A report published in 2018 found black women in the UK are five times more likely to die than white women as a result of complications with their pregnancies or during childbirth. South Asian women were found to be two times more likely to die.
The inequality in birth experiences and outcomes highlighted by the report has prompted the Royal College of Midwives to call for training and awareness raising of unconscious bias for NHS staff.
Growing up my friends were white, black and Asian, I never once had to think of race or concern myself with the fact that I am black. However, when I moved to Nottingham that was the first time, I really became aware of the effects and impact of racism. Prior to this, I was just a human with friends that came in various pigmentations.
Forward to 2013 and pregnant with my daughter, I saw the impacts of racial bias from medical professions nearly cost me my life and that of my unborn child. People automatically assume that racism is in the form of white against black but my story couldn’t be more different.
I am the last person on earth to cry out racism or focus on things that divide us as humans, I just wasn’t brought up that way nor in that kind of space. I hate racial tension, so for me to speak on these issues is literally down to the bias I experienced.
When I was pregnant, I kept feeling so unwell and I just knew something was not right. I would go days without eating, being sick and in severe pain spending most days in bed. I was home alone; my husband was away in the military but when he came home, we went to the hospital.
At the hospital, I wasn’t taken seriously. My pain was dismissed. I expected compassion, but I was told by doctors and nurses of ethnic minority to ‘Come on, you’re a black woman’, as if black women shouldn’t feel pain. I was told I was “exaggerating” my pain. I would have been seen as a “problematic black woman” if I disagreed. So, without being checked, and still in pain, I went home.
One morning I woke up, I hadn’t been out of bed for days. My mum forced me out of bed to have a shower. I walked into the shower and left the bathroom on stretchers to the hospital in an ambulance. I was in severe pain, I couldn’t move, talk or do anything. I didn’t know what to do with myself because the pain was so unbearable.
My internal organs had shut down because I had a benign tumour (Fibroid) inside of me the size of a 36 to 38-week foetus. I needed an emergency operation. Without it that day, the consultant on duty said I would have died. The consultant prepared me about the very invasive procedure I was about to undergo and would lose the baby. This was very difficult to process; I don’t think I even processed it.
When I briefly came around from the operation the first thing I asked was “where is my baby?”. Amazingly I was told that my baby was safe. A few days after my surgery I was still only just coming around. The nurse explained that she was about to tell me something life changing. I was wheeled to the bathroom. I saw my intestine hanging out of my body and in a bag. I had a Stoma. I think my mind shut down as a way of shielding myself from the trauma of what I was witnessing. I don’t think I was actively listening as she was showing me how to change and care for it. I couldn’t process what was going on.
I spent months in hospital recovering as my health went downhill. I had severe hyperemesis gravidarum; I was going through 8 bowls a day. I had preeclampsia. My placenta had erupted. I have chronic anaemia. I was put in the High Dependency Unit. I was on so many strong meds, I was told my baby was going to be born a drug addict because of that reason and that she’d need weaning off. At one point, I was told I wouldn’t make it past week 21, as I would miscarry because of the invasion. But we both kept going. The plan was then to deliver my baby at 24 weeks, but I didn’t want to, I wanted to keep going.
I was supported by the most amazing Obstetrician Dr McEwan and OB-GYN Dr McPherson along with their team of Doctors. These amazing doctors went above and beyond to ensure my unborn baby and I were safe and well taken care of. It would be unjust to not recognise them. I eventually had a caesarean when I was 35 weeks.
On my delivery date a specialist midwife came in and asked if she could pray with me, she wanted to tell me that there was sunshine at the end of all of this. It was overwhelming. Then Adalia-Rose was born. I was so excited. She was perfect. My experience could have been prevented if my voice had been heard and if I hadn’t had expectations placed on me because of my race. The process was so mentally and emotionally scarring, I don’t think I could go through it all again.
But, looking at the positives, it confirmed that I have people who will support me and do anything for me. It confirmed my convictions that there are good and bad people in the world regardless of race. Racism and bias are not just a white versus black people problem, it is a much more complex conversation. My experience empowered me to challenge preconceived ideas about race and encourage people to have an open mind.
It made me want to raise awareness about fibroids. I want to bring women together. There is no shame in talking about it. Fibroids tend to affect black people more. Black women are scared to go to hospital to have their fibroids removed. I understand that previous racial medical grievances may have led to their fear. However, I would say don’t let that stop you from getting help. Women need to be empowered. Women need information and a support network, not shaming.
My experience taught me to never let my situation define me nor allow it to cause me to have bias towards people. I embrace life, even if it isn’t quite how I thought it would turn out. I am always reminded to be hopeful.
And whatever happens, I know I am Unique and Loved.