before her scheduled C-section M texted and shared how scared she was. I did not understand the gravity of her fear. I believe now that how I comforted her was quite condescending. While this is oversimplifying it, there was no doubt some, “Awww, poor uneducated women, she doesn’t know that doctors know what they’re doing, that it’s routine, that it’s safe.”
It wasn’t safe for her. It still isn’t safe.
I was the poor uneducated woman that evening as M sat with her fear. Her real fear that she may die, and that her child may die.
March 15th came and she gave birth to a healthy beautiful baby boy. The greatest day of my life. Tied only with February 21st the day I met Desi. Also born healthy and beautiful.
I always tell the story of Nurse Amy. Nurse Amy watched us, as we watched R through glass in the nursery. They were monitoring him, weighing him, poking him, all the things I guess you do to a baby. M was in recovery from her surgery and R’s birth dad was standing with us. I wonder, could he have held R if he had asked? Did he know he could? Should I have suggested? If he wasn’t a 20 year old Black man, would the nurses have asked him into the nursery to hold his child? Parents were absolutely allowed in the nursery. We came and went as we pleased the few extra days R remained in the hospital after we became mama and papa. I wonder about that a lot. We should have asked him if he wanted to hold his child.
Eventually, R’s birth father left. We stood there, still watching, and then Nurse Amy ushered us into a back room. We sat. She brought Rory in and placed him in our arms. I’ve written about this moment. It was magic. I’ve shared that I knew him. He was exactly who he was supposed to be. It felt incredible. And while those first moments of motherhood were some of the most precious, was it right for Nurse Amy to grant us permission? He wasn’t our child yet. M had not given consent. I know she would have wanted us to hold him from the first moment, but Nurse Amy couldn’t have known that. I think nurse Amy did what she thought was best for all of us, and maybe she did….but it’s layered. She consciously or subconsciously disregarded the rights of Rory’s first mother. A young Black woman in a hospital.
I attended a forum on Black maternal health last month hosted by BirthNet (https://birthnewyork.org/). I sat and listened as women of color shared their birthing experiences. The refrain was the same, birth is supposed to be a joyful time. A time of physical pain, but also a time of great joy. What must it be like to be in labor knowing you’ve made an adoption plan?
What must it be like? Knowing you will not be taking your child home and also know how dangerous it is for you to give birth. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Can there be joy in the birthing experience even if you will not be mothering your child? I know many adoptive moms have been in the delivery room when her child was born. Sometimes I daydream about that. I don’t know what birth is like. I wonder. What would it have been like to see my child the first moment of their life?
Mostly, I’m grateful that that experience was just for her and her child. When I think about Black Maternal health month I can’t help but think of my boy’s birth mothers. On top of the heaviness and grief of being in labor knowing you’ve made an adoption plan, experiencing racism and bias in the hospital, or at least knowing it’s a possibility, is traumatizing. The thought that there can be trauma around birth (even WITHOUT adoption) for women is a hard concept for white women to understand.
The founder of BirthNet and I have begun to talk about the role of the doula and adoptions. What would it look like to work together to identify mothers in labor considering adoption in the region where we work? Could a BirthNet doula be present to protect her, comfort her, find tiny moments of joy, and carry her through the birthing process? I hope we can work towards that.
I continue to unlearn and learn so much. That's motherhood, isn't it? Happy Birth Mother's Day to all the first mothers, birth mothers and tummy mommies. I'll think of you and honor you today, and by golly, tomorrow too. Xx