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  • Donna Nkurunziza

The Essence of a Black Mother

Imagine that you are a young, brilliant woman on the edge of motherhood. Your ebony skin crinkles at the thought that you are going to be a mother soon, something that your baby girl’s constant kicking never lets you forget. You are nine months pregnant, and every night as your tenacious body aches, you are reminded of the fact that one day she is going to be here, nuzzled between your two breasts.

The name you picked out, your grandmother’s name, reminds you of the strong ‘other-ring’ that helped raise you into the strong black woman you are today. The nursery is already painted baby yellow, your nephew Devon’s favorite color, and when you asked him why, he simply replied in his tender four year old tone “because it is the color of the sun, which is the true source of all life. Without the sun, nothing can truly grow.”

At your baby shower, your mom gave you a pair of booties that were once your own, and it will be the first item that you pass onto your newborn daughter. As your hands caress the individual folds of the worn out lilac yarn, you hear your mom’s voice circa 1996 echoing, telling you to “run fast with your feet, but walk slowly with your pride.”

January 14th. It is a bitter winter day in the town of Fayetteville, and as you furiously attempt to roll yourself out of bed a sudden wetness appears beneath your bottom. Immediately, you feel your body burgeoning itself as an excruciating pain overcomes you for what seems like an eternity. Your unfastened scream can be heard from the kitchen table, as your husband sprints up the two-story stairs to see what happened.

As soon as your eyes meet his, your body feels a sense of calm, and just like that your first contraction has passed. You feel a moment of relief, which is promptly met with the realization that your baby girl is making her way into this world, and your body is her sole vessel.

The next thing you know, the bleak white walls of the hospital meet your eyes with a spitting despise. Each contraction comes faster, and your body feels as if it is ripping in two. Your face toughens as each contraction becomes closer and closer, and through the unbearable pain, you see the eyes of the middle-aged white nurse glare at you with an unspeakable annoyance.

A tall, slender white male walks into the room as almost to silence you immediately and bleakly introduces himself as “Dr. Davis.” He talks to the nurse immediately about the status of your baby, and not once do either of them make eye contact with you.

The words of your grandmother echo in your head: “Neva trust a white doctor. Phew, the way they used to tear up our ancestors’ bodies without a swig of liquor? They won't even listen when ya screaming.” The feeling of isolation rushes over you with a cold ignorance, as you slowly start to realize that the decision on how your baby will be delivered is no longer your own.

“She is 8 centimeters dilated,” your nurse quickly says, and even before you can get the chance to push, the doctor replies, “We need to take her into the operating room.” Your stomach drops, and your heart starts pounding at the speed of light. This wasn't the plan. This was never the plan.

Suddenly the arms of the hospital bed crank up, and a team of five nurses start preparing you for surgery, while one starts rambling about all the complications associated with delivering a baby via C-section to your husband. You are forcibly laid on the operating table, as if you were a piece of stone and the doctor a sculptor, waiting to tear into your chiseled essence.

Voices keep echoing, going in and out, you phase in and out of consciousness as the gas mask is slowly placed on your sweating face. The last thing you hear is the crisp sharpening of the scalpel, and then everything goes dark. Margret, your baby girl's name was supposed to be Margret.

Many Black women, who have hopes of starting families and providing their children with amazing lives never get to see their dreams come to fruition due to the fact that they, unfortunately, pass away before, during, or after giving birth. The pain that their children, partners, and family members have to deal with is heartbreaking, and there is truly a lost generation of Black women across America due to this travesty.

When I was deciding on how to approach this topic, I truly had to ask myself, “Why don't they care?” By “they,” I am referring to the white supremacist society that is rooted in the belief that “White is right,” and anything creeping the other extreme is incredibly wrong.

At its core, maternal life is as precious as any other and should be protected as such. The pure feat of bringing a child into this world is beyond what words could describe, yet even completing that is a difficult task for Black mothers in the US. The fact is that Black women die at rates three to four times higher than their white counterparts.

This is an issue that needs to be fixed because the various factors that contribute to this entail more death sentences for Black women as a whole. We as a society need to bring attention to this issue and find ways to combat these statistics in order to preserve multiple generations of future Black women.

The racism that is present in the medical community dates back to the slave era in American history where white doctors would routinely practice on Black women to advance their medical knowledge of female anatomy.

This would be done all without the consent of Black women with no pain medications at all, which would result in the added assumption that Black women did not feel pain at the rate at which white women did.

This has also been reiterated in medical textbooks, which has led many generations of American doctors and nurses to believe that Black women are simply complaining too much when they feel pain.

In addition to this, when Black women do ask for pain medication during childbirth, they can be accused of wanting more drugs because they are seen as addicts. Misogynoir, which is the unique discrimination that Black women face due to their race and gender, manifests itself greatly in the medical industry.

This is a serious problem in the medical community due to the fact that the people who are supposed to be helping patients get better are actually the ones perpetuating the actions that will lead to the inevitable deaths of Black women.

Thousands of Black women over the course of American history have unfortunately died due to various complications during childbirth, yet their stories never see the light. Two stories that have spanned the nation and brought attention to this issue are those of Shalon Irving and Serena Williams.

These two women, one a prominent medical researcher in the Coast Guard and the other a world-renowned tennis player, both experienced complications with their deliveries. Shalon Irving was a Black pregnant mother who died of heart complications after the delivery of her daughter Soleil, and her death could have been easily prevented through a variety of screenings taken prior to her discharge.

Her mother, Wanda Irving, has been recounting her story in hopes that more awareness will come of it. Wanda now carries the memory of her daughter as she raises her granddaughter Soleil, in hopes that she can somehow continue the legacy that her own daughter wanted for her.

The families of these Black women who tragically die during childbirth have to go entire lifetimes without a pivotal person in their family dynamic, and Soleil will unfortunately always have a space that no one can truly fill—that of her mother, Shalon.

In Serena Williams’ story, her struggle to get medical attention when she felt that something was wrong after the birth of her daughter was incredibly difficult. Williams had a history of blood clots prior to her delivery, and when she felt that something was not right, she asked for a CT scan from a nurse.

Unfortunately, the nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused, and gave Williams a doppler of her leg instead. She had to fight to receive a CT, and when she got one there were multiple blood clots in her system, just as she had thought.

The gross negligence on the part of the medical team could have resulted in Williams’ death and further perpetuated the cycle of loss that Black maternal mortality has created in our society. Change needs to come, and it needs to come now as more Black mothers cannot afford to die at the hands of racist doctors and nurses in the medical community.

In so many ways, being a Black person in America is a death sentence in itself. Everyday, African Americans fight for the chance to even resemble a human being in the eyes of an elitist, white supremacist society. I am faced with the bleak reality that any day could be my last day, as the numerous stares in the multiple places I go creepily remind me that I am the other or just another outsider.

Now, when I think about being a mother—something I have always dreamed about—I am faced with the fact that having a baby as a Black woman is not as easy as it once seemed. When I look through the photos in my baby album, I am starkly reminded of the sacrifice that my mother made to bring me into this world as she herself had a C-section.

A forever scar is left upon her bosom as a sign that she is a survivor, something that I thank her for everyday. A sacrifice as pure as this is something that should be abundantly celebrated, and this makes it even more an more a reason why Black mothers need to be protected.

The more awareness that is brought to this issue means that countless Black mothers will live freely to raise their children just as they had dreamed about. As a Black woman myself, I look forward to the day when I can caress my newborn baby in my arms, as it will not only be the beginning of one new life, but two.

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