The Restoration Episode
Season 2, Episode 6: Birthright Live! The Restoration Episode
Episode Description: In this first Restoration episode of season 2, reproductive psychotherapist and CEO of Oshun Family Healing, Saleemah McNeil, and host Kimberly Seals Allers gather at SaksWorks Flagship in NYC to hold space for Black women who’ve experienced medical-related trauma. They are joined by three Black women looking for healing, including a woman who received racist comments from an OB/GYN. Another who was neglected by her midwife, which resulted in a full-term stillbirth. And a third who had her concerns ignored and lost her baby after a premature delivery.
- The Oshun Family Center—founded in Philadelphia by reproductive psychotherapist Saleemah McNeil, CLC, MS, MFT—provides racially concordant care to Black community members impacted by postpartum mood changes, birth, and racial trauma.
- The Shades of Blue Project is a Houston-based non-profit organization focused on improving maternal mental health outcomes for Black and brown birthing people by providing support groups for people experiencing pregnancy or postpartum, single moms, teen moms, those who experienced infant loss, LBGTQ+ folks, and more.
- Postpartum Wellness offers pregnancy and postpartum counseling support to women in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Florida with an emphasis on commitment to social justice and anti-racism.
- Spirited By Truth provides mental health services to women in California with the goal of promoting healthy life balance in motherhood, work and life.
- Learn more about how maternal mental health care for Black birthing people can be improved by checking out this study, “Pathways To Equitable and Antiracist Maternal Mental Health Care: Insights From Black Women Stakeholders.”
- The Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance released a fact sheet detailing the rates at which Black women and birthing people experience maternal mental health conditions, such as postpartum depression and anxiety, and factors contributing to the illnesses, which include systemic racism and adverse childhood experiences.
- Interested in having a doula and/or midwife for your pregnancy, birth or post-partum period? Here are resources for finding Black midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and other perinatal specialists of color: Sista Midwife Directory, The Bridge, and National Black Doulas Association.
- Download Irth, the only app where you can find prenatal, birthing, postpartum and pediatric reviews of care from Black and brown birthing people. Leave a review today to help inform and protect others!
- 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
- For Black breastfeeding resources, visit Black Breastfeeding Week, Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA), and Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE).
- Catch up on episode extras from season 1 and 2 on BIRTHRIGHT’S YOUTUBE PAGE!
- Subscribe to be notified for new episode releases every Wednesday! Love Birthright? Leave a rating and review.
- Get full episode details and transcripts on www.BirthrightPodcast.com
- Follow Kimberly Seals Allers on Twitter on Instagram: @iamKSealsAllers
- Birthright is funded by the California Health Care Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund.
Kimberly Seals Allers 00:00
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Birthright Live. I am so excited to be here. We are excited to be at SaksWorks at the flagship location here at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City 10th floor. And so if there’s anyone who’s interested in learning more about SaksWorks, please go to the website. Anyone in the audience who’s interested in a complimentary membership, or a tour, please go to the desk after our podcast episode. So Birthright is a podcast about joy and healing in Black birth. And I started Birthright because I was deeply concerned about the doom and gloom narrative that’s so common in Black maternal health, which often focuses on the dire statistics and untimely deaths, but doesn’t center joy as a tool in our fight for birth equity, and asks a very simple question, what can we learn if we listened to positive experiences during birth? So Birthright hosts positive birth stories, and today, we host healing sessions, right? I often say, we are not going to be able to prevent all the harm in Black birth, but we can help people heal. Right. And so how do we be a demonstration of healing? How do we show that healing is indeed our Birthright as well, and that we can be able to help others on their healing journey? And that’s what we’re here to do today. So I’m excited about our restoration episode and excited about the opportunity to meet our guests, to hear their stories, and to participate in a healing experience. I’m so honored to have with me today Saleema MacNeil, who is a licensed therapist from the Philadelphia area. I’m going to be really honest, I forgot your bio. So I’m going to ask Saleema to introduce herself and tell us a little bit about her work at Oshun Family Center.
Thank you. My name is Saleema McNeil. I’m the founder and CEO of the Oshun Family Center, and also the curator of maternal wellness in Philadelphia. As a reproductive psychotherapist, I help families that are transitioning into pregnancy and parenthood really deal with those transitional issues that come especially emotionally and adjusting to the birth story that they have versus the stories that they want.
Kimberly Seals Allers 02:18
So important, thank you so much. You know Saleema, the theme for this episode, and really, the theme for Birthright overall is about healing Black birth, one by centering joy and remembering that positive experiences can happen and you can learn from those too. And then also to show how we can process and that we deserve to heal. We shouldn’t just take it for granted. We shouldn’t just accept that. But to honor what happened to us and to have some kind of healing. Tell us a little bit about what you have seen in your work, and why healing the Black birth space individually and as a community is so important.
It’s really important because those families carry the residual effects of being in the hospital, or whatever happens during their birthing journey, with them forever until they have the opportunity to meet with someone where they can tell their stories. So they don’t feel judged, and they don’t and they feel validated in the fact of the things that happened to them. So oftentimes when we experience traumatic events, we aren’t sure if they were traumatizing or not until there’s something else that comes up that’s triggering and we’re questioning, why are we responding this way? So with that being the narrative, we really do work with those families to help identify and work through what has happened to them so they can be successful in the future and as parents because it really does permeate into how we raise and parent our children.
Kimberly Seals Allers 03:40
Yes, so important. And so we know that healing is our Birthright as well. And so we’re excited today to you know, begin a conversation with some birthing folks, two mothers and three individuals who are willing to share their experiences with us and then participate with Saleema in a healing experience for us to understand what it’s like, but to also center the need for them to heal as part of the process. So, I’m going to introduce our guests. I’m super excited to first introduce Raena Granberry. Raena is a maternal health equity consultant and a manager of maternal infant health at California Black Women’s Health Project, an incredible organization. Raena is an Inglewood native and a Spelman College graduate. As a Spelman mom, just wanted to mention that as well being really important in my life, who began in politics as a community engagement specialist with the California Democratic Party and elected officials, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters. After many years of Child and Family Services, she did experience both stillborn loss and a traumatic preterm delivery at 27 weeks. But this was really a catalyst for her to supporting Black pregnant women and birthing people in a host of capacities. She currently serves as a Pritzker fellow with a focus on equity and systems integration in maternal child and adolescent health programs at the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. Thank you so much for joining us today, Raena.
