Note from BW of Brazil: The health of black Brazilian women and the black population in general is one of the recurring topics on this blog. Over the years, various studies and reports have documented the specific health needs of the black population as well as unequal treatment in Brazil’s medical facilities caused by racist stereotypes that sometimes possibly contribute or lead to unfortunate or even fatal situations (see here and here) during childbirth. As you read this article, keep in mind that one report found that black women are 80% of the women who die as a result of complications resulting from childbirth. In this piece, blogger, journalist and militant Raíssa Gomes from Brazil’s capital city details her experiences in giving birth to her son and sheds a personal light on the subtle and at times blatant disregard that black women receive from the medical establishment. Follow her story below and discover how black women who are already made to be invisible in Brazil, may possibly be even more invisible at a time in their lives when they should be the center of attention.
Black and pregnant: Even more invisible?
by Raíssa Gomes
The discussions about the humanization of childbirth were practically a total novelty for me when I found myself pregnant in January of 2011. In spite of not having much information, I immediately knew I wanted for my son or daughter to come into the world by normal delivery. Little did I know the fight I would have to face for this to be possible.
The reality of health care services is not encouraging in general, and the picture gets worse when it comes to care for black women. According Alaerte Martins (2000), black women have 7.4 times more likelihood of dying before, during or shortly after childbirth than white women. In addition to pre-existing diseases and lack of access to health services, the care provided to black women may help explain these numbers.
I started to come across this type of care when, suffering a bleeding, with only five weeks of pregnancy, I thought, like most women in early pregnancy, that that meant that I was losing the son that I had just discovered I would have. I ran with my mother to the emergency room of a private hospital in Brasilia, waiting a long time to be attended to, and when we managed to have an ultrasound, the technician responsible for the examination, who was rude from the start of the service, said: “There is NOTHING there inside of you.”
I can’t say exactly what made me stay calm at that moment. I asked him if I had lost my son and he said, without looking in my eyes, I had never been pregnant. Something told me that I should ignore the words of that man. I dressed and went to the office of the obstetrician who accompanied me, not knowing what to think. “During the consultation, the doctor told me to stay calm and to do blood tests in the coming days, if the rates that indicate pregnancy continue to go up, I was pregnant, otherwise, no.”
I had such examinations and the pregnancy developed very well. Consultations with the doctor were always reassuring and practical, as I found that I liked. But it always put me in a place of the assistant of the pregnancy. What mattered was the well-being of the baby and who knew everything that I had to do was the doctor.
Already at nine months pregnant, expecting Malik to arrive at any time, I had a urinary tract infection. I went to an emergency room to treat the infection as soon as possible so that it was not necessary to have a Cesarean because of that. I was attended to by a doctor, who again did not look in my face. He asked me questions about why I was there, I said it was cystitis. She said with an ironic tone (without looking at me): how do you know? I replied that I had already had this previously, requested the exam and left the room. When I returned for the test results, she handed me a very strong antibiotic that I was sure I could not take being pregnant. And I asked: “Doctor, can pregnant women take this medicine?” And she said: “You didn’t tell me at any moment that you were pregnant.” I don’t know if you will agree with me, but I found that with a belly like that, it would not be necessary to say that I was pregnant.
At that moment I could not even question the doctor. I only said that I thought my pregnancy was evident, took the prescription from her and left the office completely disgusted. Everything I had heard of, read, listened to and experienced in my career as a militant black woman came with full force. Until what point can we be rendered invisible even with a belly this big? What made me so invisible? I cried. First for going through it at this point and realizing that my life and that of my son was worthless in the hands of people who are supposed to take care of our health, and then because I could not react, I could not defend myself or defend my son from this atrocious racism against which I decided to dedicate my life.
A few weeks later, the time came for Malik to be born. I had done many exercises, walked, climb up and down hills. We were already at 40 weeks and 3 days of intimacy and me dying from anxiety to know him and suffering the “warnings” from the doctor that he would not let the pregnancy go to 41 weeks (the OMS directs that a normal pregnancy may reach 42 weeks without risk to mother and baby).
The day of the appointment came and the doctor was operating on some mothers to deliver their children via cesarean section, and would be late. I then went to the hospital that had an advertisement for humanization. The website showed rooms with birth balls, environmental music, a birthing stool, a lot of things. I ran over there. I was answered by a doctor on duty, who made a detestable touch exam and told me I was 4 cm dilated, but I had to call my doctor because my child could not be born in that hospital, since she would not let 18 people on duty tend to just ONE delivery. And if it was really necessary for me to have my son there, she would submit me to a Cesarean me because she couldn’t keep waiting.
I left, again, angry at the hospital. My son was born a few hours later, in a delivery very different from what I had imagined for us, but I think, better than what could have happened, with the help of the medical assistant who had followed the entire pregnancy, but I figured that would not be present at delivery. While I felt the synthetic oxytocin in my veins and almost lost control of the situation, I took a deep breath and talked to Malik about the time that we had waited so long for had come. I could not allow the interventions at that time to be stronger and important than the birth of my son and my birth as a mother. I took a deep breath while I felt my body moving to the meeting of Malik with this world. When he was born, looking at everything and crying strong, he was placed in my arms, we looked at each other and talked. At that moment, was reborn in me all the strength and desire for transformation possible. With all the fear and responsibility of raising a black child in Brazil, but with the certainty that I and other partners can transform the world around us, for us and by those who came before us, by any means necessary.
Source: População Negra e Saúde