The Restoration Episode
Episode 05: Birthright Live: The Restoration Episode
Black birthing needs healing. Too many Black women and birthing individuals are left holding trauma and unresolved hurt due to the mistreatment, dismissiveness, or disrespect they endured during the childbirth experience. It’s time to model healing journeys for those carrying birth trauma, so we can all find joy! In our first Birthright Live episode, I sit down with two Black mamas who are holding trauma and a psychotherapist, specializing in birth-related disorders and anxieties, for an unforgettable journey to restore and heal from their traumatic birthing experiences. The episode features tips for everyone to start their own healing journey and reminds us that watching others heal can be healing for all.
- Click here to watch episode extras on BIRTHRIGHT’S YOUTUBE PAGE!
- Learn more about Nneka Symister at her Website Mylocaltherapist.org
- Read Alisha’s Story ‘The day I was reduced to a Black birthing body.’ A doctor reflects on pregnancy
- Learn more about having a safe and empowered birth by downloading the free ebook: Birth with Irth: A Mini-Manual to Pregnancy and Childbirth for Black People
- Get full episode details and transcripts (posted by midday) on www.BirthrightPodcast.com
- New episodes are released every other Wednesday! Subscribe now!
- Follow Kimberly Seals Allers on Twitter on Instagram: @iamKSealsAllers
Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Welcome to birthright, a podcast about joy and helium black birth. Today, we have our special episode restoration and healing experience. My name is Kimberly Seals Allers I’m an author, maternal infant health strategist, and founder of Irth, as in the word birth, the number one rating and review app for black and Brown women and birthing people to find and leave reviews of their doctors and hospitals.
And I’m the proud host of Birthright. Today, we are starting a long-overdue process of acknowledging the harms that we have endured within the medical system and not to do so for sensational headlines, clickbait, or for the is black pain point addiction. But. For ourselves to acknowledge our humanity and to acknowledge our birthright to healing.
We are here to reverse dangerous narratives that say that being disrespected and dismiss are to be expected and that we should actually just be grateful to be alive. And for our babies to be alive, we categorically reject that notion. Our birthright is not just to feel grateful. Our birthright is to thrive and to, to be free.
And our birthright is liberation. Today, we stopped this journey with two amazing two very brave mamas who are on this journey with me, um, who are sharing their time for a chance to be a demonstration of something that is necessary. Something that is powerful, um, and something that we hope to emulate.
And now we can not complete this process in an hour or so, but we certainly hope to start something in sparking a journey of discovery for our guests. And for you. And I hope that while you’re here on our YouTube page, that you will like and subscribe, and please leave some thoughts in the comments. And you can always check out our firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to check out our merchandise while you’re there, but do leave comments below.
Now let’s get into it. First, I would like to introduce our two amazing mamas. Uh, we’ll start with Dr. Alisha Liggett, who is a family medicine doctor and founder of empower her health and health education and justice practice that empowers women of color to navigate their reproductive journeys with agency promoting healthy pregnancies and healthy infants.
Her work focuses on black maternal health disparities. We’ve productive health education and patient empowerment. You can follow her with Instagram at happy, healthy, Dr. Alicia, and go to the website, empower her health.com. Next, we have the amazing Sasha Winslow. Sasha is a native New Yorker hailing from Spanish Harlem.She’s also a professional registered nurse and board-certified family nurse practitioner as a certified maternal newborn nurse. She is passionate about all things post-partum and family health, and she’s committed to creating inclusive environments for families. Supporting initiatives that promote reproductive justice and practices that improve black maternal health outcomes during her free time.She’s an avid reader. Um, and you can find her talking about all things fiction on her Bookstagram. Sasha loves books.
And last but not least, I’m super honored to welcome our therapist and healer for this episode and incredible soul who I am honored to be connected with Nneka Symister. Who is a psychotherapist. A licensed social worker with two decades of experience helping individuals and families build and strengthen their relationships with themselves and others, how work include supporting diverse populations. And she specializes in helping women and couples who suffer with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, miscarriage, and loss.I n her work, she uses multiple techniques to assist her clients. Um, and she received her masters. In clinical social work from the Silverman school of social work at Hunter college and a bachelor of science from the state university of Albany naked is the founder of my [00:04:00] local therapist. And her website is my local therapist.org.
I’m so excited to have everyone with me. Thank you for joining me. Welcome to birthright. Our first live episode, let’s start our reclamation work.
Hi everyone. We did it. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for, uh, bearing with us with our technical difficulties. As we move from a virtual world to a real world. Welcome to Birthright, a podcast about joy and healing and our restoration episode, a healing journey. My name is Kimberly seals Allers and I’m an author journalist, uh, founder of the Irth app, which is the number one Yelp app. For black and Brown folks leave reviews of their doctors and OB-GYNs and hosts of Birthright, the podcast. And we are here today to start a journey, to start acknowledging our truths, to start speaking honestly, about what we have endured within the medical system. Not for sensational headlines, not for the media’s black pain porn addiction, but for us to acknowledge our humanity and to acknowledge our birthright to healing.
We’re here to reverse the dangerous narratives that often tell us that we should be disrespected and we should expect to be traumatized, but as long as we’re alive and our babies are alive, we should be grateful. Our birthright is not to be just grateful. Our birthright is to survive, to thrive, to be free. And our birthright is liberation. So today we begin and we begin this journey with two amazing black women, two incredibly brave black women, and their powerful stories who have taken this journey with me so that we could be a demonstration. Of something that’s so necessary in the world. Now, this is only the beginning. We can not heal all the trauma and harm that is in the black birth space, holding that we are holding in one hour or so, but we do hope to start and spark a journey of discovery. Uh, for our participants and for you all out there. And I hope that you will join us while you are here. We know we have moved over to Facebook, but hopefully afterwards, you will go to a YouTube page like, and subscribe.
If you haven’t caught up on birthright podcast episodes, go to birthright podcast.com. Check out our merchandise while we’re in this conversation. Please leave comments. Um, So that we can really start to continue to check in. And I’m so excited to introduce our guests today, Dr. Alicia Leggett, who is a family medicine doctor and founder of empower health.