Kimberly Seals Allers 06:24
And then our next guest, well our second guest is Safiya Rayford, who is a stay-at-home mom of two elementary-age children. And she’s based in Sacramento, California, and has been married to her college sweetheart for 10 years. When she’s not homeschooling, she can be found either in the garage tinkering with her electric cargo bike, I gotta ask more questions about that, or gardening in her family’s urban farm in northern California. And I even have more questions about that. Thank you to Safiya for joining us. Safiya, can you hear us?
I’m so sorry. Thank you for having me.
Kimberly Seals Allers 07:05
Very good. Very good. So Raena, I wanted to begin with you and seeing if you can start by sharing a little bit about your experience, please.
Sure, thank you. So I’m Raena Granberry. And when I was 29, my then boyfriend at the time, who is my husband, now, we found out we were pregnant. We were in a real transitional stage, I was trying to change careers. We didn’t have a lot of money. So you know, I immediately like signed up for Medi-Cal in order to you know, get the health care I needed. We were so excited. But of course first baby. So a little bit scared. And naively I said to myself, you know, I’m gonna go to Beverly Hills where I know, like the richest women go, I’m gonna, like, get this doctor that I know, like all the rich women go to, because if it’s good enough for them, then of course, it’s gonna like be top tier service, right? So, um, I go and immediately, like our sister was saying just a few minutes ago, like you never know, you don’t really know what discrimination or what trauma is until you look back. And at the time I was trying to tell myself, I’m not being treated fairly here am I? Um, but now that I look back at it, I realized I was getting discriminatory care. My doctor wasn’t caring about any of the things that I was sharing. I was doing some spotting, feeling uneasy. I was getting turned in and out of, you know, my appointments in less than five minutes each time. It was just cold. And I just figured maybe this is how it goes. You know, I’m young, I’m healthy. And maybe I don’t need a lot of time with the doctor. But then one morning I woke up and my stomach was hurting. And I was like, I don’t know if this are cramps, like I don’t know what’s going on. And I called and I said, you know, I think these might be cramps. I’m not sure what’s going on. And you know, they asked me, Are you able to walk? I said yes. And then the nurse said Well, don’t worry about it. You have an appointment next week. We’ll see you next week. But that night, I went into preterm labor. And I ended up having to deliver my son who was much too underdeveloped. So his lungs we’re not developing, so he came out of course with no lungs and undeveloped lungs and not breathing. And it was an extremely traumatic experience for me. At first I felt fine. You know, I had hyped myself up to say, you know, they told me that the baby would not be breathing when the baby came out. And I said, that’s fine, I’m fine. But as soon as I pushed the baby out, and I heard nothing, you know, and I saw a very underdeveloped child, I lost it, and I immediately lost it. You know, I started saying, you know, somebody help me, Can’t we do something for the baby? Suddenly, everything I had told myself rationally left, and I was like, No, don’t take the baby. But I knew, you know, I just calmed myself down and I knew that, you know, it had to be, you know, they had to take the baby away. And there was a beautiful Black nurse there who helped me through that experience, but I’m happy to be here, because I know that even after all this time, it’s a difficult story to share. And I’ve devoted my life to making sure other women don’t have this experience and other birthing folks. But I have not truly healed myself or focused on, you know, as much as I tell the story, I don’t think that, you know, unpacked it.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today.
Kimberly Seals Allers 10:25
So powerful, so powerful. And you know, I think, you know, there’s always going to be that thing that no one can prepare you for, right? That thing that no one can prepare you for no matter what you’re telling yourself in your head. No one can prepare you for that. Thank you so much for sharing. Before I let Saleema you know, kind of address the, you know, some of the healing I want us to hear from Safiya, as well. And I’m gonna ask her if she’d be willing to share her story at this time?
Yes, I would. So um, my story starts back in 2009. My husband and I found out that I was pregnant, and we found a local traditional OBGYN. Everything was fine. And we watched the Business of Being Born, which changed my mind a little bit about actually doing a hospital delivery. So I switched to an OB that worked at a traditional hospital. We were promised that we could have a waterbirth which is what I was extremely into at the time. And they also provided people with postpartum doulas. So the problem with that was that the hospital and the doctor were really really, really far away. The hospital was on the outskirts of a college town, it was about an hour away in traffic. So we kept looking. I was lucky enough to find a local midwife who had a birth center that was just about a mile away from our house, she would accept our insurance, and she had spaces available for when we were ready to deliver. In hindsight, I see that this was an issue, but at the time I accepted it because I thought that the hospital was just hostile, hostile to her because she was working outside of their network. And I figured that since our insurance would pay for it, that they had vetted her and everything was okay. All was well. Throughout my pregnancy, I had all of my visits with her. I was fine with the care that I was getting. I absolutely 100% trusted her. She was a nurse midwife, she had a popular and successful operation here in our town. I had absolutely no reason not to trust her. So my mom and my aunt came into town for the birth. They attended the 40 week checkup with me and the 41 week checkup on Thursday. And then after the 41 week checkup I started having pain on Friday night, like really intense pressure, but my water hadn’t broken. My husband called the midwife as she has instructed us. And because my contractions were irregular, she decided over the phone and without an exam that I was not in labor. My husband, my mom and my aunt continued to call her about strong but really irregular contractions. She told us over the phone on Saturday, that the pain was a urinary tract infection, which I have never had never had before then and I’ve never had since then. She called in a prescription for us, my husband went to go and pick it up. And then on Saturday, I had contractions all day. On Sunday, she told us that the medicine has to work and insisted that it was a UTI. And finally my aunt demanded that she examine me to make sure that it was. She told her that she was at the fair with her family and couldn’t leave for an examination for a patient that she had just examined on Thursday. So late Sunday morning, we went to the next closest hospital. They did a fetal heart monitoring and showed no heartbeat of our daughter. So I had to deliver a stillborn full term baby. My husband and my mother called once we were in labor and figured out what was going on. The nurses told us that she called the hospital. They held the calls. I have never spoken to this woman since then. And a week later, we received a blank card from the midwife unsigned with a check returning the deposit that we have paid for the waterbirth. So that’s the story of how our firstborn daughter Gabby was born. We went on to have two more both high risk pregnancies and were both delivered by the doctor who delivered Gabby that night. And what I’m really struggling with now is being able to let my children just live, right? So I’ve noticed that her birth story is preventing me from parenting the way that I like. I really would like for my parents, my children to just be able to just fly and have experiences that aren’t colored by their mom being just an arm’s length away from them at all times. So, really looking for some suggestions about how I can do that.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us and introducing us to Gabby. We really appreciate that.
