Healing Black Birth Trauma:
Birthright Podcast Live Stream
RESTORATION: Healing Black Birth Trauma
Birthright is about joy and healing in Black birth. In this special episode, we heal. Listen in to our live virtual event and special season finale where two Black moms, one who experienced disrespect and harm in her birth and another who lost her baby after a premature delivery, sit with a therapist and a healer to begin their restorative process.
Click Here to watch this episode on our Birthright Youtube page!
Learn more about Nneka Symister at her Website Mylocaltherapist.org
Watch episode extras on BIRTHRIGHT’S YOUTUBE PAGE!
Interested in having a doula for your pregnancy, birth or post-partum period? Resources for finding Black Doulas: National Black Doulas Association & The Bridge
Interested in a home birth? Learn more at The Black Home Birth Initiative
Considering a doula for your pregnancy, birth or post-partum period? Resources for finding Black Doulas: National Black Doulas Association & The Bridge
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
New episodes are released every other Wednesday! Catch up on the full season.
- Get full episode details and transcripts (posted by midday) on www.BirthrightPodcast.com
- Follow Kimberly Seals Allers on Twitter on Instagram: @iamKSealsAllers
- Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Hello, and welcome to Birthright. A podcast about joy and healing and Black birth. My name is Kimberly Seals Allers, I’m the host of Birthright, the founder of the Irth app and today we are live in our virtual world, um, for a special episode, and our season finale of, season finale of season one of Birthright podcast.
This season, we shared eight amazing, positive, inspiring and informative stories. Um, and this is our second restoration episode. That’s a special episode where we host storytelling and healing, um, where we speak with two, uh, birthing people who have had a traumatic birth experience. Let them sit down with a therapist or healer, um, and begin their healing journey.
You know, one thing is clear. We can not continue to normalize the trauma and pain that resides in our Black birthing space. All of it has historical context and many for many of us it’s multi-generational, but we must heal. We must heal and we must honor ourselves as worthy of healing and that this should not be our legacy. This should not be our norm. Um, and so today I am honored to host a demonstration of what healing can look like for Black women and birthing people. And thank you all for being here. Today, we have two brave mamas and a committed therapist who are here to help us do the work, um, and help us and show us how a can be done.
I first want to thank the California Healthcare Foundation, which is the funder for the Birthright podcast. And I want to thank you all for joining us for this informative and necessary conversation about how we can heal Black birth trauma. First with us, I want to introduce Nneka Symister. Nneka has been our in-house therapist for season one of Birthright. She’s 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 LBGTQ community and self harming young adults. But she also specializes with women and couples who suffer with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, miscarriage and loss. She’s the founder of My Local Therapist, LLC, where she provides mental health services in New York. And you can follow her @Nneka_Symister on Instagram.
And then, I’m excited to introduce you to our, uh, first mama, our first birthing person with us today, Amissa Brewer Hoffman, who is a combined medical and public health master’s student at Columbia University. She enjoys pilates, warm weather and a good picnic. That’s important to know. And academically she has an interest in radiology and wants to improve health outcomes, uh, for my, for minoritized, infants and birthing folks. And she’s going to be starting her radiology residency. This fall, she lives in Washington Heights with her husband and her three month old son. We’re so excited to have Amissa here. We thank her for sharing her story to be of service to our community. And we thank Nneka for her continued work. And then we’ll bring out our other mama, but we’ll start with Amissa. Thank you both for joining me.
Good afternoon. Thank you so much for having me. It’s always an honor to work with you and Birthright.
Thank you. Amissa, how you feeling today?
Amissa Brewer Hoffman
I’m doing all right. I’m really excited to be here. So thank you for having me.
Okay, good, good, good. Well, I wanted to start by offering an opportunity to share with our audience, your story. What happened to you during the birth of your son. Who’s now almost three months old. Um, and to tell us how you doing. So, the floor is yours. Tell us your story.
Yeah. So just before starting to tell my story, I just want to start off by saying that both me and my baby are healthy now. So it used to be, like you mentioned. Um, but I feel like my birth experience has left a lasting mark on me. Um, my self esteem and basis, and definitely through beginning my journey through motherhood. Um, so I guess I always had high hopes for my childbirth experience. I’m a medical student and I did public health research in perinatal epidemiology. So because of that, I’ve helped deliver babies before. Uh, but I also was aware of the risks of Black women face in giving birth. And so I thought I felt truly prepared to advocate for myself and for me, and prepared for like all that might happen to me. But instead, I guess I kind of experienced what I consider to be the most disrespectful and dismissive interaction I’ve ever had with healthcare.
So, during labor, my baby’s heart rate started going to start dropping. So I was rushed for an emergency C-section and my husband who also has the position to advocate for me, decided to speak up because I was so in shock. Um, he said something like, “hold on until can we talk about this for a minute” to the doctor and the doctor replied rudely something like, “well, your baby’s heart rate is dropping. So we only have about five seconds to discuss.” I also remember being wheeled in to the OR I was being, I wasn’t really being wheeled through the hallway crying and super exposed, but didn’t even tried to cover me. I feel like, um, and I remember seeing patients and other random people in the hospital just watching me and the whole time, instead of explaining to me what was happening every step of the way, the staff with thoughts themselves from explaining and say, “oh, well, you’re in medicine-you should know, already.” And I think it goes without saying that you a patient being a patient, is always a different experience, no matter what your knowledge or academic history or anything like that is being a patient is definitely a vulnerable position to be in. So I feel like I was kind of dismissed and kind of just seen as a body.
And I definitely would have found comfort in planning things for me, it’s just like a bit to everyone else, but I was not afforded that luxury. And I should add a resident even assumed that I would participate in a research study because I was also in medicine. So instead of asking one of my professors to participate, she just, um enrolled me.
The most devastating part I should mention was hearing my baby cry once he was born. I was so happy and expected them to put him in my arms. He was behind the drape because I was in the operating room getting a C-section, but instead they whisked him off to the NICU without telling me or my husband. Um, and no one mentioned this to us for like several minutes while we were waiting for them to hand him over to us.
And I didn’t actually have a chance to see him for six hours. Because he was in an incubator in the NICU. I wasn’t even able to hold him for three days. I was able to look at him through the glass wall. Um, and because of that, I wasn’t able to initiate breastfeeding and he was given formula without consent in the NICU, which was really, really upsetting to me. And, um, no one came to me to help teach me how to pump or to handle breast milk and instead he was just given formula. And during those six hours, I really just remember the six hours where I couldn’t, where I hadn’t seen him at all. I just remember crying and crying and crying. I felt like my baby was a stranger to me. I didn’t know what had happened. I kind of, I felt like I must still be pregnant because nothing has really changed. And even now I cry thinking about how he had been alone for the six hours and just untouched for so long. And also during that time, I wrote him a letter about what we’d both been through.
So for my birth experience, I had really pictured it being a collaborative experience between me and my baby, working to get him through the birth canal, and then it would end with us being able to hold each other. But I feel like my birth happened to me instead of me being an active participant in it. And I feel like I didn’t really have any agency over anything. It was completely different from how I originally planned. And I guess even asked my husband to rip up the printed out copies we brought of the, of the birth plan, because the thought of finding it later while unpacking my hospital bag was devastating. My plans had all gone out the window. Plans for skin to skin. Plans for breastfeeding. Um, everything that I prepared for, up until that point has felt totally pointless, and I felt stupid for thinking or stupid thinking back to the months and months and months of preparation I had done. The exercises, the breathing, the aftercare products I had waiting at home. They all went to waste essentially. And in all of this, I guess I felt mostly disappointment in myself and shame. I avoided telling family and friends that I had a C-section mostly at first because I didn’t want people to worry and I didn’t want to cause the whole process. I just wanted to get, make sure that me and my baby were stable before making any announcements to people.
