Today we are doing things a little differently on the podcast. I'm going to be replaying an episode from Denene Millner, who shared her experience with pregnancy and childbirth as a black woman in America back in 2016 on The Birth Hour. But first I'm going to share some clips from NPR's Code Switch podcast which recently covered this topic. NPR reports that, "black women in the United States are 243 percent more likely than white women to die of pregnancy or childbirth related causes. There's evidence that shows this gap is caused by the "weathering" effects of racism. Weathering is a term coined for stress-induced wear and tear on the body." This statistic is true across all socioeconomic classes because "it's a type of stress for which education and class provide no protection."
Today's birth story features Denene Millner, who shares her experience giving birth to her daughter at a teaching hospital in Harlem, NY. Denene had a doctor that she loved, the support of her husband, and made plans ahead of time for what she thought would be a great hospital birth experience. Unfortunately, she was treated like a second-class citizen for the majority of her time at the hospital. In this episode, she shares her story and discusses some of the issues that many black women face when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth in America.
This episode is sponsored by The Birth Hour's Know Your Options Childbirth Course and Back-2-Work Breastfeeding Course. Find out more here!
Lisa always knew that she wanted a home birth, but she never anticipated having a marathon labor that would require extra support, including visits to the acupuncturist, the chiropractor, and the hospital. She eventually delivered her perfect daughter at home after over 75 hours of labor with her superstar support team.
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Before becoming a mom, Jessica had few expectations about pregnancy, birth, or motherhood. Her only close friend that had given birth did so unmedicated, and most of the language in her birth classes and the surrounding Brooklyn community was largely about "going natural," followed unconditionally by breastfeeding. But her journey took a different turn—she had epidurals for the births of both of her daughters, and breastfed neither. Both births, she says, were empowering experiences thanks to a trusty team of medical providers.
Jessica concedes that postpartum was much more challenging. She struggled early on with breastfeeding and experienced a lot of formula feeding judgement—both from other mothers, and herself. She was also surprised by how many people demean a "medicated" birth as being not natural. It's one of the reasons she's so committed to sharing a wide range of women's pregnancy, birth, and motherhood experiences on her website Well Rounded.
Cristian and Lena struggled to conceive for three years. After one-and-a-half years of trying they sought help through the fertility clinic, which diagnosed Lena with PCOS and an under-active thyroid. After proceeding through all the appropriate tests (like checking for fallopian tube blockage, semen checks, and ruling out all other possible causes) they embarked on the very basic fertility care: Letrozol (similar to Clomid). After trying 3 rounds of Letrozole, they fell pregnant in November 2016.
With the myriad health issues Lena had (asthma, hypothyroidism, hasimotos disease, PCOS and allergies) there was some talk of needing special care on the mainland, which would make her island-based homebirth out of the picture. However, Lena had a very special and amazing midwife who looked deep into the “rules” and said that, provided things were carefully monitored, they could stay with midwifery care on the island. A homebirth was planned, and Lena did many things to promote a very healthy pregnancy in order to keep her dream a reality. The thought of having to travel by boat to get to a birth center or hospital while in labor was unbearable for Lena.
At 9 days over-due, Lena went into labor on a Sunday afternoon at 1pm. The midwife arrived at 3pm, and by then labor was in full swing. Her contractions were intense and back- to-back with little to no breaks in between. Once 10cm dilation was reached, Lena's midwife helped baby get past a small cervical lip and then performed a very nifty maneuver to help baby drop and get past the pubic bone that he appeared to be stuck on. Moments later, Lena's waters gushed everywhere and pushing commenced. 45 minutes later (10 hours of labor + 45 minutes of pushing) baby was here at 10:36pm. Cristian caught baby and announced the sex.
Lena suffered a 3rd degree tear and was stitched up nicely by her midwife shortly after. The evening closed with a delicious cheese toastie and bubbles in bed to celebrate.
Birth of Vienna—December 08, 2015: Amber planned an unmedicated hospital birth with her first daughter Vienna using Vanderbilt Midwives & a volunteer doula. She found herself in the midst of transition feeling ill-prepared for coping through the pain & highly disappointed with the lack of care from the midwife on call. With the help of her doula, she pushed through transition using guided breathing.
However when it came time to push, her baby's heart rate began to decelerate & a resident doctor stepped in with no introduction or warning to perform an aggressive rectal intervention where he inserted his hand into her rectum to force a fast delivery of the baby's head. It was very painful & left her feeling traumatized for months. A different midwife later apologized to Amber and affirmed that the doctor's actions were aggressive & unnecessary. That experience ultimately set Amber on a journey to have an empowered fear-free natural birth at a Birth Center with her second, as well as to become a Birth & Postpartum Doula herself.
Tonya and her husband Evan have three beautiful daughters. Teal who is three, Layne who just turned 2, and Eva is her 4 month old. They reside in a small town in Colorado. Tonya is a former teacher and hair stylist but now is trying to keep up with her daughters as a stay at home mother. She has had three very different births, first was a c-section, second had an epidural VBAC and the last was a natural VBAC, followed by a cesarean hysterectomy due to placenta increta. Tonya is still recovering as she and her husband are adjusting to becoming a family of five.
Allison always knew she wanted to have an unmedicated childbirth; her mom had three, so she assumed that is what she would be able to do as well. Allison and her husband took Bradley Method classes to prepare for childbirth together, and Allison was so excited to experience what her body was made to do. Allison started going to into labor 4 days after her due date, and went to the hospital where she labored overnight and into the next day. Exhausted, Allison ended up getting an epidural and dilated quickly. She pushed for over 3 hours; but, the baby didn't come down, so Allison followed her gut and opted for a c-section. The epidural and spinal block didn't work, so Allison ended up being put under general anesthesia. She woke up to find out that she had delivered a girl: Cora Jo, 9 lbs and 21 inches.
After her traumatic c-section and blood transfusion, Allison knew she had a long road of physical and emotional recovery. After 8 months, Allison was still having nightly flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, so she searched for a local birth trauma therapist. Going to therapy was one of her best decisions as it taught her how to handle the traumatic flashbacks of her birth. Allison shares some of the helpful exercises on the podcast.
With her first pregnancy, Keshia decided on the best OBGYN for her, taking into consideration that she is a type 1 diabetic. Keshia's waters broke shortly after attending a Latin street festival with her fiancé and parents. Back and forth from the hospital, Keshia, exhausted, gave birth to her daughter on her own terms, with a very supportive partner and medical staff after 22 hours of labor. Second time around, having had so many events occur during her pregnancy with her son, Keshia ended up having a calm and tranquil Hypnobirth.
Keshia, a Wedding Photographer with a Bachelor of Exercise Science and Half a Doctor of Physiotherapy, is a type 1 diabetic and mother of two. Keshia and Steve, knowing there was the possibility of fertility challenges ahead, decided to start "not trying not to" have a family in 2014, falling pregnant with there first daughter in January of 2015, and again, with their son in August of 2016. She talks about her journey through both pregnancies, subsequent process of self education and two eventful natural births.
Sarah approached birth wanting whatever type of birth her baby needed to arrive safely; but, she did want to start her labor naturally and hired a doula to help her cope with labor. She ended up having a 33-hour unmedicated hospital birth with a midwife! I loved hearing how despite very little birth-preparation, Sarah completely trusted her doula to guide her through her labor and benefited so much from her doula's knowledge and guidance. She shares some of the positions and tools that were most helpful to her during her long labor at the hospital.