Kimberly Seals Allers 15:16
Yes. And thank you for sharing her name. You know, Gabby is precious to us, Gabby is, you know, a loss for all of us. And so we always, always, always honor our children who are not here with us. And I’m so sorry that happened to you. And just to be clear, so the midwife was responsible for your care has never called you personally, to say anything about your loss?
Never, not once. All we received from her was the blank card with just a check from her birth center. And we later filed a complaint with the medical board, saw her in court and have never said a word to her.
Kimberly Seals Allers 15:57
Well, certainly, you know, what happens on that route is is for you and your husband, your family. But we are, I’m so honored that you’re here for us to offer you some support and some healing. And I know Saleema is eager to support you. Right. And so as she just said, we got you, sis, so we gotta remember that. And before we kind of move to really centering what’s happened with Raena and Safiya, I just want to also acknowledge that we know that a lot of the trauma that Black women are experiencing within the medical system is not just with their birth and their pregnancy, and that it even happens when they’re seeking well care, when they’re seeking other areas around reproductive health. You should see the number of Irth app reviews we have around people who are dealing with infertility issues, all sorts of things where this disrespect happens. And so I wanted to invite another guest to join us, Roslyn, to share a little bit about her experience in having disrespect and harm within the medical system, even outside the birth experience. Roslyn is a New York City based financial services executive who has specialized in digital client experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is a digital project owner by training, and has excelled at turning retail making consumer feedback into actionable insights. Right. And when she’s not in the office, she enjoys brunches, me too, travel and blending essential oils, really excited about that. And is always on the hunt for interesting podcasts well I hope you found one now, and the nursing independence in audible. These are important, important dependencies. Roslyn share a little bit with us about your experience, and thank you for joining us today.
Thank you so much for having me here and for this platform and all the important work that you’re doing. So I’m here with the heavy heart. Because my well exam was in January of this year. And it’s just April. So I I went to my gynecological annual well woman exam, and I was actually looking forward to it because I was with a physician that I liked and that I saw one time previously and had a positive impression. But something was very different about this appointment. The physician entered the room swiftly without speaking, and I gestured to them, Hey, how are you? And hunched over the computer she says, oh, everything’s rainbows, ponies and unicorns. So there was already, you know, sarcasm and negativity at the onset of the appointment. And being who I am, I was trying to lighten the mood and say no, yeah, well, last time I saw you it was before the rapture, and you know, kind of referring to the pandemic and all the craziness of New York. And so she said, she had advanced warning about COVID. And I said, Oh, I did too my sister was an English teacher in Korea. And then she said, Oh, is your sister Black? And I was struck by that question. And I said, Well, we have the same parents. I’m Black. And so is she and the appointment just got progressively worse from there where, you know, I had stopped taking oral contraceptives, because I didn’t like the side effects of it. And she says to me, well, at some point before 50 You’re gonna have sex, even though at that time, I felt like I didn’t need it. And she was saying, Oh, well, there’s so many benefits of birth control, without saying what those benefits were, and then started to counsel me on an IUD. And I said, Well, I’ll consider it in the future if I need it. And then she sighed in annoyance as if I didn’t have a choice over, you know, what I’m doing with my reproductive power. And then moving forward from there, I had expressed my concern about fibroids and my family history where women have had fibroids removed and all kinds of things. And I heard that there’s a link between chemical relaxers and fibroids and other things. And the physician interrupted you forcefully. And said, That is not true. You do know you don’t have to be a man in order to be a misogynist? And I was shocked because I was in stirrups. And I became very afraid. Because of the level of impulsiveness and the change in the physicians demeanor towards me. Then, she proceeded to pick up instruments that were to be used to collect the vaginal cultures, and was waving them around and stomping and saying, I’m sick of all the woman bashing that’s been going on since the beginning of the pandemic. And then just went into this tirade about things that it just, it didn’t make sense to me, because the ideas didn’t really flow together. But towards the end, saying, you know, you’re at high risk for fibroids, simply because you’re Black. But she didn’t make a recommendation for diagnostic testing, or offer a reason why that’s the case. If the chemical relaxer thing is not true, then what is the cause? And how can I find out more information? And then it continued to, to get even worse from there. So, you know, I wanted to leave and I felt like I couldn’t. And so I kind of just went along, to go along. And I said, Well, you know, I have concerns about my fertility. I, you know, I’m Jamaican and my family, you know, I’m considered old to not have children or be married. And she was angered by that and made a hand gesture to me like, well, I’m Jamaican. And you don’t need to worry about that for surely that’s why you see Jamaicans all over the world, and then concluded the appointment and laughed, and I was mortified by the experience, because it’s not just the dismissal, and the disrespect, it’s the fact that you didn’t do the job like you were paid to do a job. And if I could trust anyone, I felt like I should have been able to trust this physician, given that she’s a Black woman and what I’m struggling with and hurt by is that when I brought it to her attention, she ran from the issue, other than addressing it with me, because I want to believe that we’re more alike than unalike.