But I also realized later that I’m kind of, I’ve been ashamed to tell people because I feel like my body failed to labor and I didn’t want it to be true and telling people about it would make it true. And so right now, um, something else I wanted to mention is that my three month old he has colics. So that just means he cries a lot more than the average baby. And he cries for several hours a day. And even though I know this isn’t the case, based off my medical understanding of colics, I sometimes worry that it’s because of his traumatic birth and his time in the NICU. And I blame myself at times. And what hurts me the most right now is this guilt and a worry that something I did or either the care that I received might’ve caused harm to my son.
And I really worry about that every day.
Wow. Amissa, thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry that you had that experience. Um, you know, for someone who’s in the medical field, they made a lot of assumptions and you probably received less information, um, and were treated even more poorly because of assumptions versus them giving you more information. Um, thank you so much for sharing. I’ll let Nneka, you know, fully respond to what you’ve said today, but thank you so much.
Thank you so much for sharing as well. I said, it’s interesting. There’s so many layers. There is one piece about, you know, having a birth plan and it not going the way you want, but I think that’s very separate from your providers not being respectful and talking to you through the process and it being a collaborative.
And I think that has nothing to do with your body at all. Um, and so it’s a bit disheartening to hear you’ve taken on that responsibility and that guilt of something that you really had nothing to do with like, um, I think you framed it very well. You say, you know, it’s like the birth happened to you and it wasn’t something that you really were a part of.
And I can also understand the correlation or the wonder, at least, if the colics or the discomfort that he’s had, it has anything to do with. Um, and it definitely has a lot to do with your birth experience, right? Not being able to hold him, not good hospital stay three days, it’s a really long time. Um, six hours is extremely long time after birth without information.
And so I’m curious to know, um, although I’m extremely grateful that both of you are healthy and well, I’m curious to know how you’ve been able to process or manage the trauma that we’ve experienced. Right? I mean, it’s, it’s like, I hear a lot of women talk about not sharing, um, having C-sections because of this whole idea of quote unquote natural birth. Right? And, you know, especially when you’re well-read and you think you’ve done all the information, you’ve got all the things to get all the information.
One is the example that you cannot read everything, right? It’s like every birth is so different. You can read all the books and still never know what can happen because you’re not the only person in charge. Right. And so, I am not shocked, but extremely disappointed with the way you were treated. Um, and so what Kimberly said about not giving you information, not only because they just made a lot of assumptions, but I think that the line idea that we’re doctors and you shouldn’t question us, and you should automatically understand that we’re making the right decision. So we don’t have to tell you. Is really prevalent there, which is problematic. So I’m happy that you wrote him the letter. That is something I would definitely have suggested. But what else have you tried? Um, is there anything that has been helpful or not helpful?
Nneka, can we ask you just to speak up a little bit? Cause you’re coming in very low for everyone. I’m sorry, Amissa, I want to give you a chance to respond.
So I, the first person that I told was my sister, and this was probably four or five days after I’d given birth. Um, and I remember I wasn’t able to get through the whole story without crying. And I guess I’ve told that story 15, 20 times since then. And each time it’s gotten a little bit better. And I think just kind of putting it out there, putting it on other people to hear it, whether or not they respond in an appropriate way or respond at all is just helpful. I found that to be helpful, sharing it, letting people know that it happened, it makes it less of a scary thing. Um, and something that is dark and so that I want to hide, it kind of makes it more acceptable or not acceptable that that happened to me, but it makes it, um, my feeling negative about it acceptable. I feel like my feelings are validated when I tell other people about it.
Can you feel this thing, um, normalcy around it.
And what I mean by that, have you heard, um, any responses like this has happened to me as well? Um, I, I usually hear when people tell their stories, they’re not usually the only ones that have experienced something, maybe not the exact same thing, but some kind of, um, variation of, you know, their birthing plan that happened in the way they expressed it.
Yeah. I definitely have felt that way. Um, the, and I’m in a virtual mom’s group and we had the first session and we told our birth stories and of course it got very emotional and the running theme throughout all of them. We all had something we were a little bit disappointed about or felt like could have gone differently. And that definitely made me feel better to hear that other people have had similar experiences to me. Um, because up until that point I’d felt alone and even isolating myself by not telling other people what happened. Definitely wasn’t helping.
Uh, did you remember everything or did it come back to you in pieces?
It definitely came back to me in pieces. Um, I don’t know if that’s just because of the medications I was on, you know, for the, for going undergoing a surgery or because it was just, I was, I was crying a lot. Right. So I wasn’t actually fully present when doctors were coming in, nurses were coming in, people were talking to me, mostly my husband was talking to them and tried to help me communicate with them because I was very shut off from what was happening. So, um, it’s hard to say what I’m, if I’m what I’m remembering is coming back slowly, or if it’s kind of, it always had been there, but he also has, has recounted stuff.
Right. The reason I ask that is for that reason, right? It’s something happens so fast- things move so fast. Um, just medication and something, like you said, crying, you’re not that present. So you have your own idea of what occurred. You have people telling you what happened. And sometimes there are moments when you’re with your child and memories come up. And so sometimes that’s re-traumatizing in itself. Every time you have a flashback of a new memory. Um, and that also allows people to feel guilty because sometimes they feel like, well, I wasn’t even present, how could I have made these decisions?
Um, which again is not your fault, but that’s how you reflect back. Right? When every new memory comes up, it’s another reminder that you are not in control. So there was, that’s why I asked that question.
Yeah, definitely. And I, I do remember some things, um, from reading the letter that I wrote to my son during those six hours, It wasn’t really a linear story about what had happened. It was mostly just about my feelings about it at that time. Um, and of course, reading that it brings up a lot of emotions and looking at photos of him when he was in the NICU, brings up a lot of the emotions as well.
Yeah. It’s been really interesting. I think one of the things that we’ve explored here are around expectations, particularly with Black women who have a unique relationship to perfection and getting things, right. Like we tend to hold that a little bit differently. Right. And we want everything to be just right. Um, and then what happens when that doesn’t happen? Not through fault through issues that we can understand, but feeling like something was taken from you, like you were robbed of something. Right. Um, you know, this podcast is named Birthright for a reason in terms of the things that we are old and we have not received particularly as relates to birth. And I think this feeling that something was taken from you is something that, um, you, that so many people. You know, carry and struggle with and need help processing. That is a form of trauma. Not that we don’t understand that not everything is going to be ideal, but how it happens when it happens with disrespect. Right? So if someone had explained everything to you, if they want assumptions made, if your husband was, you know, um, responded to so many things that could have made this experience so different and not necessarily at the same level of trauma, which happens with the disrespectful treatment, this not knowing, um, and this disregard.
So, um, it is really critically important, um, that we, that we honor that I thank you so much for sharing your story of Amissa. And I want to remind people, I’m seeing so many comments in the chat where people are saying I’ve had a similar experience. This is why we created the Irth app. Right. You know, for you to leave your review so they can be of value to the community. And then on the back end, we use those reviews to really push for change, right? Yeah. Amissa and I both live in New York city. Um, and you deliver that Mount Sinai West, correct?
Yeah. And so we have to share our experiences and let people know so that our stories have value in and letting people know that they’re not alone, but also in warning and informing others of the care that we received.
So I just want to remind people, particularly those in the chat, leaving comments, one, I’m honored that by Amissa sharing her story, it has made you all many realize that they’re not alone. That’s, you know, 98.7% of it. I’ll let you know, Nneka, give her professional opinion on that. But that is critically important as we try to heal the Black birth space.