She empowers women of color to navigate their reproductive journeys with agency promoting healthy pregnancies and healthy infants. Her work focuses on black maternal health disparities, reproductive health, education, and patient empowerment. And you can follow her on Instagram at happy, healthy, Dr.
Alicia, um, as go to her website and power health.com. And then we also have the amazing saucer [00:07:00] Winslow who is a native new Yorker hailing from Spanish Harlem. She’s a New York state professional registered nurse and a fam board certified family nurse practitioner. And as a certified maternal newborn nurses.
Sasha is incredibly passionate about all things postpartum and family health. And she’s committed to creating inclusive environments for families, supporting initiatives that promote reproductive justice and practices that improve black maternal health outcomes during her free time. She’s an avid reader and actually a.
Follows them, you should follow her books. The gram at Sasha loves books. So these are my two participants. And then I’m so honored to welcome our therapist, our healer for this episode and incredible soul who I am just honored to be connected with a Neko semester, who is a psychotherapist, a licensed social worker who has decades of experience helping individuals and families, uh, build and strengthen their relationships with themselves and each [00:08:00] others.
Nneka’s work includes them as supporting diverse populations. I mean, she also specializes in helping women and couples who suffer with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, Miscavige and loss. Um, and in her work she uses multiple techniques to help her patients. Um, and you can learn more about her at her website, which is my local therapist.org.
And so let us begin. We are super excited about this process. We are so grateful that you joined us, um, for this journey today. And I am really honored that we are getting our journey started. Right. Did I forget anything? Anyone? We have an amazing crew here, so thank you all for joining me. Welcome to birthright.
Our first live episode, let’s start our reclamation work.
Okay, so we’re gonna [00:09:00] start. Thank you, everyone. This is so exciting. Um, so I want to first start about, um, with Alicia story, Alicia actually, um, shared her story publicly, um, for a NPR affiliate. And wrote about what happened to, and I want to start with Alicia, um, readings a little bit about what she shared, and this is from October, uh, 2020.
It was on K U O w.org. If you would love to check out Alisha’s excerpt, where she talks about one of the things that she said, “I laid on the birthing table, externally calm, but internally fearful of becoming a statistics. I couldn’t help, but feel like medicine had taken my body prisoner and my voice had been silenced. I couldn’t move. I was chained to Ivy lines with a spottily functioning epidural or urine catheter in my bladder and medicines that were keeping my severe preeclampsia from threatening my life and that of my son, I felt completely powerless laying there silently complicit at the endless trickle of young, faceless, resident doctors, vaginal exams and blood draws. I felt like they were hiding information from me.”
And so Alisha, first, we are so grateful to you for sharing your story publicly. To giving words and voice. Tell us about your birth experience and where you are now.
Yes. Absolutely. Thank you so much for inviting me can really, by the way, it’s such an honor and a privilege to be able to share this platform with you today.
Yeah, my birth is just listening to you actually read that again. It kind of made my heart rate go up a little bit. I, you know, even still kind of carry very much, uh, you know, that, that pain of re-triggering, uh, when I even read it, re-read it myself, or even when I hear patient’s stories, but, you know, it’s one of these things where going into my pregnancy, I knew that there’s a lot that’s unexpected as a doctor…it’s something that I, you know, counsel patients on that, you know, they just kind of have to be a little bit flexible with their pregnancy experience, but, you know, in that part, I was managing pretty well when my doctor told me that I had gestational diabetes, you know, I was trying my best to kind of keep, um, as much control over the process as possible, trying to eat as healthy as possible, exercising. But my labor experience, I mean, everything just went downhill fast, where I lost kind of all control, um, and all autonomy. So kind of that excerpt that you read kind of really speaks to that. Um, my labor experience was such that I developed severe preeclampsia and it really started, you know, as I was laboring. Um, and it was progressing relatively quickly. So with that, As you mentioned, endless faces of doctors coming in and out of the room, um, saying, yes, we need to draw your blood again and again and again. cCming back and reiterating that they had to start new interventions without really telling me why or explaining rationales for their medical decision-making even as a doctor, this is information that I literally had to push to get. Um, and in some cases, residents were like, Oh, um, you know, I don’t have that information in front of me. Okay. Well, you need to go get it, you know, like really kind of being pushy and that’s really not my character to be, uh, so, so pushy and so forthcoming.
Um, but I felt like, you know, my life was really, it depended on it in this case and I needed to know what was happening. Um, I felt myself though, in being kind of coming out of my character, um, just reverting back to this feeling of am I being an angry black woman? Even in my, even in my experience where I was just very vulnerable and literally in the hospital bed, I was still thinking about how others were perceiving me.
Um, so at that point I just kind of decided to stop talking, um, and stop asking questions and stop being pushy. Because I felt as though the tenor of my experience was changing as if the hospital staff were not, you know, so forthcoming with information. Um, and I know often, having worked in the hospital and being a doctor myself that when that happens, it’s because the information is not good. It’s because people are afraid to tell you, or they just don’t, you know, people are just kind of executing orders, but they don’t really understand why they’re doing it. So I felt like there was just so much happening that even they couldn’t control. Um, and then there was another period in my labor, just that shocked me, which was that, you know, after 25 plus hours of labor, a shift change. So new staff, new, new OB/GYN, um, you know, the OB/GYN that I had been working with, um, she left and a new one came and she just, the whole like energy changed. I mean, this Doctor was just like, “What’s happening here? This labor is going on too long.” I mean, she was literally just kind of spouting all these things in front of me in the room about what was going wrong with my labor. And so I just became very afraid and scared, like, well, I had a feeling of things where, you know, really really long, but you know, I try not to doctor myself. I’m trying not to be that person, you know, in the room, that’s trying to be hyper controlling, you know, and feed into any stereotype. So I just kind of let it be. Um, but I became very, very fearful in that moment, especially when she told me that, uh, my baby was in the wrong position. Um, and that, because we were kind of running out of time because the preeclampsia was advancing because I really didn’t want a section. Um, I just, I was just really, really scared at that point, you know? Um, so I just, I couldn’t believe that that information had been withheld for such a period of time given the number of exams that I had. Um, and I actually had a doula and she’d asked that question a few times. Like, what’s the position of the baby, but no one told us anything about that. Um, and the last piece, which I feel like was just super egregious is, you know, after we get the baby flipped, uh, into the right position. You know, I’m starting to push I’m in my zone, trying to stay calm, doing my meditation. Um, and the nurse manager comes in and she’s like, “Oh, well, you’ve been pushing for two hours in, um, about two hours and 45 minutes. And we have a policy in the hospital that we don’t allow people to push for longer than three hours. And if you push, you know, if you have to push longer than that, then you need to go to section” Like what, like, I’m literally going to get this baby out. And you’re coming in here and telling me 15 minutes before the three hour mark that you’re going to section me because I don’t meet your criteria, which, who knows if that’s even evidence-based or not, or if that’s just something the hospital made up to turn over the rooms. Um, so I was just like, okay, so I have 15 minutes to get this baby out. Cause I was certainly not having a section. Um, luckily my baby was born, um, 12 minutes later. Um, and you know, I was just supremely grateful to be alive.