Kimberly Seals Allers 22:54
Right, right, right. Now with your experience, too, I just can’t imagine me being in stirrups is the most vulnerable thing ever, anyway. And then to have someone acting that way. And waving instruments. Yeah, that’s a lot and certainly you deserve better. And certainly I understand that, particularly when we are seeking out care from other people who look like us we, you know, we feel that there’s an implied safety. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. I think when that does happen, the disappointment feels even more severe. I want to you know, really turn it over to Saleema to address all the guests and, you know, kind of talk through some of the things that have come up for you while they’ve been sharing.
One thing that comes up is all skin folk ain’t kin folk. And unfortunately, when we get into these medical establishments, we look for somebody that looks like us, because that feels familiar. And it gives us a level of security or comfortability, that we might be okay. And to be harmed by someone who you just have that innate connection with, thinking that you have a connection with, really does like set things back, because if it’s physicians, if they aren’t continuing to do the work, which is internally and externally, that is really harmful to our people. So again, I’m so sorry that that has been your experience. And hopefully, we’ll find you somebody really great. I wish you were coming to Philly because I have good network of OBs and midwives and doulas that are there. They’re definitely for our people, but onward and upward with your journey. Again, thank you for sharing that. We can definitely work on some things that may be helpful for you in your journey of healing. Because if not one thing is the body will always keep score. And you may think and I think Raena can also attest to this, you know, we may think we’re okay and mentally we tried to prepare ourselves, but our body will tell us something completely different. And so it’s not until something comes up again. Or maybe you have to get another that things will be triggered for you and then be able to work with those things. So hopefully we can establish some things that work for you, and how you can prepare for your next visit whenever it comes up. I’m not sure what the ACOG recommendations are, say two to five years if you have a good Pap, so hopefully you won’t have to go back anytime soon but to get the issues that you need addressed. And being okay with walking away, even in stirrups, I think I would have pulled that curtain down, looked at her, not today. Yeah, so we’ll continue to talk about some things that may be helpful for you. And some things that you currently do now. Raena. I didn’t see you yesterday. So I’m so happy to hear more about you and your family. I was just wondering if it will be okay for you to share, if you and your family had done so, your baby’s name.
My baby was actually named after my husband. So he’s George Granberry the fourth. And yeah, that was our first son.
Thank you so much for introducing us to George Granberry the fourth. I don’t have a personal story that I went through. But I was a doula for one of my best friends and an angel Auntie to Amelia. And when you said that you delivered your little one, and it was quiet, that is something that sat with me for a very long time with being in a position of being a support person and being a doula. In those moments, it was just a birth that was something different. And I mean, surrounded by family and love and care and all of those things. But the silence that you talk about, it’s definitely something that so many people can resonate with, and work through as well. One thing that I suggest, and I’m like pushing one of my good friends to do this, because she’s so great, and she’s done it throughout her healing journey, was the children the child that she has now simply journals with her. Her daughter knows her sister’s name, they do things together and also for you, Safiya, parenting from the place of guilt, and not wanting anything to happen to your children and really protecting them so much. And for you, it seems like it is preventing them from enjoying some things that they would otherwise enjoy as children. But being able to lean on your support system to help ease you into whether it is sitting and journaling with your children, whether it is letting them go for a few hours with a grandparent or an auntie or cousin and creating that security, secure attachments are really important. And working through those with your children can be paramount to not only your healing and your success, but theirs as well.
Kimberly Seals Allers 27:46
Raena, what do you think about what Saleema’s suggestion? Have you been kind of connecting your older children with George Granberry the fourth?
Yes. So my children are well aware, you know, of their brother, they acknowledge their brother, they know when their brother’s birthday was, you know, sometimes even my son will say, Well, I have a brother too. But you know, he passed away. And so my kids are like, incredibly empathic. I think I also had a traumatic experience, birthing experience with my son. And he’s aware of that. So, you know, I, you know, I sympathize with my sister Safiya. And it’s taken me some time. But I think as he got older, you know, your, your children are still young. But as he got older, I was able to share some of those things, and tell him like, but look at you now. And you know how strong you are and what you’ve overcome. And I think seeing his pride makes me feel, you know, it gives me some sense of healing.
Just sometimes we don’t know how it comes up. I’m also a survivor of a traumatic birth experience. I tell people that I have rounded off my 16th parenting anniversary, which is my son’s birthday, it was on early April, April 5, and he knows very much so the details of what it was like to bring him earthside because he’s heard me tell his story over and over again. But it also catapulted me into the maternal health space to be here with you all today. So I say that because there’s so much power in telling your stories and you may not feel that talking about it in this capacity or just discussing it with your friends or family is healing. But your narrative is something that so many people can learn from, whether it is childbirth or gynecological care. Some people just think that this is normal and this is how I should be treated. And so by you being so brave and courageous with us today and beyond the work that you all do with sharing your stories, believe it or not it is steps taken in your healing journey and someone else’s healing.
Kimberly Seals Allers 29:57
That is so true. Safiya, have you thought of about sharing I know it was, you know, important, but also impactful for you to share today. How has sharing your story? How does it feel for you right now?
Actually, it’s really scary. I don’t share my story too much outside of my family. Agreed. My children do also know that they have an older sister. They have told teachers, they have told camp counselors, everybody that their sister is watching out for them. So that’s something that we definitely celebrate in our family. She’s still a part of our family. My story I have not shared. So this is new and scary and exciting for me.
Well thank you so much for sharing with us and and trusting this process enough that you can talk about Gabby, and talk about your children and your family in a way that is healing and helpful to everybody.
Kimberly Seals Allers 31:02
And I think Raena and Roslyn have been, you know, kind of on the other side of that where they were catapulted or activated into advocacy for that. I know, Rosalyn, you even just on a individual level, wrote letters to the doctor, wrote letters to the hospital, hospital system. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? And then I’d love for us to talk about the path, the role of advocacy in our healing journeys, but share some specifics about things that you did about your specific incident.