Um, I want to, to, um, bring in our, our next mom and then we’ll come back to Amissa and, and make sure that we have time to listen to both of these experience. Our next mother, Jenea is is a mom of two, including an angel baby, um, who died two hours after she was born at around 21 weeks. Jenea herself was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, and graduated from Rhode Island college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice. Um, and so we’re honored to have Jenea join us today to share a little bit more about, um, her experience and how we can help her continue on her healing journey. Jenea, thanks for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
Great, so much. Um, so I want to just give you the floor. We, uh, I just want to first commend your bravery for coming on to talk about this issue. I know it’s very personal and it’s still very sensitive for you. So I want to thank you for that. Um, but I want to just to turn it over to you, to share with us about what happened to you, to your beautiful daughter, um, and tell us your story.
Okay. So, um, just to start, um, when my husband and I decided that we wanted to, um, start a family, um, due to some medical conditions that I had or getting officially, no, I didn’t have, um, regular cycles. I knew that we probably needed to go and talk to a doctor to see what that would look like for us when we did decide we wanted to, um, have children. And, um, early on, we went to a fertility clinic and we were informed that I had PCOS, which is polycystic ovaries. And, um, due to that and some other complications that we were only candidates for in vitro fertilization. Um, and I think our first thought was kind of difficult for me to take in, but again, I’ve heard stories of women trying to have children and the struggle that happens and the fertility treatments and everything. So to know that like IVF was our end all be all, it kind of took off a little bit of stress, but in itself too, it’s, it’s kind of saddening to know that, like I couldn’t do it naturally.
Um, But when we went to the fertility clinic, um, the first doctor that I had, um, was very difficult to work with. I would say her bedside manner was horrible. Um, the first thing she focused on was the fact that according to her, I was obese and I was overweight and statistics show that women who are obese miscarry at a higher rate than women who are in better health and I personally didn’t know anything like that. I wouldn’t consider myself an obese person, but according to the BMI index, I was. Um, so right off the bat, she was adamant about me needing to drop like 20 to 25 pounds before she would even start the process of administering me the hormones so that I could begin IVF. And that was, um, disheartening for me because I feel like overall in life I’ve been pretty healthy. I’m very active. Um, I’m an athlete and I never really been challenged about my weight in a sense. I see my PCP regularly and it was never something that was brought up as a concern. Um, but because I knew we wanted children, I just did what I needed to do. And, um, I lost the 20 pounds in about three and a half months probably. Um, once I lost the weight, she was like, “okay, you can start.”And, um, we began the process. Um, what I later found out was that having PCOS it’s hard for you to gain or lose weight and her being the fertility doctor and knowing that up front, I feel like there could have been more support behind what I needed to do to lose that weight with my condition in mind.
And it was never brought up. It was just like, you need to do it. You’re not trying hard enough. Like we’re not starting until you do it. Um, so right out the gate, it started rough, but I got pregnant on my first cycle and we were extremely happy. Um, we did all the tests and everything that was needed to be done because I am now considered a high risk pregnancy because I had a blood clot. Um, over 10 years ago and with doing IVF and just being pregnant alone, you’re at higher risk for having blood clots. So I had to have extra tests done. I was put on a blood thinner, just all safety precautions at this point, because this was my first pregnancy, just to make sure that myself and the baby stayed healthy and, um, like we made it to full term. Around, um, 20 weeks I had, um, some difficulty breathing, chest pains. Um, I ended up going, I went to the emergency room and they thought maybe I had a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot and my lungs. So, um, due to me being a certain point in my pregnancy, they thought it was okay for me to have a chest scan. We did that. They looked, they cited and see anything. Um, but, it’s possible for me to have small blood clots, but because I was on the blood thinner, they said, you know, we’re not really concerned because you’re on a blood thinner, it’ll treat those little ones in, like everything should be fine. Um, so, um, about two weeks after that incident, I ended up having really bad cramps in my stomach, my lower abdomen.
And I was really concerned because they didn’t feel like normal growing cramp pains or the things that they tell you when you’re growing. Um, like that’s normal. I didn’t feel that way. Um, it was very persistent and, um, I immediately became concerned and I called my doctor and the nurse that I spoke to really was like, “oh, you’re fine. It’s just growing pains. Like, I don’t think it’s that serious. You don’t sound like you’re in a lot of pain” because of the way I was talking, she didn’t feel like my voice was expressing a large amount of pain. And it got to a point where I had to really say her, like, “I want the doctor to call me back” because it was after hours. And, um, she said, okay, but at the time, I honestly didn’t think she was going to have him call me back because her whole attitude was so much like brushing me off. Um, but my doctor called me back in, um, he probably called me back in about 10 to 15 minutes. And at that point I was very scared. So I was crying. I was expressing a lot of concern and he too said he didn’t think that it was anything serious, but he wanted me to go to the emergency room so I could be checked. And that would cause, um, peace of mind for me at the time. Um, my car was in the shop. My husband was at work. My mother was at work. I didn’t have anybody to bring me. And I, I wasn’t told to go via ambulance. So I didn’t think it was that big of a like turn, turn around for me to get there. Um, so I had my friend’s boyfriend bring me to the hospital because that was the only person who was available. And when I got there, um, the first thing the receptionist asked me was, well, are you having contractions?
And I’m like, I’ve never been pregnant before. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what a contraction feels like. And, um, she kind of gave me this look like, like I was wrong for saying what I was saying, but I’m, I’m scared. I’m being honest, I’m in tears. And I kind of felt like I was just pushed along and not really, uh, um, was presented as being of a concern. It was kind of just like, oh, okay, well, go sit there. Um, And I also remember I wasn’t wearing my wedding band at the time because my fingers had swollen up. So I came in and presented as a single Black mother. And, um, when I got into the triage room, there was a lot of doctors coming in and out. They put the heart monitor on my stomach and I could hear the baby’s heartbeat. She was moving around. Her heart rate was healthy. It wasn’t in distress. So there was no concerns for her. So at that point, I kind of felt reassured when no one was telling me anything. I had multiple nurses, resident doctors, um, the covering doctor come in and everybody was checking me. I had like three vaginal exams at that point, they were checking my cervix, but no one was actually telling me that this is what they were doing.
And so it got to a point where I had to ask and I was like, “um, so can someone tell me what’s going on?” And a nurse came in and she was like, “I think we should wait until your doctor gets here.” No one told me my doctor was even called and that he was on his way. So that alarmed me. And then another nurse came in and she said to me, “you know, do you have a partner or someone who’s supporting you through this pregnancy that can come with you?”
And I was like, “yes, I have a husband and he’s not here right now, but do I need to call him so that he can come because he’s at work?” And she’s like, “yeah, I think you should have somebody support you right now.” But no one wanted to tell me why I needed support. So at the time until my husband could get out of work, my grandmother and my sister came and they sat with me, but they really still weren’t saying anything.
Um, and it wasn’t until my doctor came, which thankfully was the same time my husband arrived. And they told me like, well, you’re at this point, think I was three or four centimeters dilated. And I was a little shy of 22 weeks. And that was concerning. I don’t know all of medical stuff about pregnancy, but I knew that was something to be concerned about. But no one was saying at that point, like your baby is at risk of being delivered and not surviving. It was just like, well, this is what’s going on. We’re gonna see if we can give you some pain medication to relax yourself. And if all works well, we’ll put a stitch in your cervix and you can go home and like, everything will be fine. Um, that wasn’t the case though. The pain medication didn’t help. Um, I probably lasted about two to three hours after they administered it. Before I went from being three to four centimeters dilated, dilated to about eight or nine centimeters dilated. And that point they told me like, we’re going to have to deliver your baby.
So of course now I’m in tears. I’m distraught because I know it’s too early for my daughter to be born. Um, the doctor made it very clear to me that according to Rhode Island law, you cannot administer the steroid to help develop their lungs until they’re 23 weeks. And I was just 22 weeks at that point. So I was really scared and I felt like I don’t want to lose my baby. I want to do whatever I possibly can to keep her in. And that’s exactly what I did. Um, they broke my water, a ton of blood and blood clots came out. So it was determined that there was some type of blood clotting issue that was causing me to go into, um, premature labor.