Hm. Hm. Thank you so much for sharing that, Dr. Alisha, I mean, I’m trying to, for the sick, for the, for the process. I can’t, I don’t want to do the crosstalk and the yelling out, but I was yelling in my ear when I was hearing those things. And first of all, thank you for sharing. Um, You know, I mean so much going on there. I’m not even going to say anything. I’m going to ask Nneka to, to find a spot screaming too. And I think I did shout out loud actually.
Um, thank you. Thank you, Dr. Alicia, for sharing that, you know, the first thing I was thinking as you were speaking was wow. And you’re a doctor and you felt like, you know, advocating for yourself, was too much, right? Like, am I going to be this, you know, loud, black woman? What does that mean? I don’t want people to think I’m difficult. And so I can imagine for someone who’s not used to advocating for themselves how they can feel invisible, right? And not have a voice and, um, and not even know what to ask for and what to do. And, you know, I can imagine at that time too, Not feeling like a doctor, right. Just feeling like another Black body and that is being ignored. And so, how do you navigate that? You know, I was thinking, how do you navigate that in your work? Now I know I read your article. If you have a chance, please read it. Um, and I was thinking, you know, thank you for your advocacy. I know you work with other women now in their stories trigger you. So how do you, how do you navigate that triggering not only in hearing stories from your patients but also in being a doctor. Right? And knowing what that felt like on the other end, how do you now face your peers and, and deal with that? I’m pretty sure that’s triggering as well.
Well, I may, I just add to that mean just like the layers of also betrayal, why it’s like, this is your field, you know, a field that you represent. A field that you would think, you know, that you would be perhaps respected in common. So I can imagine, you know, the trauma is also layered with a sense of betrayal to a profession that you have invested time and, and money and, and you know, your energy and your identity into. Can you, can you talk a little bit about that and how that’s been for you?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just to answer the first part of your question, um, after I had returned to work after being out for four months on maternity leave, I literally, you know, after that experience, I literally didn’t even after the birth of my son for the first month, I didn’t even tell really family members or friends or anything that had happened to me. I just kind of, you know, it took me a while to recover. It was just my husband and I here and the baby and I was just even too prideful to kind of even speak out or shame feeling a sense of shame around it. But when I returned to work, um, you know, I just kind of… it was business as usual. I didn’t really speak to anyone about what had happened. I didn’t, um, seek therapy. I didn’t. I just kind of pretended as if the experience was, you know, it didn’t happen. Um, so, for me coming back to work and really kind of, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had become very acutely sensitive to the stories of my patients around, uh, reproductive trauma, whether it’s exams that they had from other doctors, their experiences, um, negative experiences in the healthcare system, um, and even their birth stories, um, and hearing these stories from my patients. Um, again and again, and again, and again. I just came to the realization that, wow, this is something that’s like, it’s not just a one-off this isn’t just a fluke. This is an epidemic where just about every, uh, reproductive age patient that I see have of color has a negative story, either related to birth or reproductive health. Um, and so for me, it just kind of started to call a lot of things into question for me, like, why is this happening to us? Um, why hasn’t anybody told me and you’re speaking, um, Kim, Kimberly speaking about the issue of betrayal. Why didn’t anyone tell me one as a birthing person, like anyone in my family or, or friends, you know, why didn’t anyone tell me that this experience could be so heavy? And why didn’t anyone, my peers, my colleagues. In medical school. Why isn’t it something I learned about in terms of, um, you know, this implicit bias, the structural racism in healthcare, um, how it is that this has perpetuated how it is that I myself might be perpetuating this process also. Um, I just felt like so much had to be called into question and there was a re-imagining and a rethinking that I really needed to do in order to ensure that I, myself wasn’t traumatizing patients, but I think in that it also was very re-triggering for me.
Right. I can understand that as I was listening, I was thinking about what’s really triggering and what parts are retraumatizing. And I just wanted you to think about that before answering, because, again, hearing the stories is one thing, but I’m almost sure I’m sure that hearing your peers and seeing your peers do what you’ve experienced, you know, how do you navigate that space, you know, uh, while remaining respected and also not seen as a troublemaker and a problem person, but also guiding people who haven’t been trained quite frankly, including yourself to deal with these things.
You know, how do you navigate through that?
Yeah, absolutely. I think I’m lucky. And then I am in a position of power, um, in my clinical space. So, um, and I think all providers are right. Like, you know, just the way that the medical hierarchy is set up is that we always have an opportunity to lead by example. So I really took that seriously. Um, when I hear comments about patients behind closed doors. Um, you know, it’s something I really call out immediately. Like, “Hey guys, let’s really think about this in a different way. Let’s kind of think about what brought this person here, what her experience has his or her experience might’ve been, um, before we pass judgment before we make these comments.” Right. Like, you know, we don’t live our lives in a vacuum and people come here seeking help and seeking refuge. So we should really be respectful even, even though they may not necessarily hear what it is that we’re saying, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a spirit that, you know, even though they can’t hear us, it still inhabits us when we go into the room and when we treat them and when we speak to them, um, and people can feel that they can sense that they may not be able to identify what it is exactly.