Well I’ll say I was so outraged by my incident that I had to do something that was healthy and productive. And for me, because this was a Black female physician, I felt I needed to elevate her consciousness around the impact of her behavior, so that it’s not normalized. And so I did send her a letter directly. Now, she did not respond to that letter. But Mount Sinai, the hospital, reached out and they met with me, and we discussed the incident. And then they said, well, we want to use this as a case study. And I, you know, while I was open to the idea, I think there was a lack of awareness of the depth of hurt that I was feeling.
Kimberly Seals Allers 32:25
They didn’t understand how that is not restorative to you. It’s helpful to them. But, what about you?
Correct. So I sent them a follow up letter outlining how that is not helpful to me, and how there needs to at minimum be restorative justice in the form of an apology from this physician. And so I haven’t received that yet. I think they still want to partner with me to tell the story together. And that’s something that I’m open to. But more importantly, I don’t want this behavior to be normalized. And I think that Mount Sinai has a lot of work to do when it comes to operating in the space in an equitable manner with Black women.
Kimberly Seals Allers 33:10
Yes, please check the Irth app reviews on Mount Sinai and on all the New York City hospitals, to see what other people are saying. Some of it reflected what Roslyn has experienced and we’re hopeful that we can engage with them to do better. Raena, how about you? Tell us I mean, you have also been activated into into work and into advocacy. Can you tell us a bit about what that journey has been like for you?
Um, I think there’s, there’s two points about my journey that I think are, are notable. One is that I decided to do direct service immediately, I just wanted to talk to people, because one thing I found out is, after I lost my child, I started hearing from aunts and people who were really close to me that I loved that I had no clue, you know, had experienced the same thing. So I felt like, so many people around me experiencing this, we’re not talking about it. So, you know, I wanted to try to make those connections. Um, you know, so I started being a group facilitator, and then you know, a peer support person and working in all these different organizations. And then, and then took it to the next level, because one thing I did notice is that in this space, we were consistently talking about, you know, what, what can we do, you know, how can we do all these things, but I’m like, Well, what can the system do? What can the hospitals do? Like, we can do, we can do us, but there’s still this structure that exists, you know, and so that’s kind of how I moved into policy. But there is a bit of a negative side for me, and it’s what I mentioned to Saleena that I jumped right in, and I think it would have been important for me to instead of going into the work is like to go into myself. You know, and even my family I know my husband was traumatized by this experience too. And I talked about all the time how him, my father and his father were all there. People who have always been responsible for loving and protecting me and couldn’t do it in that moment, and I watched their faces, how painful that was for them, you know. And so none of us I’m like, we all needed to do some healing. But I just jumped right into activism, and everybody jumped right behind me, and we just started pushing. So that is a good thing, but it, you know, I need to be in therapy. I’m like, I’m happy that I’m here today, because it was a slap in my own face, to like, be talking to other people about healing, and not do it myself.
And I want to bring light to different modalities of healing. So therapy is absolutely one. I’m biased, I want everybody to go to therapy, I want everyone to experience a good connection with a therapist that can help you lay those foundational blocks for your healing journey that can last a lifetime. However, there are many other things for you to do as well. Whatever you find to be healing, if it’s meditation, if it’s yoga, that somatic body work that really does help you reconnect with your body, really important, I would say exercise, but I really just mean body movement, whether you can dance it out as well. Acupuncture. So I don’t want people to think that one, the healing journey is linear, because it’s not. And two, this isn’t the only way for you to overcome what has happened to you. This is in addition to things that you already do, spiritual practices that you already have. And we partner with all of them to meet you as a whole hearted person on their journey to heal and walk together.
Kimberly Seals Allers 36:39
And, you know, part of what I want to I want is to get to into some action steps for Safiya and Raena and Roslyn. But one I want to first acknowledge what our Black men experience. And I appreciate you for saying that Raena. Because so many times they too are suffering under stereotypes and archetypes of who they need to be. And you know, that there’s a lot of trauma and hurt going on there. And we see and hear from them their fears. You know, I get a lot of emails from men who are scared for their girlfriends, wives, cousins, aunties around what supposed and what may happen to them in their birth experience. And so just want to appreciate Raena for lifting that up. I want to say if there’s anyone out there who would like to share their story, and is watching the live stream, we’re going to put the link in if they if you would like to join and share briefly in our conversation or if there’s anyone who’s with us here at SaksWorks, who wanted to share. So I just wanted to invite people to do that while we kind of move to Saleema, giving these action steps and then I want everyone to know that what we’re doing here at Birthright is, is powerful and needs to happen more often right? For every Raena, for every Safiya, for every Rosyln, there are so many more. Last year, we started the restoration fund, the fund to heal Black birth, where we are looking to raise money to pair perinatal mental health therapists like Saleema and several others who have volunteered to work with us with folks who have suffered some harm in their birthing experience. And so we’ll share the link to that. We are actively fundraising for that campaign. It is important that all of us take responsibility, participate in healing the Black birth space. And so I invite everyone in to participate in supporting the healing Black birth fund. And so Saleema what specific things like in speaking to each of them individually, can you offer to our sisters today?