Um, but when that happened, my cervix went down to maybe like one or two centimeters. So in my mind, I thought, okay, maybe we can still save this baby. Maybe she can stay in, like they can do whatever they need to do. And we’ll still make it a couple more weeks for when it is safe. And, um, I don’t remember everything in the process that was going on, but like I got prepped for a blood transfusion because I had lost so much blood when they broke my water and I was still continuing to lose blood and, um, they were giving me medicine to induce my contractions so that I could open back up and they could, I could push her out.
And it just, there was a lot, a lot of going on. There was a lot of movement and, um, I was sitting there holding or what I felt like was holding her in. And, um, my husband came over to me and while he was standing next to me the whole time, but he leaned over into my ear and he said, “I need you to let her go so that, you know, you can stay.”
And I think just hearing the despair in his voice and the emotion I let her go. And, um, I delivered her. I don’t remember any of it. Um, apparently she was placed in my arms and then, um, she was placed with my husband and she survived for about two hours before they said she passed because she had a heartbeat the whole time, but she wasn’t.
Fully breathing because her lungs weren’t developed, um, for me, what hurts the most out of all of it was that, um, I didn’t get to experience that last two hours with her. It’s all from stuff that people are telling me happened and how she was in what she looked like and the warmth of her, not in what she looked like when she was, had already passed. And I saw her then. So I think that was my biggest loss out of the whole experience.
Jenea, what was your daughter’s name?
Zola. We’re going to say her name right now because we know there’s Zola matter to you. And she’s a Black baby who mattered to him. And I want to thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story and let them want you to know that we have not forgotten Zola. Um, and that we honor your experience and what you went through and the baby that you lost. This is another area of normalizing that I refuse to accept, right? Which is that our babies die. And nobody says anything. No people act as if this should be something we expect or to be able to deal with. We see this happening in our communities all the time violence happens, nobody shows up to support. It’s something that we’re supposed to be used to. Right. And so I just want you to know that I’m sitting, I’m holding space for you and your pain, and that Zola was, um, really important to you and your family. And she was important to our community and she is missed. Right. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you. Jenea, um, I feel the exact same way. There’s so many things. This is such a layered, and I know, I know there’s so much more to this story, um, that you were unable to share, um, due to time. Um, but just from the very beginning, you know, your story kind of highlights all the things that we know about how Black women are treated in the medical field, right. Just from the onset of the projection of your weight being problematic, although you’ve been in doctors and it wasn’t, you know, and bring a shame on you around that, um, to being dismissive about your pain, uh, when you say I’m in a lot of pain and they don’t believe that, um, assuming that you’re alone and you’re a single person, um, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that wasn’t the case.
It was just an assumption. Um, and then I cannot just listening to the story of the anxious, the anxiety I felt on you saying, and no one said anything and no one said anything and no one said anything. And so I can’t even imagine what that’s like sitting there, right? With doctors coming in and out and not saying anything to you, you know, And so the story is, is like there’s so many levels of laws, not just the huge loss, not just the loss of Zola, but you know, the loss of autonomy and respect and, um, and just as a person, right.
Just, just as a person. Um, and so I thank you for sharing that. I wish I can, I can just say, you know, here’s this one thing you can do and I promise it can be all better, but, um, but there isn’t, um, because there’s so much to, to, to tackle, I am interested to know how have you been able to cope? Um, since then?
Um, so I did a lot of sharing with family and friends, which was really helpful because like I said, I don’t remember her physically in that sense when she was first born. So it was good to be able to talk about her. And for anyone to honestly just sit there and listen to me, especially people who were a part of my pregnancy and helped me and did different things.
So to be able to share that, and, um, that was very helpful. Um, I had a therapist, um, prior to getting pregnant. And so I did meet with her after, and, um, I did a loss group, but I couldn’t really connect with the mothers there because, um, it was through the hospital that I went through. And so no one had the experience that I had at the hospital, but we all had the loss part and I think it was hard for me because they were so comforted, comforted in the moment of what they were going through, where I feel like my husband and I, and my mother, because she was present as well. We didn’t get that same support. And, um, I was also the only Black and brown face that was present in a lot of those groups. So it was really hard for me to connect with them on multiple levels. Um, when I got pregnant with my son, I did prenatal therapy as well. And that was really helpful because a lot of the concerns and scares and worries that I had were primarily because I was afraid the same thing was going to happen again. Um, because even now there isn’t an actual medical diagnosis for why I, my placenta ruptured and I went into pre-term labor, there are ideas, but there isn’t an actual thing that is being identified.
Which is hard to process because if there isn’t this very clear reason, your mind just kind of wanders up all the time.You could have done differently. That’s what we go into blaming ourselves. Right? What could I have done differently? What could I have eaten or anything? We think about all types of things when there aren’t any clear answers. And a lot of times there aren’t any clear answers, um, or not that they give us. It’s something that you said about being the only person in that support group, you know, and I, I know we want to bring Amissa back in, but, um, you know, those, it just speaks to how loss is different for everyone. Right? Cause I can imagine for those women and I don’t know them, but I can imagine that they weren’t dismissed at the counter and they were believed or that they were in pain and, and those things are very specific to us, which I can imagine, they, they, they, they didn’t, I can imagine a variance, uh, which also was isolating. Right. And when you were supposed to be in a place that used to be supportive and everyone is looking at you. Like, why did that happen to you And it didn’t happen to any of us, which is why we need spaces like this, because our experiences are very different from our company.
So true. I want to bring Amissa back back and, you know, also just honor, first of all, this is why groups like shades of blue, the shades of blue project sisters in laws are so important. One to give them a proper shout out for the work that they’re doing to create spaces for us to have these conversations about loss and to heal with people who look like us.
It’s critically important that we kind of have these spaces. Um, Jenea, I know that also in your experience, you know, one of your providers was apparently one of the best in the city, um, or state by many, many rankings and things like that. Um, can you tell us a little bit briefly surround that expectation and how that paired with your actual experience when you did your due diligence. Thought you had one of the best doctors.
Yeah. So actually, um, my fertility doctor as well, the first one I had, um, she was ranked highly too, but with her, um, you could go and see her comments that patients have left and they’ve all been bad. Like a lot of people have had really bad experiences with her. And of course I found that out after the fact in, I switched my doctor because of that reason. Um, but with my OB/GYN that I had, um, it was very discouraging because he’s ranked number one in the state of Rhode Island for obstetricians. Um, he even delivers a lot of the babies that are born in a year in Rhode Island, he’s also one of women in offense, biggest on-call doctors that’s always available. So even if you’re not his patient, if your doctor is not available and he’s on call, he could be the doctor that delivers your baby. So I felt secure and I thought I felt safe with the doctor I had, but, um, his presence and his attitude in the delivery and labor room was not the person that I had worked with for up until that point.
And even the nurse that I had in the hospital room with me, she was saying that she was really disappointed in him and how he behaved and how he was just very like at the end of it. Well, this is done and he’d left and like they cleaned up, he didn’t talk to me after, um, it just, it, it wasn’t the experience I was expecting for someone who is so highly ranked. And Rhode Island is small. So it was just really difficult to accept that.
Right. And I think this is basic idea of human decency. Someone loses a baby, and I think there is a protocol that’s just human decency that many times we are not afforded. And that is, you know, ridiculously unacceptable. Um, Nneka, I want to, just to, you know, speak to, uh, Amissa’s and Jenea’s kind of, I, you know, theme around disrespect, right? Like, you know, to feel like they were in a, um, in an experience and did not even get common courtesy, basic human decency, certainly in Jenea’s situation. Um, and, and how you can heal from that level of harm when you’re in an experience that is so, you know, so pivotal, like everybody wants to recall it with some sort of joy, you know, but anytime you want to think about it and you can’t hide, hide the reminder, you have to smile at that baby every day. Right? You know? And so what do you mean the process for finding that joy?
