A few years ago I was honored to speak at Blogher with Merck for Mothers. The panel was about maternal health outcomes globally as well as in the United States. As I have mentioned so many times on this blog, the United States leads the developing world with maternal health deaths. This number is exaccerbated by the sheer number of black women who die from pregnancy and delivery complications.
One of the key points we honed in on during the panel was the importance of women being advocates for themselves with their healthcare providers when they feel something is wrong. But, that is not always easy. Take Serena Williams for example. She basically had to beg doctors and nurses to get a CT scan to see if her lung had blood clots which she routinely got as an athlete. They finally relented and what did they find? Blood clots in her lungs. Serena saved her own life.
Many women, especially black women, are not afforded the opportunity to simply get a doctor or nurse to believe that they do not feel well and oftentimes their lives are hanging in the balance. In fact, NPR and ProPublica gathered over 200 stories from black women who felt that they had been “devalued and disrespected by medical providers” during their pregnancies.
I regularly watch a Youtube channel called R&L Life, a cute family channel out of Florida. The mother, Rachael, recently delivered her son and a few days later she had preeclampsia symptoms with massive swelling and high blood pressure. She and her husband went to her doctor only to discover she could have a seizure at any time because of her high blood pressure. She needed to be rushed to the hospital for oral medication and a magnesium drip.
Black women have a 60 percent increased rate of preeclampsia during pregnancy and after delivery. Even Beyonce, one of the richest women in the world, experienced preeclampsia after delivering her twins.
As I watched the R&L Life video I thought how giving it was for them to share their story despite its difficult nature. Rachael took her health into her own hands knowing instinctively something was wrong. This is exactly what so many health practitioners and maternal health activists say – advocate for yourself!
Oftentimes women try to ignore the symptoms they have or simply don’t know what pregnancy and delivery complication symptoms are. Rachael advocated for herself. She was already home from the hospital, but if she had waited it could have been much worse. She saved her life and could very well save the lives of other mothers by simply sharing her story.