One thing I always like to talk to people about is if therapy is going to be a part of your healing journey is finding somebody that you vibe with. It’s a good energy, somebody that you feel connected, because remember, you’re going to go down an emotionally dark path with them and you need to feel secure enough that when you’re falling, they’re going to catch you. And that is paramount in finding somebody to support you in that healing journey. And I always say give them a couple of sessions because we’re still humans. So we might have a little off day. But to see two or three sessions to really feel if the connection that you are seeking is something that is working on being established. And don’t ever be afraid to address the elephant in the room. It is okay for you to say, you know, feels like energy is off today. Is there something that’s going on with you and sometimes that moment is very actualizing for the therapist, because I’ve experienced that so that myself and I’m like, You know what, I actually had a rough morning and I needed to reset. So thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. And I’m here and I’m locked in and I’m with you. And so finding a therapist that is transparent and able to work with what your needs are, first and foremost, if that’s what your journey entails. On the other end, I really talk about like this somatic healing and so again, if not exercising, but get moving. Because when you are moving, doing whatever it is that you need to do, it makes your mind focus on your body and outside of the thoughts that may ruminate over and over again. So just thinking about the dance movements that… nothing choreographed and you just want to dance around your house with your kids, dance around with your husband and dance around by yourself or your partner, that’s absolutely fine. But doing something that gets your body moving, that gets you out of your head and into the rhythm of whatever it is that you’re listening to. And that could be meditation, it could be actively dancing, Zumba yoga.
Yeah, one of my girlfriend’s is a Zumba instructor. My gosh, she just dances her little heart out.
Kimberly Seals Allers 40:41
Yes, and it’s such a good time. And the last thing that I will leave you with two things, very much so a component of journaling, if you can’t tell. But journaling can’t feel like a chore for you. If you pick up your pen, and you pick up your journal, and there’s a sense of angst, like I don’t want to do this, then don’t do it. Only journal on the days where you feel that one, your mind won’t shut off. So then you need to dump on the page. You can set a timer, five minutes, just write whatever comes to your mind. And that includes, this feels stupid. I don’t know why I’m doing it. But here are the things that are coming to my mind, and just dumping that way. And last, but certainly not least, be intentional about the connections that you’re making. Because there’s so much healing that happens within community. And so I know some of you have already jumped into advocacy work. Raena I feel you I did the same thing. I had my son when I was 19 years old. And I went right into maternal health direct services, doula lactation consultant all along the way. And honestly, that’s where I realized that was a traumatic experience. Because as I started helping families, and I realized their experiences were very different than mine, that I was the outlier. And then I started to see so many other families that were dealing with the same things that I was doing as well. So there is healing in what you’re doing. But just being able to be intentional and be present with what that journey looks like, and being able to mark what comes up for you. So Safiya, I would encourage you to continue to tell your story, because um, I will not say it’s gonna get easier, but the path forward does get stronger, as you are resilient and being able to help heal other people have their moments of vulnerability as well.
Kimberly Seals Allers 42:28
And for me, I have a question. I feel like we’re dealing with kind of two general themes, which is grief right at the loss for Raena and Safiya, and then fear, which is xertainly present for Rosyln. What are some tools that can be used to one address grief? Like what are some of those tools for people who may be grieving? And then what are some ways to address fear?
I think there’s so much power and knowledge in knowing and understanding what your rights are. I tell people all the time that hospital policy is not the law. And if you don’t want to, you don’t have to have it and just being grounded and confident enough to say, no, no, not today. I don’t even like the energy you walked into my room with you absolutely can’t go in my vagina now. Being able to be so confident that you’re like, I will find someone else. And when it comes to grief, their journey is very, very unique. There’s no timeframe on it. A lot of people say there’s no right or wrong way to do it. The right way to do it is to be as healthy as possible. The wrong way would be to adapt, you know really bad coping skills that deteriorate your mind and deteriorate your body. But outside of that, your way of healing is your way of healing. I spoke a little bit before and I’ll continue to say her name Amelia. My good girlfriend who was able to make me an angel auntie uses the journaling with her daughter now as a modality of healing. Being able to say your child’s name is what I learned has been so healing for those parents who are now Angel parents, and being reminded of who they are. That their kid was here, your child was here, they were made with love and purpose and being able to continue to tell their story is also very healing. And so be kind to yourself in your grief journey. We are coming up in Amelia’s 10th birthday this year and it is still as impactful as it was her first birthday, the first time we got to meet her. So be kind to yourself. There’s no time limit and do what you need to do so that feels good for you so that can promote health and wellness in those moments.
Kimberly Seals Allers 44:37
And I feel like for Raena perhaps, you know that there’s a starting point of just acknowledging the grief, right? I think that because you’ve been going going going which I will add is very common with Black women. Like we are like we feel good about doing things but to actually create some time for yourself which is your healing time. And then what you do in that time is for you to determine whether that’s journaling, whether that’s meditation, whether that’s something, but to create a space for yourself, and to say, This is my healing time, at least still honor that you deserve that, to give yourself the grace to have it. And to make time for that. You know, for me, it is often a great starting point. And then I’m wondering for Safiya, like know, when she’s in these real parenting moments, when she’s kind of in these moments where she can perhaps be now more aware that she’s perhaps making a decision that’s based on this past fear, what are some things that she can say to herself? Are there any affirmations or other tools really, in that moment, around these decisions with her children, where she can help shift her mindset?
Absolutely. And, it’s going to sound so simple, but it is very impactful. And you have to continue to remind yourself that not only you, but your children as well, and your family, you all are safe. And reminding yourself like I’m safe, my kids are safe, they’re with somebody that I trust, and that continuously being told to yourself and to your children can help mitigate some of those things in your healing journey. Because with the loss that you experienced, it is also the mindset that my body may have betrayed me, or this professional may have betrayed me, and why wasn’t I able to do X, Y, and Z? And so that didn’t create the safety that you thought you were going to have for the little one who came earthside. Therefore, now the children that you have, you’re hyper focused on keeping them well, keeping them safe but they’re fine. And so are you.
Kimberly Seals Allers 46:41
How did that sound Safiya?
You absolutely hit the nail on the head, thank you. I think, safety, especially for my children, and its utmost importance to me. So I think that continuing to remind myself that they are safe, that we are all in a safe space, and that I can trust myself with my intuition around who I have around them is very important. So thank you for that.
Kimberly Seals Allers 47:08
And in addition to obviously Saleema, I feel that you know, we always have support within each other. And so Raena, I was curious, do you have anything that you would share with Safiya, because you too, you both have a shared experience? And you know, certainly with other children? And maybe you’ve felt that at some point? Would you have anything to share as a person who has the same lived experience?