Or they don’t have the language to say, like, this is racism or this is bias, but they feel bad. They feel, um, dismissed. They feel vulnerable, they feel fearful and they feel small. Um, those things, people can say that they feel. So I think for me, it was important to use, um, my, my privilege and my leadership in my clinical space as a, it’s a teaching opportunity for everyone to kind of really teach about reproductive justice and also teach about social determinants of health and what it is that kind of, um, the perfect storm, I should say that, um, that creates these negative experiences that people have. Uh, but also using my story as a way to, um, to, to begin my journey of self-healing and kind of releasing this trauma that I had from my own birth.
And I think what I hear Nneka, you know, asking you, cause I want to also give time for Sasha to share is for you to think through. You know the difference between re-triggering and re-traumatizing, can you [00:24:00] kind of explain what those, the difference between those two?
Yeah. So what I was thinking, you said you didn’t go to therapy, you went right back to work and I could imagine the first time hearing a story, you know, did it take you right back to that hospital bed? You know, did it take you right back to those moments? Did your heart rate go up? You know, were you shaking? Did you need space to breathe? You know how to do navigate, how do you get to the place you are now? Right. And that’s re-traumatizing and then there are moments when you’re triggered and you’re triggered to then advocate. And that’s different. Right. So I would, I would be interested for you to think about like, how did you get there? You know, those first few days of coming back to work, you weren’t prepared to be so acutely, you know, um, uh, reactive. Right? And so I was really interested to know how, how did you get from one place to the next, how did you start your healing without even knowing you were starting your healing? Right?
And so that’s what we should think about that. And I think Nick is going to come back to you. So, you know, think a little bit about those distinctions. And then, um, we’ll ask we’ll, we’ll allow Sasha to share a little bit as well, and then we’ll come back to that. Okay. All right. Very good. So we go to listen to Sasha. Um, and I think it’s so interesting that both Dr. Alicia and Sasha are healthcare professionals, which was not by design. And so, but really just to show that even those who are in the system or being harmed by the system. And actually, when we think about the statistics saying that socioeconomics are not protective factors, income, education, class do not protect black women, but being a Black doctor or a Black nurse does not protect black women in birthing environments. Like this is like, Crazy. You know, like there’s just nothing that we can identify as protective. Um, and so I want to introduce Sasha to share her experience and just noting what I was really drawn to around Sasha’s story. You know, her son’s a little bit older, but she’s been carrying this grief in this fear for a while almost to the point where she feels like it’s prevented her from having another child. And she’s thinking about maybe it’s time that she, uh, you know, once we start thinking about that again, so Sasha, can you share a little bit about your birth experience and what that has felt like for you in the years since?
Thank you. Um, thank you so much for this platform and I’m happy to be sharing this space with you all. Um, for me, um, As a new mom. Um, when I found out I was pregnant, it was so much excitement. Um, being the baby and the family, the last child, it was a lot of excitement around, Oh goodness. The baby girl is about to have a baby.And from that moment, um, I was just looking forward to seeing him and holding him and smelling him and figuring out who he will look like me or his dad. And throughout my pregnancy was fine. I still work at the time as a pediatric ER nurse. And it was a very high acuity, very busy area. Um, And even though during my pregnancy, I, you know, I developed gestational diabetes. I adhere to the treatment plan. You know, I made sure that I ate well and I checked my sugars and, you know, I kept my appointments, um, in some way, some form, um, that had kind of capsulate into this being the perfect patient, um, and not being labeled as a non, um, Compliant with the treatment plan. And, you know, that’s something that I know about now, um, when I work as a provider, um, but I really try to just do everything according to what my OB/GYN wanted me to do. Um, because right then and there they’re like, “Hey, you know, now you have gestational diabetes. We want to prevent, you know, um, you, haven’t a very large baby.” So that was my focus. Um, and I was fine, you know, I, I just was enjoying the the magic of, you know, transitioning to motherhood and seeing my body change. And just knowing that oh, my goodness in the next few weeks, I’m going to be, you know, I want to be someone’s mom. So in preparation for that, you know, I’ve read up on some journals. I looked up some books. I was like, let me learn how to do this Parsi, let me, let me be prepared. It would be the best patient. So when I get a hospital, I don’t want to view that patient. I want to know what I need to know. Um, so I remember going in for an induction. Um, I was 40 weeks and, um, I just knew, you know, from friends and colleagues like, Hey, you know, the birthing process is different for first-time moms. There may be a long time, you know, you may have a baby fast. Um, but no one explained to you, um, just what you will endure, the pain you may feel and or how it makes you feel. Um, I did go in with this idea of perfection that. I was born to have a vaginal delivery. I just want to exclusively breastfeed when it was done. And we was going to do this, um, after 36 hours of labor, um, my son went to, uh, a category, two tracing, which means the baby is in distress. Um, I had it fully catheter. I had a toaster run as my contractions were really strong and very uncomfortable. And, um, I was also fully dilated and I was ready to push. And what made the ordeal so surreal was when I saw the whole team run into the room when the, the leads just wasn’t picking up, you know, anything. Um, and it just put me in that space of survival mode. At that point I do out of my head, but I was not going to have a vaginal delivery. This was, you know, wasn’t going to happen, especially with which was something I envisioned, um, that now I’m going to have to have surgery. You know, my husband and I were just like, what’s going on? He was completely clueless. Cause he didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t understand like, okay, we are taking her right now to the, OR and they had to like reach, explain it to him. He would like to the OR and you know, I’m in my nurse and more like, okay, they have to take the baby out. Um, I just was in this process though, inside of me I’ve I was already in, in mourning, um, that I was losing everything that I wanted out of my birthing and experience. Like, this was just, this was it. Um, I had a definitely intense, you know, monologue inside me, okay, Sasha, this is, this needs to happen. Even though I was feeling, you know, angry and upset. Um, but, the doctors, the residents, the nurses came in, they rushed him to the OR. And I remember my epidural wasn’t really working that well from the beginning, like half of my body was numb and then a half was not. And I just remember that first incision cut. I felt it, and it felt terrible. And I bared through the whole thing at even boys to say, “Hey, I feel this I’m in pain.” I just was in shock. And um, for some reason I had this, okay, I have to. Be strong and I have to get through this. I, you know, right now the most important thing is the baby. I want him to, I want to hear his cry. I want to make sure he’s okay. And it just happened. He was out, the NICU team was there and I still felt everything, you know? Um, it was such an uncomfortable experience. Something that I did not, you know, um, expect, I feel a part of it with some unrealistic expectation of the birthing process, uh, a loss of control, um, that now I, I have, uh, you know, just had a major abdominal surgery.You know, now my stay in the hospital is now extended. I went from being in a hospital, coming in on a Sunday, a staying until a Saturday. And I just felt like my body failed me. There was this sense of. Joy that I get to hold my son, but then the sense that my body failed me. I was swollen all over. I was uncomfortable and I just didn’t know how to be okay with, with being with, you know, with not being okay. I didn’t know how to accept that. And right then and there, I went into this mode of okay. Since my labor. Was terrible. My postpartum has to be perfect. And unfortunately, that did not, um, go as that as well.