I mean, I think there’s two separate things, right? I think, I think for like Amissa, she has a healthy baby and that the joy’s there and I know Jenea has a rainbow baby and that joy is there. And so I want to kind of separate that from the individual. Right. That’s always going to be there. And, and to be quite frank, I don’t want to give any false expectation that this is not going to be hurtful 30 years from now. Right. It is, right. It is a traumatic experience. Anytime you talk about it, you’re going to feel that tinge, right. You’re going to be tearful because a lot of it had nothing to do with you. Right? And I think that’s the most important part is recognizing for both of you. What I think is really difficult is that both of you were really intentional about being advocates for yourselves and doing the research and being well-read. And so I can understand feeling like I’ve done everything, or I’m hoping that both of you can walk away and recognize that you did everything that you could possibly do. Right? No one can know everything into everything and trying to separate what really belongs to you and what really belongs to them. Right. Because what I heard from Amissa, you know, a lot of the shame and the guilt, I don’t think belonged to you. Right. Even though you can’t recognize that in the moment, right. There’s one thing that we have a plan and our bodies do whatever they do. Right. And, and there’s a part of that we really don’t control. That is extremely in, very separate from your providers, not talking to you, not explaining anything to being dismissive to you, being distracted, disrespectful to you. And that can be anger towards them. That should not be internalized into what did I do wrong, right? Because again, these people go to work, they get their degrees. There are people too. They may have been amazing to someone else at one day and they didn’t show up for you. You can’t, you’re not psychic. You can’t foresee that. So I think the first guy I will always recommend is separating what belongs to you from what belongs to them and not taking it all in. Into like, this is my fault. I should have done this because that is usually the go-to right. I’m in control. This is my body I should have known. Right. Um, why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I ask this? Especially when you find out things after the fact. Uh, we tend to say, we should have known. It’s so easy in hindsight to say that. And I think that’s the biggest thing. I want people to think about like really being honest with yourselves and having some, what we call reality testing questions. Like could I have really known that? No. Could you have known that they were blood clots? No. Right? Um, could you have known that they would need to be a C-section? No. These are not things you could have known that, or they wouldn’t talk to you. Um, you can’t foresee those things and really trying to separate the two, if that makes any sense.
How do you, how do you feel about what Nneka is saying Amissa & Jenea?
Um, I appreciate it, I think it’s definitely the truth in that it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t Jenea’s fault what happened and it’s really easy to blame yourself or to kind of feel like you, as it is your body, you should have done something or should have known something. And it’s just like, that’s, that is the default. You’re correct about that. It’s just really difficult, easier said than done to kind of acknowledge what actually happened.
Yeah. So, you know, um, what I would suggest that I know, I know both of you did some therapy, I don’t know if you did therapy specifically to your birthing experience, um, which is very separate, which I will always recommend. Right. Because it is so layered. Um, and it is not something that you can forget about. A question I wanted to ask really quickly before I give any more recommendations. How did you guys feel about going back to your follow up appointments? Because that’s really when you’re triggered, right? When you have to go back to the place, or to the providers, or to the hospital that failed you.
Um, for me, it was really difficult because it was kind of like, okay, so this didn’t work out. We’re going to do tests and figure out what exactly went wrong. Um, with my obstetrician, with my fertility doctor, she called me and was just like, “I’m sorry, you lost your baby.” And I refuse to meet with her if I was going to go back to that facility and I let them know why I was not working with her again.
Um, and for me, I guess it was, it was only two weeks later because I had a C-section and you meet earlier. Um, so that was really soon. Um, and I didn’t actually see my, my true OB the whole time I was in the hospital. I was there for almost a week, but I saw every other OB in the practice besides the one that was my own that I had been working with for nine months. So seeing her for the first time and her kind of not acknowledging that and saying, “oh, it gets better.” Was very, very off-putting I’ll say, um, I was a little bit put off by that and it just, it was just very triggering, which is the correct word that you used for sure.
Yeah, absolutely. I expect that. So to go back to your comment of “it’s easier said than done.” Yes. Yes, you’re, right. It is much easier said than done. Um, what I will say is a lot of times, and not by choice, we have to keep going. You have to take care of your body. You have to take care of the baby. Um, work happens, families there, you know, life is still happening, even though, you know, for you, a lot of things have changed. But really, you know, this sounds weird, but like scheduling space to grieve, right? Literally setting time aside. I know that a message you wrote to your son, but setting time aside to write down the different parts of the loss, right? Because it’s so layered. To write down to different, you know, the different things that occurred so that you can separate the two. Right. And that’s how you make it easier because when it’s all flowing in your mind, no, you’re, you’re right, you can’t, you know, what’s yours, what’s theirs or whatever. But if you really set, maybe once a week, 30 minutes, you know, you guys have full lives, um, to say, you know what, this is just about me, it has nothing to do with the love of my family or my child. Um, this is just about me processing what happened on my own time, right? 30 minutes, you know, I just really want to talk about or write about, you know, what the doctors didn’t do, right. Or what I wish would have occurred, or what was, you know, really something I could have done or couldn’t have done and how I felt right. And just giving space to it is a really good place to start to start separating the story. Right. And that’s not for you to share with anyone else. Okay? Um, this is really just for you. You don’t really even have to keep it quite frankly, you can burn it when you’re done and throw it away, but it really is about just setting aside time to process it. So if this doesn’t come up, you know, when it’s triggering and then you don’t know what to do with it.
And a lot of times what happens, especially if you know, you have a healthy child or you have a second child, we tend to say, but I’m happy. I have my family now. It’s, it’s been three months ago. It’s been six months ago. It’s been two years ago. You know, I shouldn’t be bothered anymore. And that’s problematic. Right? It’s good, it’s never going to go anywhere unless you set the time aside to do it because one really has nothing to do with the other.
What do you guys think? Jenea?
I agree with that
Yeah, I think it’s definitely doable. Um, it does sometimes feel like 30 minutes is a lot, but it’s really not in the grand scheme of things, so.
I say 30 minutes, right? Trust me, I, people, I heard you say two hours and my patients are like, you’re crazy. Right? I say that because you don’t know until you start writing how much comes out, right? So you think it’s a lot of time. Um, but guess what? Even if you do it in 15, that’s fine. You don’t have to force yourself to utilize the entire time. But at least you have an end time. You have an exit, you can say, this is my scheduled time for this uninterrupted. Whether I utilize all of it or not is fine, but I promise you, you will. Um, you know, um, it is, it just feels like this is accomplished. I’m not dismissing it. I’m I’m I value what happened. I valued my feelings and my process, and I’m going to give space to it.
And I think that’s so important because we’re talking about, you know, the systems not valuing us and undermining us and, and, um, minimizing our experience, but we can’t do that to ourselves. Right? We shouldn’t be doing that to each other so many times. I’m sure I’m used to you share and people like put your baby’s healthy and you’re fine. And they try to minimize it as a way of helping you feel better. Or they may say Jenea, or what will you have a healthy son now? You know? And so, you know, we have to reject that from others, but also we have to honor ourselves by saying what happened to me really hurt me. And I need to honor myself by taking the 15 minutes a week, um, to, to process it, to write about it, to, to share it, to do something. Um, because if not, we’re just perpetuating the thing.
Right. Because I know for a lot of people too, they’re like, well, I don’t want to keep saying the same things. People don’t understand. And just for clarity, when people usually say, well, you know, your baby’s healthy. It’s not because it’s because they can’t hold the space. People deflect. It’s really about them. It’s not about you. Okay. They can’t hold the space. They don’t know what to do and how to comfort or what to say. So it’s easier for them to then say, “well, you should be fine.” So I think once you’re clear about that, it’s easier to handle too. That really has nothing to do with whether or not you should be feeling differently that has more to do with the person and how they’re able to hold space for you or not. Right?