You know, I would. It is mostly around my son, because I feel like my son sort of forced me out of out of some of what I was trying to create…a box around him that I was trying to create. And I think it’s just, it’s just the little steps. I still do it now with him. But it’s just the small things. Like what can I let them do that I still feel comfortable with? I know it’ll push my boundary a tad, you know, but we can do it, you know, and then and even now, it’s like, okay, you can go, you know, we’re at a park, I’m gonna stand right here. But you know, you go and I’m here in the restroom, I’m closing like everything, but it’s the little things that bring us closer and closer. And then the more you know, they have the independence to do the things that feel empowering to them, they will push you because they want to continue to experience those, you know, empowering moments and those moments where they can do things where they don’t feel our shadow so closely.
Kimberly Seals Allers 48:32
And what about you Roslyn? I mean, how are you doing right now? Has this been helpful?
No, this has been very helpful to help frame it. And I jumped into action right after. And so I definitely am going to take some time to heal from the experience. Especially because it makes me afraid to have children. And so I need to work past that so that I’m getting the preventative care that I need before I even take that journey.
Kimberly Seals Allers 49:03
Right. And I think the same thing for me was what Saleema was sharing around therapists, we really apply to any health care professional, vett them well, right and maybe it’s gonna take a few visits. And, you know, I don’t know what they allow now. But you know, I’m always telling Black women, particularly around birth, you need to treat your doctor like you do your hairdresser or hair braider, right, the minute you see a problem. You’re out of there right? You not even going to, like we have to bring back having a vetting of asking questions, of trusting our instincts as well. And to acknowledge that sometimes when our instinct is around that sense of safety, around seeing someone who has the same skin as us that we need to even take that to the next level, right and so, and how do we even within that space as a starting point, begin to also still vet and interrogate and kind of move that forward?
The last thing I’ll say is that you are the expert of your body, you know something’s wrong, you know something’s going on. But you may not know what. And that’s what the doctors are there to help you figure out. So don’t let them dismiss you. And if this doctor wants to dismiss you, then go to someone else. Because what you do know about the body that you spend endless amount of time in, all of the time is that something’s not right. And this is what you are hiring this professional to do, which is to help you figure out what’s wrong.
Kimberly Seals Allers 50:29
So true, so true. Any comments from our audience? All right, wonderful. So what I wanted to ask, you know, Raena, and Safiya and Rosyln to share is for many people who may be watching who have had a similar trauma, or maybe just carrying the fear of a similar trauma. If someone has experienced what you experience, Raena, what would you tell them?
First, I would start with what you all have told Safiya — that it is healing, and it is comforting to continue to tell your story. You know, I think that’s the first step. And the other thing is surrounding yourself with the support network and being honest with that network. For me, I know, I feel like I experienced a double loss with my son because I also lost a lot of friends. And I think it was a two prong situation where they were not there for me, and supportive for me, but I was also not honest about how much I needed them. So we have to do that. You know, as I got older, I realize people aren’t mind reader’s, you know, they, they everybody has their own thing going on. And if you need support, I know, each and every one of those people would have came to support me, but I just wanted them to just do it on their own, you know. So I would say that surround yourself with support. And if you don’t have a network, there are networks, you know, I work with California Black Women’s Health Project, there’s worldwide organizations, there’s, you know, Mocha Moms in every city, like you can connect with people, you can create networks, you know, and if trust prevents you from doing that, go see our sis Saleema, or somebody and help work out your trust, you know, so you can have that network because we have to have network like Sister Circles, being with your sisters is so empowering. You know, the love and things that they give us, I think is immeasurable. So I think that that is what I would say.
Kimberly Seals Allers 52:31
And also just to uplift virtual networks, which have been a lifesaver for so many right now. I mean, first of all, there’s a Facebook group for everything. And, and if you go, I like them because I could just be a voyeur at the beginning. And sometimes I don’t always engage. But it’s also helpful for me to hear people sharing and so if you can find the community in your physical space, I would certainly encourage everyone think about the virtual communities that are being created in so many online spaces, and you know, are very supportive and very informative. And also allow you to kind of tap in when you feel comfortable and maybe fall back when you’re not there. But find it right, like you have to find it one way or the other. That’s really important. Safiya, what would you say to anyone who’s experienced a loss?
I think the first thing that I would start with is to be able to take as much time as you need. What happened to me totally flattened me for months. So I was pregnant with my next daughter, and still processing the other experience. But the good thing about it was that I had the space to be able to process it as well as I could, before I had another child to take care of. So now I see that there are some things that I need to go back and tweak. But at the time, I have been able to get at least functional enough to be able to tell my story in a venue like this, and to be able to share my story with my family. And for that I’m grateful that I had the space and the time to be able to do that. So I would encourage people, there’s no time limit on this. Just take what you need, process it how you can and get to the next step as best you can.
Kimberly Seals Allers 54:17
Rosyln, what would you share?
I would say honor your truth in the way that your soul is calling for you to get it done. My experience was that I had medical professionals in my own family that tried to dismiss what happened to me and say that although you’re just one patient or you know there’s worse cases out there with Black women and OBGYN and so even if your story makes other people uncomfortable, still share it and you’ll find out who really loves loves and supports you in the process. So like Raena, I have sunset some relationships as a result of this experience, and I’m moving differently. And I know who is really with me as a result of this and how it’s impacted me.