Wow. Sasha, thank you so much for sharing that. I think there’s a lot there. Certainly, we think about expectations, you know, um, I’m going to let Nneka start.
Yeah. So a couple of things I have, thank you so much for sharing a couple of things I heard from both women, you know, they both talked about following the rules, you know, taking care of their bodies, eating right. You know, doing all the things and their body’s still failing them. Right. And so I want you both to think about, what is your stuff and what is the doctor stuff? Because some things it’s not about your body failing you. Sometimes people didn’t explain things to you and so it can get all mixed up. Right? And so we bring on a lot of shame and guilt around that. And the second thing both of you mentioned, which I hear often is “nobody told me”, “Nobody explained it to me”. And it just speaks to how often we’re shamed into silence that we are the one-off. When in reality, so many women experienced that. And so it’s so important to share these stories and that you can hear, you know, people say, you know, me too, that happened to me too. No one listened to me. No one heard me. You know, both of you also said we shut down. We didn’t feel heard. We shut down and stopped speaking. Both of you spoke to wanting to be the perfect patient, not wanting to say anything, not wanting to look a certain way. These are not things other people need to think about.
Right. Right. I think as Black women, we carry that especially hard. Right. And it’s not just right of my father, who was like, you have to work twice as hard. You don’t have to break the smarts. Then you add those up Black women. You’re like, no, in my professional settings, I have two parts of your life. Always, always, always the extra that we feel must come to everything and that would not allow to just be a patient.
Right. I feel pain and I need help. And I don’t know what’s happening and you need to explain these things to me and I don’t have to be calm. Right. I don’t have a right to have a right to be angry. I have a right to express what I’m feeling and to say what my needs are and if I’m not getting them met. Um, but then you also spoke about perfectionism specifically, um, and wanting to be perfect and wanting to be if your birth wasn’t perfect, then your postpartum is perfect. And I would really like to get a better understanding of where this idea of perfectionism comes from because there are two things. There’s one thing about being a strong Black woman, and that has its own, you know, kind of narrative, but that’s very different from saying I’m going to be perfect. And usually, and you can correct me if I’m wrong. That perfectionism doesn’t just start, you know, during childbirth and during pregnancy, you know, you tend to have that idea. About yourself and wanting to reach your goals for some time. So talk to me about that and how, how did you try to be perfect? You know, what did that look like for you?
And where did you learn that from? Do you think?
So when I think of a strong, strong Black woman, um, syndrome or troll, I remember reading sister citizen by, um, Melissa Harris-Perry and, um, Melissa Harris, Perry, sister citizen. And that was, uh, around the time after my son, that things were pulling together. Um, the perfectionism and the strong black woman, I feel all capsulated, um, that I learned and observed as a child. Seeing my mother and some of my family members. Um, observing my peers and, um, colleagues, you know, like you stated earlier about the, you got to work twice as hard. You, you have to show up, always have to grind every day. You have to, you gotta be better than the next person. You was always, you was always in competition with someone out. Um, if you was having a bad day, you still gotta show up and do your work, even though you were just pissed off. Like there was just no room to be. And I, I learned through observation of those close to me, um, [00:37:00] that this, this, this whole thing for perfectionism, and I feel like it all came down to a sense of control, controlling your external environment. Um, and that is something that. You know, played a role in my professional and my first new life. Um, especially during the postpartum period.
Um, and what, so, you know, interesting around these ideas of control, because I think that we understand on a base level that we can’t control much, but yet we try to control everything that we think we can’t control. And I think you probably have the language for this, but you know, when, when you know that there’s so much about being a Black woman, that’s out of our control and the things that we feel we can I’ll bodies,
I will help how we represent ourselves, things like that, how we look. Right. And, um, as you were speaking about watching that and seeing that.
It’s also stories that we’ve told, right. As Black women, we know that we’ve taken care of our own children generationally, you know, we’ve taken care of other people’s children. And so the story of like, this would be natural for us. Right? Of course, of course you could just be a mom and do this. We’ve been doing this for centuries.
We’ve been birthing in the fields!
Right. So, you know, and that’s the message that we hear from our elders as well. Right. We had seven kids, 10 kids, 12 kids. You’ll be fine. You have to, you know, you’ll be fine. You have one. And so I would like you to think about, and I’m talking about this a little bit more later, but really to thinking about where you got the messaging from, with processing, you know, questioning that messaging and saying, is this sustainable? Is this something that I want? Right, because just because we see things doesn’t mean we want to practice them. Right. Um, in all parts and if it’s not beneficial to us on top of it, right. Because pushing through and postpartum, it looks very different than pushing through at work. Right. It looks very different. And in postpartum you do need help and getting to a place where you can say, I need help. I can’t do this. And being comfortable doing that.