Yeah, this has been so powerful, so important. I want to kind of open up the conversation a little bit, because we have a few folks who would like to join and share their experiences. And I’m sure Jenea and Amissa, holding space for them would be incredibly powerful and supportive. Um, at first I want to invite into this conversation, Mystique Hargrove. Mystique is, um, a, uh, she’s known as the Black Birth Healer on Instagram. Um, but she is a radical newborn care postpartum and Black-tation specialist. Uh, her pronouns are she vague and she is the CEO and creator and owner of, um, the Black Birth Healer. And she really does a lot of serving our communities through healing, using Caribbean healing practices. Herbs, empowerment and radical love, which is more of that is needed more pleased if we can have more radical love. That would be awesome. So I want to first invite Mystique into our conversation and say, hello.
Hi. Hi everyone.
Thank you so much for joining. Um, and then I know we have Sharelle who’s backstage who wanted to join us for, to share a story. And while we’re getting Sharelle up,Mystique, I just wanted to welcome you and see if you had any thoughts for Jenea & Amissa after hearing those stories.
Yes. So, first of all, I would like to uplift and amplify, and this is where the radical love comes from your story, your experience, but yourself as a whole, um, your experience and you bravely sharing, you know, publicly, you know, what you went through, um, and still going through still processing that it’s powerful.
Um, especially, you know, in our community, a lot of us, uh, people of color, Black community, Black and brown, we hold it in. We’ve been taught to just hold it in, deal with it and keep it moving. Um, sweep it under the rug. You know, you know, you can’t, you don’t have time for weak moments as a Black parent or Black and brown parent or mama.
And it’s, it’s like a critical time to flip that. I always say I flip tables. It’s time to expose and say, we need to create more spaces of healing to openly and be unapologetically raw. You know, having those moments of saying that me, my experience, me sharing it, me going through it. Going through therapy and taking the steps, um, in my healing, um, it’s validated and it should be validated.
So, um, you guys are amazing. I always, I always give props when props are due, because when it comes to this, this healing, therapists like us healers like us, it’s not on us. It’s not all about us. It’s about y’all with y’all’s healing. So, you know, Every step you take, you definitely value yourself. We don’t do that enough with ourselves. Um, as parents, as women, as bodies, Black bodies, especially, we don’t do that enough. We don’t value ourselves. We don’t take the time to say I am honoring myself today. Period. Point blank. So just, I just, I hold space for you. Um, if you feel the need that you, you can’t hold the space for yourself, know that virtually I’m holding this space for you. So, um, most definitely your stories are definitely needed to be shared more because the more folks hear this, the more folks relate and connect. I’ve seen comments saying, “oh my goodness, I experienced similar, you know, a similar experience, similar situation.” And that’s, that’s also where the healing begins.
Not only individually, but as a community as well.
Thank you so much. I’m so excited that you’re joining us. We have a few questions from the audience that we’re going to take. We also have Sharelle who wants to join us. I want to take this time to make a really important announcement. wWile Sharelle is, is, is getting ready to join us here in the stream.
You know, we have, for a long time as Black women been the backbone of the OB/GYN field, they literally built the field using our bodies for experimentation. And it is time that we get what we are due. Right. And we have to repair and heal. And one of the things that I learned is that while we were here focusing on joy for the Birthright podcast, we can’t have joy in healing without restoration and reconciliation.
So I am so excited to announce the new restoration, the healing Black birth fund, which will be a fund, a national fundraising campaign, where you can donate. And we are going to be pairing mental health professionals of color, such as Mystique, such as Nneka, with Black birthing people who have experienced trauma.
This is an important initiative that we must begin to restore Black women, um, who are walking around with trauma. And I often say we are not going to be able to prevent all of the harm. Not yet. Not yet, but we can help people heal. So you see right now, some of the therapists who are part of the inaugural, uh, session, including Nneka of the fund to heal Black birth, I’m looking forward to telling you more about that fund.
Um, but let’s begin to restore what has been taken from Black women in birthing people. Let’s we remember that we deserve reparations for the ways that Black women’s bodies have been used by this field. And we invite people into an opportunity to support other Black women and Black birthing people to receive, um, professional therapy to heal, but Black birth traumas.
Yeah. So I’ll be talking more about this and the days and weeks ahead, you can’t. Yeah. And donate right now @Birthrightpodcast.com. We’ll be sharing, um, uh, graphics with the, for you to spread the word, but it’s time to heal and repair the Black birthing space and the people who have been in it. And I’m excited that we are a part of that.
So. Get ready to learn more about the fun to heal Black birth, which will directly pay therapists for their work to Black birthing people. Um, right now I want to bring in Sharelle, um, to begin to hear her story and to share with us and also for us too. And I’ll be taking questions. Hi, Sharell. Thank you so much for joining!
You got to unmute, it’s a, I’m going to get the t-shirt. I’m going to get the t-shirt.
Well, thank you for having me and thank you for this platform. Um, I’m, I’m just in awe of just the support, the love that’s coming through, um, from everyone a part of it. Um, yeah. So thank you.
I appreciate you joining, did you have an experience that you wanted to share?
Yes, yes. So my experience was similar to, um, Amissa. Where I went in, um, so I, I have a two year old and then I just gave birth to a son three months ago. Um, and I realized that I’m still trying to figure out my emotions. A lot of things trigger me, um, that I didn’t realize. Um, so with my, um, more recent birth, um, I was planning to go in for a VBAC, um, because with my daughter, I had a C-section, um, I labored at home.
It was a really quick labor, uh, maybe like three hours. Um, and then by the time I got to the hospital, like I knew that the baby was coming. But when I, my husband and I got to the hospital, we waited at the counter, um, probably 30 minutes. Um, which seems like a long time when you’re in labor. Um, and it’s like, there was no sort of, um, um, what’s the right word, like, uh, um, I can’t think of the right word, but they, they pretty much were not in a hurry to
Urgency. Thank you. Yes. Um, and so it wasn’t until my husband, like, you know, told them what’s what’s up. And so they got me in a room, they checked me and I was nine centimeters. Um, and when they looked at my, the baby, he was laying sideways. So they were like, we need to get this baby out now. Rushed me to the operating room, um, and similar to Amissa, when they took him out, he actually wasn’t breathing. So. Um, helped him to breathe within like a minute or two. I heard him cry and I expected to have that moment of laying my eyes on him, um, which I did not get that. Um, and so in the moment I was just thinking it’s okay, I’ll be able to see him later. No big deal. Um, so when they got me back to my room, um, I woke up, um, and I was ready to go see him because he had to be in the NICU. He had jaundice and a lot of other things, um, and they said, “oh, well, we need to do your COVID testing.” And so I did that swab, the results came back and I had COVID. So, um, I was shocked by that because I’m pretty careful, but anyhow, um, they said that I am not able to go and see my, my baby. Um, because he’s in the NICU.
And then at the same time, he had to be moved out of the NICU with the other babies, into his own separate room. Um, because of me being, having COVID in potentially him being exposed to it. Um, and so I was questioning the doctors, the nurses, like if he’s in his own room, how come I can’t go to see him? Um, and they just would not allow it.
And so for the first three days, I did not get to see him, like literally like see him at all. Um, and so that really broke me. Um, and then I also, um, was planning to breastfeed. Um, and, uh, they, there was the, like even the lactation consultants that came into the room, um, they were like, well, you just need to rest.
And don’t worry about, um, um, Breastfeeding or expressing milk right now because you don’t have the baby with you anyways. Um, but there was one nurse and I’m thankful for her because she really, um, stepped in and she would help me to hand express milk and make sure it was delivered to him. Um, and that gave me a little bit of hope.