Kimberly Seals Allers 55:10
Yeah. And this dismissiveness of Black women’s pain is, you know, is a very common thread. It’s something that we actively, you know, reject and dismantle, particularly in our work, because no one can say to you what that trauma is right? One of the things that was really troubling to me was that in the Black maternal health space, if you survived, and your baby was alive, you should be lucky, because you should be good. Right? And that is not, that is not what we deserve. Right? And so one thing that we certainly tried to do with Irth is what is the five star experience of Black people? But in those reviews, we asked, What’s the best thing that happened to you at the hospital, too many people say, I’m alive, my baby’s alive. And that should not be the best thing that happens to you. We’ve got to raise the standard. And we have to let practitioners know that we’re raising the standard and to your point, now you have even other Black medical professionals who have lowered the standard. So if you haven’t been traumatized, are you experiencing the worst form, if you experience such violence? Let me just say the word that if you haven’t experienced it, I don’t know the degree of death or near death, because their only counting mortality and morbidity, then, it’s not trauma, it’s not pain, it’s not something to be acknowledged. And, you know, I personally categorically reject that, I created these platforms to categorically reject that and to honor the spectrum of harm that is happening to Black birthing people, and to say that we deserve to heal from it. Right? And why don’t you just briefly before we close Saleema speak to something, you know, just having this conversation, I don’t know what but there was something unique about Black women, and the ways that we maybe feel like we have to, or we should respond to pain and trauma, maybe it’s something around a strong Black woman’s, you know, kind of association, I can’t put my finger exactly on it, because I haven’t had your training. But maybe there’s something that you’ve seen around the ways that Black women in particular process or perhaps do not process pain and trauma that could be helpful for all of us.
We discount our own pain. I hear a lot of Black women say I have a really high tolerance for pain, me being one of them. And with that being said, I went days in excruciating pain before I went to the hospital. And when I got to the hospital, because I was talking to the nurse the same way that I’m talking to you all, because I don’t have the bandwidth or energy to be what I consider is like dramatic or like over the top. I’m not screaming, I’m not throwing myself on the floor. And because I’m on a scale of one to 10, what is your pain, I said it’s about an eleven, they said, Okay, well have a seat in the waiting area, and left me there for two hours. And it wasn’t until my significant other took me to the next hospital because I wanted to go home and sleep it off. Because that’s what I was conditioned to believe that my pain wasn’t valid enough to be treated. Therefore I can handle these things myself. And so we tend to take on the weight of the world, which also includes our internal pain as something that’s normal. And it’s not. And we deserve to be treated, validated and heard when we enter medical professional settings to have that honored. But we have to honor that ourselves first, because I should have never went three days at that level of pain. But for me, I was like, I’ll wait until I can’t take it anymore, until I go get some support. Because other than that they’re going to dismiss me anyway. So just keep that in context. That one, it does start with us being able to realize we don’t have to take it, we don’t have to endure, we can be treated.
Kimberly Seals Allers 58:52
And that we are humans, right? Let’s remember who began the story of us being not humans who didn’t feel pain. This was a story that was told about Black people which can attribute it to how we could be oppressed. And so when we are acknowledging ourselves as humans and capable, the full suite of emotions capable and accessible and deserving of the full spectrum of pain, whether it’s little whether it’s one or it’s 11, all of it should be valued, then we are you know, in my opinion, kind of reversing and really creating a new narrative for ourselves, which centers us as humans, right. And that’s the most important thing and and it’s really, really important that we do that first so that we can now make sure that others do that. Make sure that others do that and see us as whole human beings, but we too have to see ourselves that way value our our experiences, acknowledge it, acknowledge our right to healing, being an important part of the journey.
So before we go again, we’re so honored that Raena you shared George with us and Safiya shared Gabby with us, and I was so honored to introduce Amelia to you all. So thank you for allowing us to do that with y’all today.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:00:03
I’m getting goosebumps. I appreciate honoring the angel babies who are part of this conversation and forever a part of our lives and our story individually and as a community. I close every episode of Birthright by asking this question, what is our Birthright? Because it’s important for us to say it for ourselves to claim it, to name it and for us to do that as an act of self determination. So, I’m going to ask everyone here today, what is our Birthright? Roslyn?
Basic human decency.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:00:38
Love it. Raena, what is our Birthright?
You know, you should have gave us this question before. This is a deep, deep one. I’ll say safety, unconditional love and the ability to be.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:00:58
I love it. Safiya? What is our Birthright?
I say just peace and serenity.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:01:08
Saleema, as a person, who’s seen a lot of birth stories and birth experiences on both sides. What is our Birthright?
To birth freely without expectation and how we want it.
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:01:22
I love that. Thank you so much, everyone for joining us today. I am proud to be your host. I’m proud to host these conversations. If you are watching on the YouTube channel, please like and subscribe while you’re there. Also, please like and subscribe to the Birthright podcast on any place where you get your podcasts. We’re so grateful to be in the beautiful surroundings of SaksWorks here so that we can have this conversation in a space deserving of the conversation. Would you agree?
Kimberly Seals Allers 1:01:51
And so thank you so much, everyone for joining us. And keep watching the Birthright podcast. Please check our previous episodes. We had a powerful conversation last week with people who are birthing while HIV positive. We had an incredible conversation with Christina Elmore, who played Condola on Insecure. We’ve been talking about all sorts of ways that people are finding their joy, right. And here we’ve been talking about healing. So thank you for joining us. And we’ll see you soon on the Birthright podcast.
Raena Granberry is a Maternal Health Equity Consultant and Sr. Manager of Maternal and Infant Health at California Black Women’s Health Project. She’s an Inglewood native and Spelman College graduate who began in politics as a community engagement specialist with the California Democratic Party and elected officials including Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
Saleemah McNeil, CLC, MS, MFT is the CEO of Oshun Family Center, a Reproductive Psychotherapist, Certified Lactation Consultant, professionally trained Birth Doula, and a traumatic birth survivor. Saleemah has dedicated her work to helping families of color heal from traumatic birth experiences and transition into parenthood.
Safiya Rayford is a stay at home mom of two elementary aged children based in Sacramento, California and has been married to her college sweetheart for ten years. When she’s not homeschooling, she can be found either in the garage tinkering with her electric cargo bike or gardening in her family’s urban farm in Northern California.
Roslyn J. Smith is a New York City based financial services executive who has specialized in digital client experience at Fortune 500 companies. She serves on the board of Dress for Success Northern NJ, an organization dedicated to economic empowerment of women by providing the development tools to thrive in work and life.