And I think it’s so important. I mean, I wanted to make sure that we just have a level set to explicitly say that, you know, all trauma is real.
Oh, listen, trauma is how you identify it. Right. So I get this story, two women come in and they say, I wasn’t near death, so I don’t want to call it trauma. And I’m like, okay, did it go according to plan? No. Do you think about it often? Can you not stop crying about it? That’s traumatic to you, right? So it’s not comparison to anyone else, but also the idea. And I think Dr. Alisha stated it in saying that people minimize it because you’re healthy and you’re here and your baby’s healthy and you’re here. And so a lot of times you don’t get to tell your story. Right. And in its entirety, well, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t tell your story. Right. Just be grateful because you’re alive.
Right, and the baby’s alive. And we hear about too many of our sisters who are not even here to tell this story, how dare I?
Right. And so really trying to separate that. I tell my moms all the time, listen, we know that you’re grateful. We know babies here. We love them. They’re perfect. Leave them there. That is very different than what’s going on with you. Right. And separating that. What do I need to talk about? My healing, my experience, you know, how do I process this? What, you know, what happens? You know, I’m hearing pieces, I can’t remember, you know, should I have done this? Should I should have asked the doctor this, you know, what did the doctors say? Things like that has nothing to do with having a healthy baby.
Right. I’ll be in alive. And I think they have to reclaim that for ourselves as well. That shouldn’t be the goal. Right. Right. And that we can create a new standard that we can create space for each other to share stories. Um, and not with the. But “you should be glad that you’re alive” type of response. You know, like that’s very harmful. It’s very dangerous. Um, and this is, and this is the damage that’s being done to us by these harmful narratives by this mainstream narrative that is only about our deaths. Um, and there’s a whole spectrum of trauma. That’s out there. Right? Like, and we do have the joy, which is this other part of what we do at Birthright, but we also have the spectrum of pain.
And you can hold space for both! Right. So the idea that you have to be either, or am I, I feel upset, like, no, I’m happy and I’m upset. Okay. I had a lot, but I think, you know, we, we don’t recognize that we live in that space. All the time. Right? We’re constantly feeling two things at the same time. Very rarely are you feeling just one thing. And so kind of keeping that in the back of your mind, I don’t have to choose between being grateful and processing my pain and trying to find healing for my experience. I want to just go back to Dr. Alicia’s question and then, um, think about something else for the two of them, but I want to make sure that we go back to this conversation.
Triggering re-triggering versus retraumatizing. Did you have any thoughts on that question for you, Dr. Alisha?
Yeah. So it’s very interesting that you asked me, like, what specifically did I do to kind of start to initiate that, um, And, you know, it’s really hard for me to remember what it is that I did. I think for me, I’m someone who definitely suffers from strong Black woman syndrome, which is that you do everything that you can to be strong. And if that means kind of feeling weak emotions, you just don’t feel them. You don’t acknowledge that they exist. So I think for me, what really forced me to kind of feel what was happening with my experience and start to think about how it was affecting me was just hearing my story through those of my patients’ stories.
How it, and so, I mean, in terms of kind of you know, tools and next steps, like, you know, what can we offer Dr. Alisha? I mean, she’s facing a very unique situation where she is, you know, conceivably being, you know, having to show up at work as a professional, doing the thing that we do when we show up at work, not really in a space to, you know, to feel like she can, you know, kind of feel it or be in, be in her body about it. Um, but yet can be constantly, we triggered about this experience. Like what. What can be done?
So two things, I’m thinking one, she’s already doing the work, right. Continuing to advocate for your patients, you know, letting them know that you understand exactly what they’re going through must feel really good. Right? But also, you know, designate meeting space maybe at the end of the week and saying, okay, wow, this week was really rough. Maybe these two, three stories really stuck to me. And what am I thinking about and how can I process this? So really designating time. Because you’re right. You know, you don’t have the time at work to stop and process and breathe all the time, but you should find space for that. Right? So maybe, you know, two hours on a Sunday or something, it’s just sitting down and saying, what happened this week? What stories have I heard? You know, what am I thinking about and how do I feel about it? You know, giving yourself the space to process.
That sounds like a good way to start. And then Sasha, you know, it’s been a few years for you and I know that you even went to therapy, um, after, during your postpartum periods, I definitely want to commend you for that. You know, I think it’s important that we speak that part out that you know, it is okay. You know, shout out to my therapist. Who, who really does, does the lowest work. And I will tell you all that. Um, but you know, it’s important that we, that we speak up about the ways that we can get support during particularly that post-partum period. Certainly what Nneka does in her work, um, being really critical. And so where do you think you are now Sasha, in terms of kind of processing that fear, perhaps thinking about whether you. Could have another birth experience and look at it differently. Do you, where were you in that process mentally about? Could you let go of some of the things that you know, what kind of blocking you, um, you know, for, for another experience, which may not be perfect.
Okay. So what I, I, I’m just so grateful, um, for the therapy that I initiated in my postpartum period, because it was so beneficial to really navigate the sense of loss and the power of truly being uncomfortable with that with, you know, not being okay. And that was okay. Like you said before to hold both of those experiences there of being happy and angry at the same time. Um, so it took a while to be okay with that. To shed a way of the perfection. I want to be a perfect mother. I want to be perfect fit. I’m going to get back to my pre pregnancy weight. I want to do this. I’m going to do that. Just basically learning to go with the flow. To be flexible with myself and to understand, like, not to shoot for perfection, because you will only disappoint yourself. And that’s something I tell my patients, I just want you to do your best, do what you can for now one step at a time. Um, and that’s what had to tell myself, pour that same love and support and comfort into me the same way I do for others. Um, because as a giver and as someone who’s very empathetic to other people, you want to. I had to do that for myself. Um, right now, you know, my son is six years old and it took a good four years for me to feel comfortable and saying, you know what, I want to have another baby. Um, and I still do, you know, I, what I learned from that experience and what I know now, after working in the postpartum feel that in an encountering women and in furthering folks in the outpatient area, um, I feel more confident that I will advocate for myself. I would even include a doula and the process, um, you know, making sure that my husband is also aware of what’s going on. So he’s not feeling like he is unable to support me or understand what I’m going through. Um, so it took a great deal of just letting go. And knowing that, um, it’s okay to feel how I’m feeling. That doesn’t change that Um, what I experienced, you know, that is validated. I don’t need anyone to validate that for me.