Um, there was a, um, NICU nurse or doctor who was in charge and she would call us, um, every now and then to give us updates and say, “well, the milk that you expressed is not enough, then we need to give him formula. Is it okay?” And so my husband and I, we decided, well, Hey, how much does he need? Maybe I can get some more. And she would, she just would not give us time to do it. Um, when she would say a number, I would, you know, do my best to get to that, that amount. And then she would come back with, “well, we need this amount now.” And it’s like, there was no consistency. Um, and I really felt like she was not on, on, on our side.
Um, so I just ended up saying yes to the formula, you know? Um, and then I still expressed milk and I said, “well, give him the express milk and then the formula after if you need to supplement.” So she agreed to that. Um, it was the day that the baby, my son, was able to come into our room. So about three days later and one nurse, she was like laughing and joking with another nurse. It was like a shift change. And she happened to mention about, “oh, this is the one who’s had, who has the milk? That’s in the fridge.” And I was like, oh, I have milk in the fridge. And she said, “yeah, there’s like a lot of milk in there.” And so come to find out the, um, the NICU nurse who was in charge, I guess, at the hospital, they’re in charge for like two or three days in a row. She was not giving my son the express milk. So I was very hurt about that. Um, yeah. And so there was a lot of other things, but I don’t want to take up too much of the time. Um, I think those were the main two that really stick.
Um, and you talked about, um, the going back for, um, the follow-up appointment. Well, I guess due to COVID. Um, my followup appointment was over a video call, which ended up just being a phone call because the video quality, um, and it lasted all of like maybe five minutes if I’m being generous. Um, and I thought that was very strange. Um, and, um, so anyways, I thought that was strange and he didn’t want to take the time to look at my incision. He just went based off of what I was telling him. Um, I didn’t really get the opportunity to voice my concerns, but then after the fact, I talked with someone, um, the lady who I had as my doula, but because everything went so fast, I didn’t end up using her for birth. And she shared with me that I should like, um, let them know of the things that I felt were wrong. And, um, so anyway, so I’m in the process of doing that now. Um, I’m with Kaiser. Um, so the process is very drawn out. And so, I don’t know. Um, yeah.
Thank you so much for sharing Cheryl, as you know, I hope my breastfeeding people out there are as riled up as I am about your experience. So much negative, uh, and lies about Black women not wanting to breastfeed, but no, no truth telling about the ways we aren’t even supported when we want to. This, you know, perfect time. Remind everybody Black breastfeeding week is coming August 25th to 31st. I’m so sorry that your infant feeding choices were not respected. Um, and, but this is unfortunately what we hear all the time. You know, whether it’s in birth, whether it’s in breastfeeding, what we want for our children is often overridden, undermined and ignored. For, for reasons I can’t explain, except for racism.
I hope that you will share your experience in the Irth app. So I know while you’re working on these other mechanisms, um, but your review can be so helpful to your community. They need to know, and, and, and it could be helpful to others who are looking at that. And we’re trying to create accountability for these people, including those nurses, the lactation consultants we did a particular section for them. So consider that. Um, but I’m really grateful that you joined the livestream. I want to give Nneka and Mystique a moment to, um, give you some feedback on your experience.
Well, I just want to say thank you first but quickly. I know you started off saying that you still have some feelings about it and some triggers, and I’m thinking, you said two months ago, right? Um, yeah, three months ago. So you should. It was just three months ago, right? So I just want to be clear about three months is not a long time. At all. Um, so you should be feeling the way you feel, um, and, and having all the triggers and things like that. It’s interesting that someone would do a follow-up um, on the phone.
I think that’s extremely problematic. Um, they don’t know, there’s just so many things wrong with it… I don’t even, I don’t even know what to say. Um, but certainly what I thought about as you were speaking and hearing about the lactation, I initially just felt anger and I, and I wanted to say, I didn’t hear anyone talk about that, you know, and that’s the thing I don’t think that that’s kind of the undertone. We talk a lot about the shame and the grief, and I don’t think we put enough voice to the rage, right? I mean, there’s, there’s some anger, I would assume that is there. That needs to kind of be processed, but I just really want to say you are exactly the way you, where you should be.
Um, do not rush your you’re not late. You shouldn’t be fine. With three months ago, it’s it’s not a long time ago to me three months ago was yesterday. Okay. Um, and so I’m happy that you’re advocating for yourself and now you’re going to put into some place. Um, at least hopefully there could be some, um, people taking responsibility, but, but for right now, you know, I would, I would recommend the same thing doing some writing, but like I said, more importantly, I don’t want you to feel like I, because you started off saying, I still feel triggered as if you shouldn’t feel triggered. We wanted to highlight you should absolutely still feel triggered.
Yeah. Thank you for that. Because this is, I did have experienced some trauma with my, my daughter, um, because things happened as well. Like I got some random shot in my shoulder that nobody could tell me what that was while they were, um, stitching me up. So I mean just a lot of weird stuff. Um, and so I, I, I don’t know. It’s still new to me talking about it and hearing other stories. Um, because I can’t remember who talked about it, but, um, I do have a lot of, um, friends who are not Black, and I’m a part of a mom’s group and I’m probably one of three Black women out of like 50 to 75 women total. And it’s like, when I talk with them, they don’t share that same experience or they, like someone said, they’re shocked. So that kind of made me feel like something was wrong with me and maybe something I could have done differently. So it’s, it’s good to hear that it’s okay to take that time to process things and to, to do my work and healing.
Um, I want to say thank you for sharing your story. From the bottom of my entire spirit, heart, like, I feel so much deep, I’m so sorry that you had to experience that because you should have not experienced it, that at all. And the inner birth worker in me, because I’m also a birth worker I deal with, um, I say, I’ll call it Black-tation, Black lactation. I’m a Black lactation professional. I felt the rage. Um, because, cause that was uncalled for, but I will say out of all of the mess out of all of the shambles that, you know, you had experienced, you are taking those shambles, those pieces, you’re putting yourself together, you’re doing the steps. Like, I, I am truly, I don’t even know you.
I just met you and I’m truly proud of like, you’ve taken that initiative to say, I felt this, you know, took the time to process it. Maybe you didn’t, um, maybe, you know, but you took that initiative to say, I did not like the way I was treated. And you, you’re taking that step and you expressing that, um, and gives other folks empowerment to say, you know, I’m looking at the comments like, “Hey, I experienced that as well”, and now they know they can take those steps too. So you’re presenting that, you’re modeling the next step. So when you went through what you went through and what you’re going through at the moment during that time, like, Ooh, like I want to flip a table for you, you know, because that, that was uncalled for, and when you said you, you felt, um, because that, that is, that has, that has happens with Black bodies, especially by, uh, I’ll say Black bodies period, but bodies of color, but Black bodies, especially they, you know, their non Black counterparts will say, “I didn’t experience that.” And you, you, I heard you say, if it’s something wrong with me and they didn’t get, I’m telling you now there’s nothing wrong with. You did nothing wrong and it was them, you know, the guilt and that’s a process through your healing. You will, you will get to the place of handling, handing over your guilt, uh, and taken away from you and putting it on them, removing it from yourself.
And then the healing, more healing can begin. So you, you shouldn’t, nothing is wrong with you. You shouldn’t have experienced that. And I will say that it’s, I’m amplifying it, uplifting you, taking the next steps of continuing needs, advocate your experience in advocating what you’re going through, because that can be, that will be the next break, the next step to I’ll call it checking, collecting correctly, everybody who was involved in your experience.
So, but we all hold space for you. Um, with love, support as a community, as a village, and, um, just making sure that you continue to take the time also to say, you know, I need a moment for myself. Because this, these next steps can be hard because it’s, it’s re-traumatizing yourself to write down every single time and whose name and what…. I always say, give yourself, grace, give yourself grace during this period. Like, uh, like she stated don’t rush it. Take your time because it’s still new.