Yeah. And I think the important part is also to remember that that probably will always be with you. Right. You know, I had two C-sections and I always talk about birth regret right. Versus trauma, but maybe it is trauma, but for years, if I met a midwife, I would ask, what could I have done differently? Right. What could I have, I’ll tell everybody my story, trying to find the solutions, you know, and finally, my girlfriend was like, “isn’t your baby 10?” And I was like, Oh, maybe I need to speak to a professional, you know, so it’s always with you. And so I think part of it is understanding that yeah, maybe won’t go away.
Um, yeah. So thank you. So something you said stood out to me, um, You know, getting, you know, letting go. And so something I would suggest to you, cause I know you talked about having a doula and getting more information and things like that, but really thinking about the experience when you’re thinking about having another baby. What brings you the most fear, you know, is it laying on the table? You know, these are things doulas, and having your husband there won’t help. Right? And so really thinking about what experiences am I most afraid of, and if that happens, how can I breathe through it? What do I need to do to push myself to get to the other side? Right. So that’s one thing, but also, um, Yes. You’re absolutely right. It’s you know, another thing, perfectionism, there’s no such thing, you know, in my field, we talk about “the good enough mother”, right. We just want to be good enough. Right, right. The good enough mother. So that’s another thing. And thirdly, really just thinking about, no, you don’t let it go. What does healing mean? Right. So people say, “I want to be healed. I want to be healed.” And I’m like, well, what is your definition of healed? Is your expectations to never care about this? That it will be fine. And it would just roll off your back. That’s not going to happen 30 years from now, you’re talking be 45 and you’re going to remember when you talk about the childbirth experience and it’s going to, you know, you’re going to feel that things, right. That feeling inside and I can’t believe it happened that way. And so really thinking about what is healing, right? What does it look like? You know, um, what is my expectation and is it sustainable? Is it reachable? Is it, you know, something that we can do. So really thinking about that.
And so do you have any kind of practical tips for Sasha? I mean, I know you just mentioned kind of re-imagining these other pieces or anything for both of them to kind of take as a next step in their journey.
So for both of them one continue to do the work, right? I mean, I think your work is healing you, right? Without you even knowing it. So continue to do the work because once you see all the mothers and you see that you being a part of their lives, You know, changes the narrative for them is huge. Right? So acknowledging your space and acknowledging your work and that your pain and your trauma is now changing other’s lives and that’s healing.
Two, Um, like I said, for Sasha, really thinking about. What a part of the birthing experience that you’re most afraid of. Right. Because what I’m hearing you say is more tools, right. If I make sure I have a doula, I make sure this, if I make sure that I’m in control and that’s not necessarily the case. And so I just, I don’t want you to reinvent it with other things. Right. And so I want you to really think about. What are the things in me, right? Is it just the first doctor’s appointment I’m scared of? You know, what are the things that make my stomach turn and what do I need to do in those moments? So really just thinking that through.
Um, and, and for, for Dr. Alisha, I was just thinking again, more, just continuing to do her work and maybe thinking about how you got there. You said, “I don’t even know”, but it is important to know because you might be able to guide someone else and say, listen, I took breaths. You know, I took, I took moments in the bathroom when I just had to go splash my face with cold water and come back and say, what do I want to do with this feeling? You know, so really thinking about that a little bit more, um, because it didn’t miraculously happen. Right? You did the work. And so trying to remember what that work looks like.
Dr. Alisha, how does that feel for you? How does that sound?
Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, I think you’re absolutely right. I’m someone who tends to, uh, Rely on divine intervention before I kind of start to think through things, but I agree. I think it needs to be more of an active process and not a passive one. Yeah. And that breathing is so important.
So important. Sasha, what do you think about, uh, Nneka feedback and suggestions?
Um, definitely spot on with the tools. I am definitely a person that is very methodical and things that I do. Um, so definitely like you stayed get into the, the shore that the core source of. What is it that I’m afraid of? And, um, I know what it is. Um, my component of, yeah, my component of having, um, a doula, um, is something that I wish I had for my first pregnancy. And that’s something that I want to have more so not for a sense of control, but just to have that more at ease, um, aspect of birth and not having so much of when you’re in inpatient, you just hear the machines and the beat something more subtle. So without that’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.
Yes. And that doula will educate your husband too. Don’t worry about that. That comes with a bag. Um, so it’s, it’s, it’s a great experience. And, um, but also not, not, you know, always thinking that it’s about having the things, but also to acknowledge your body. Right. And just to, not to, for us, not to dehumanize ourselves by not acknowledging our body by not acknowledging the feelings. Um, and, and that is also something that, you know, we all have to do. I have to do better at that. Um, and not toautomatically go into that strong response pilot, right.
Default, you know what I tell people do a body scan, right? And those moments literally take a light in your mind and scan through your body from the head of your Um, top of your head to the bottom of your feet and where do you feel it? Do you feel it in your throat? If it’s height, you fill it in your stomach, you know, is it feeling upset? Does your back hurt? Does your neck hurt what’s on your shoulders? You know, where is it that you’re feeling all this tension and then you can really decide what to do with that. But again, the autopilot is like, do, do, do, do, do. And then you’re like, Oh, I’ve had a migraine for three days. I have no idea why. Right. Well, I have backache. I have all these things and it’s like, well, because you’re not processing anything. It has, it needs to go somewhere. Right? The body holds the score. It needs to go somewhere.
I love that the body holds the score. So this has been such a rich conversation. Again, we’re just starting a process here. Um, I hope that we will continue to check in with Sasha and Dr. Alisha, Nneka, what tips, can you offer to those who may be watching, who may have experienced some sort of, you know, the spectrum of trauma in their own birthing experience or in their postpartum? What can others do? What are some tips we can give them?
So the first thing I would say is acknowledge the trauma, share it, tell your story, tell your story, tell your story. And you might have to find someone and premise it with, do not interrupt my story to not tell me. I’m fine. I know I’m fine. I just need to process this and can you hear me out? And if you’re not ready to do that, it could just be writing it out, but dumping it, you know, just really taking the time to process that I know when, you know, you first have your new one, you can think to yourself. I have, I will never have time for that. Um, but find time, right. Really find time for yourself because it’s very separate from having a healthy baby and things. It’s about your experience and your body, your everything. So that’s the first thing I would do. Um, secondly, thinking about the trauma, you know, What about it? What about it was traumatic? Was it the loss of the idea? Was it the experience itself? Was it the pain? Was it your body? You know, what exactly about the trauma is bothering you and really thinking about that?
Um, perfectionism, right? Thinking about women, strong Black women, that narrative, you know, where did you learn it? Do you want to keep it? Question it? Right. What does it mean? Who am I comparing myself to? Was I, am I comparing myself to my parents who don’t have the tools and the resources that I have now, you know, thank God they did it, but you know, you can do it differently. So starting to think about how do I want to, to show up. Right? Do I just want to just take things and just go with it or do I want to be intentional about what that means? What does it mean to be a strong Black woman first define it right? Define it. And then is it something that you can actually achieve?
Is it sustainable? You know, you know, really think about it. Is it serving you or is it just something that you’ve been, you’ve learned and you’re just continuing to do. Right. And I think that’s going to take enough time. Right. And I think after that, Well, and then I think once you get there, you might decide, you know, do I need to work with someone and get some assistance? You know, what does that look like? And so I would start with those two things really, you know, um, Just being self-reflective right.
And what about people who may feel like they’re not ready to share their story? Is there anything they can do on an individual level? Would you say that reflection? I think I’m ready to speak to someone yet.
Yeah. I would say, you know, write it out. It still has to come out, find space for it, or at least if you’re not even ready to write it out because of time, you know, say to yourself, I’m going to set this time aside. So just think about this, right? Because a lot of times it comes up and we’re like, Oh, I can’t think about that. I need to do this. I, I can’t, I don’t have time to process that I have to do this, but really it’s deciding even if that’s why you’re breastfeeding, right. If you’re sitting there and say, I’m deciding to hold space for my feelings, whether or not someone else wants to do that for me, I’m deciding to do that for me, you know? And I think that’s helpful too.
Well, this has been such an amazing and powerful conversation. I’m so grateful to you for joining me in this process and for this conversation and for us to do it live, you know, they often say. Hurt people hurt people, but the fact is healing. People can heal. People, just absolutely healing people, heals people well.
And so I hope, um, Sasha and Dr. Alicia have been a demonstration of healing that can also heal others. We’re so excited about that. So we know we’ve just begun this process and we will continue to, you know, check in on Dr. Alisha and Sasha on their process in a few weeks. You will definitely when we post this episode on birthright podcast.com, we’re going to include some resources and some links for folks, but let’s continue this conversation everyone. We can heal. Um, and we can healing begets gets healing and we know that we can help each other. We cover and, and address and stop the harms, which we may not be, but we can definitely do the healing. I’m so grateful. I really am so grateful. We all have healing work to do, but we have joy to reclaim, right?
And we do that every week, every other week on the birthright podcast. Continue to join me on the birthright podcast as we reclaim that birthright. One story at a time. Thank you everyone for joining us.
We often hear that hurt people, hurt people, but healing, people heal people, healing actually begets more healing. And so we hope that we have started something special here. We will continue to check in with Alicia and Sasha in the next few weeks and upcoming episodes. My people we have healing work to do, and we have joy to reclaim, continue to join me on the birthright podcast. As we reclaim that birthright, one story at a time.
Birthright is hosted by me, Kimberly Seals Allers and produced by Domino Sound. Our executive producers are Noleca Radway and Kimberly SealsAllers. Randie Chapman produces the show with Nikki Valdez as assistant producer and help from Homero Radway sound design and engineering by Sam Baer. With original music from Trell Robinson.
Birthright is funded by the California healthcare foundation. If you like what you heard today, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen. It really helps people find the show. Thanks for listening.
About our Guests
Nneka Symister is a licensed Social worker who has two decades of experience helping individuals and families build and strengthen their relationships with themselves and others. Her work includes supporting diverse populations, including self -harming young adults and the LGBTQIA community. She also specializes in helping women and couples who suffer with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, miscarriage and loss. In her work, she uses multiple techniques to best serve her clients, including Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, interpersonal therapy and mindfulness. Ms. Symister received her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from The Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Urban Education from the State University of Albany. She is also EMDR trained. She is deeply involved in her community serving as member of state and national professional organizations, including the National Association of Social Workers, National Alliance on Mental Illness and The Links, Incorporated. Nneka Symister is the founder of My Local Therapist, LLC (@nneka_symister) where she provides mental health services in New York.
Alisha Liggett, MD, is a Family Medicine Doctor, and founder of Empower Her Health, a health education and justice practice that empowers women of color to navigate their reproductive journeys with agency, promoting healthy pregnancies, and healthy infants. Her work focuses on Black maternal health disparities, reproductive health education, and patient empowerment. Follow her on IG @happyhealthydoctoralisha, and linked in and sign up for her monthly newsletter on her website. www.empowerherhealth.com!
Sasha Winslow is a native New Yorker, hailing from Spanish Harlem. She is a New York State Professional Registered Nurse and Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner. As a certified maternal newborn nurse, she is passionate about all things postpartum and family health. Winslow is committed to creating inclusive environments for families, supporting policies/ initiatives that promote reproductive justice and practices that improve Black Maternal health outcomes.
During her free time, she is an avid reader, book reviewer/blogger of all things fiction on her bookstagram @sashalovesbooks.