Yeah. I mean, we’ve all had worked probations that lasted more than 90 days. So, you know, it’s a very short period of time. And I want to honor that for you, Sharellel. I also want to hold space for anger. You know, it’s a complicated emotion for Black women because we’re often afraid to be angry because we know that our anger could, could cause a retaliation, right?
Like we, we aren’t allowed and we’re afraid of stepping into that angry Black woman trope. And so even when we have the right to be angry, we are suppressed sometime because we’re afraid to express it. That’s, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s not okay. And so I love that Nneka and Mistique both are speaking to the fact that we have a right to be angry.
Right. Um, and that we need to honor that it’s it’s okay. And, you know, 98% of the time it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, justified, uh, appropriate. Thank you. And so for us to hold space for you to be mad as hell, right. Because, you know, why didn’t they give you a baby your milk? I mean, just, just all sorts of things.
No skin to skin and you know, all of this. All the things, all the things. So we have to hold space for each other, including our righteous rage, our other rage and our anger. And so I want to just make sure that you heard that part of giving yourself grace was that we are holding space for you to be mad as hell if you need to be.
Um, and if you’re not, we’re doing it for you. Already done. Um, and that is allowed that we as Black women need to be allowed to have the full range of emotions. Um, even anger, you know, as was mentioned, sadness, grief, all of that because we’re not machines.
And just to quickly say, you know, And that may not have happened for you fault, but a lot of times that I’ve heard for a lot of women that they haven’t advocated because they didn’t want to be seen as such. Right. So not only is that problematic, but we haven’t internalized that. We haven’t internalized that anger means loss of control, which they’re not wanting the same. So I just wanted to say that out loud, just because you’re angry doesn’t mean that, you know, are no longer in control. Right.
And so we have to remember that because we have also been socialized to say, we don’t want to be seen, I don’t want anyone to label me. I don’t want anyone to do this because I’m not that way. Right. And it’s like, well, no one is that way. Right. It’s an emotion. You know what I mean? And so just to recognize that we shouldn’t internalize as anger being a loss of control, that they’re not interchangeable.
Yeah, so important. I want to honor everybody’s time. First of all, I want to let everybody know that tonight at 7:00 PM, Nneka and Mystique will be joining me for an IG live to further this conversation. I really want you to bring questions, um, and to that conflict, because what we’re going to be talking about, how we can shift the narrative on our own communities, how can we make sure that we know that our pain, our anger, all of it is, is not something that we should be marginalizing and normalizing and how we can reverse that, which you know, something that was done to us but we often do to ourselves right now. And that’s, that’s a bit of unlearning that we can do as a people. We want to hold space for each other. So maybe we’ll get some tools on what to say when someone is sharing a story, that’s uncomfortable for you, but necessary for them. Um, and to think about what we can do as a people to really start to hold space for this healing so that we can have true joy.
I want to bring Amissa and Jenea back out. I’m so excited to share with you about Restoration, the fund to heal Black birth. I hope you will learn more about it. Um, and that we are. To the Black, to Black women and the Black birthing space to begin to heal the harm that was done historically. And as you know, continues to be done.
I am excited that I have been able to host Birthright, um, season one. Many thanks to the California Healthcare Foundation for funding our first season, we are excited about the stories that we have to tell. We must reverse the doom and gloom narrative, Black maternal health. We have positive birth stories, and even if we don’t, we can heal and we need to find our way to joy, even if that is not our initial experience in our birth, but we all deserve it. And I want us to bask in it, claim it as your Birthright and let’s live and move toward that. Amissa and Jenae, how are you feeling?
Um, I’m feeling good. I’m oh, sorry. Feeling lucky to be a part of this, um, feeling like it’s an amazing opportunity and definitely a needed much needed one as we’ve seen from all the time. People have added. Um, so I just want to say thank you for having me here for this. And I hope that we may need more like this for others to be able to share their stories.
Yes. Thank you. I definitely feel good and supported and it’s nice to know that, um, other people have experiences like mine and I’m not alone.
You are not alone, you are not alone. And if anyone can get anything from our time today, that is the most important piece, um, that our stories do have power. Um, and that when we share them, we can find healing. We don’t have to hold on to shame and guilt. Um, and that there are folks who are holding space for you and your experiences, so that we know that we are not alone. I want to thank again, Amissa, if you’re interested in learning more about her work, she’s on Instagram at @yung_amygdala. Okay. And if you want to get to know Janae she’s on Instagram as @ZOS_mama.
Um, and we’re going to be holding space for Zola. Thank you so much for joining us. If you haven’t caught up on all the Birthright episodes for season one, please come back. Um, check out the Birthright season one episodes, go to Birthrightpodcast.com. Check out the restoration episodes. If you’re here on the YouTube page, please subscribe, check out our videos.
Um, follow, uh, the Birthright podcast on YouTube. So much to do! Check out our Birthright podcast merchandise, which also helps support our work. So grateful to the amazing, um, women and birthing people and folks who have showed up through this season in this episode and on this mission that we can reclaim our Birthright one story at a time.
I hope you enjoyed our phenomenal season finale and all of the stories shared this season. Ten Episodes, one bonus compilation, a number of husbands, papas, historians, midwives, doulas, physicians, my own mother and a Black tech founder all adding layers of context and meaning to the stories. Two restoration episodes, pairing therapists and healers with persons that have experienced Black birth trauma. And now, the launch of restoration: the fund to heal Black birth, a new campaign to raise money to pair mental health professionals with victims of birth trauma as a call to action for healing and restorative justice in Black birth. Learn more at Birthrightpodcast.com.
Thank you for the amazing team at Quark is for producing this podcast, Nikki & Randie for assisting with production and Fav for the awesome music and Sam for sound engineering. I’m looking forward to season two, people. And continuing our necessary mission to reclaim our birthright, one story at a time. Until then, Take care.
About our Guests
Nneka Symster 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.
Amissa Brewer-Hofmann, MPH, is a medical student who will be applying to radiology residency this fall. Amissa Brewer-Hofmann is a combined medical and public health masters student at Columbia University. She enjoys reading, pilates, warm weather, and a good picnic. Academically, she has an interest in radiology and wants to improve health outcomes for minoritized infants and birthing folks. Amissa lives in Washington Heights, Manhattan with her husband and 3-month old son, Henry.
Jeneá Harper is a Child Protective Investigator for the Department of Youth, Children and Families in Rhode Island. Jeneá was born and raised in Providence, RI and graduated from Rhode Island College with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has over 15 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families in and out of her community. Jeneá uses her positive attitude and tireless energy to ensure the youth she works with are safe and their families are receiving any resources needed to be successful. Jeneá is inspired and motivated daily by her husband and 2 year old son. Jeneá’s philosophy is in the infamous African proverb “Oran a azu nwa” , it takes a community or village to raise a child.
Mystique Hargrove, (She/They) is a certified full-spectrum doula who serves BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of color), and LGBTQ+ individuals in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mystique also serves as an advisory board member for the United States Lactation Consultant Association and is a Certified Lactation Educator, as well as a Certified Childbirth Educator. Mystique completed her Master of Science in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling from North Carolina A&T State University, along with a Marriage and Family Counseling Certification. Mystique earned a Certification in Wellness and Nutrition Consulting and Counseling, and her Certification in Reiki I and II, along with her certification as a Reiki Master. As a Black, Latinx, and Indigenous birth worker, Mystique has experience in herbal medicine and ancestral healing practices under Black, Latinx, and Indigenous teachers, and elder curanderas, or healers, in her community. Currently, Mystique is a Ph.D. student at Capella University for Counselor Education and Supervision, with a research focus on Inclusive Services and Advocacy in Perinatal Mental Health for Black, LGBTQ+ individuals.
Instagram: @blackbirthhealer, Facebook: The Black Birth Healer