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.”
Denene Millner of My Brown Baby shares her experience
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.
Sadly, Denene’s experience was not a unique, as this is a common thread among the maternal healthcare system in the U.S. Too many black mothers are not only being treated poorly but are dying from preventable causes.
The Center for Reproductive Rights put together the Black Mamas Matter: A Toolkit for Advancing the Human Right to Safe and Respectful Maternal Health Care, in response to this problem and spoke out saying, “the risk of dying from a pregnancy complication should not depend on one’s race or zip code. But the reality is that women in the South are at much higher risk than women in other areas of the country. A Black woman in Mississippi is almost twice as likely to die as a White woman in Mississippi or a Black woman in California.” Every mother deserves safe and respectful maternal health care.
Thank you so much to Denene for sharing her experience and for helping inform women about these issues. You can connect with Denene on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or her website MyBrownBaby.
Denene Millner Bio
New York Times best-selling author Denene Millner is a hotly sought after award-winning journalist whose insightful and captivating pieces have secured her foothold in the entertainment, parenting, social media and book publishing industries.
The former Parenting magazine columnist has penned 25 books, including Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, co-written with Steve Harvey, an upcoming memoir with iconic actress Taraji P. Henson and The Vow, the novel on which the hit Lifetime original movie, “With This Ring” was based.
She also is the founder and editor of MyBrownBaby.com, a critically acclaimed blog that examines the intersection of parenting and motherhood through the multi-cultural experience. Under Millner’s leadership, MyBrownBaby has won numerous awards, solidifying it as one of the most respected and celebrated niche blogs on the web.
Her work across the parenting, social media and publishing spaces led to her recent founding of Denene Millner Books, her new imprint that will publish books about African American kids, created by African American writers and illustrators. Millner also frequently contributes as an entertainment writer and essayist for various national publications, including Essence, Ebony, Family Circle and Redbook; her extensive broadcast experience includes appearances on The Today Show, The Meredith Vieira Show, HLN, MSNBC, NPR and the Rachel Ray show. The former political reporter and entertainment journalist lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two daughters.
Resources on Black Women Giving Birth in the U.S.
Know Your Options Childbirth Course
This episode was sponsored by The Birth Hour’s Know Your Options Childbirth Course and Back-2-Work Breastfeeding Course. Enroll for a limited time today!
Supportive Medicated Hospital Birth
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.
Postpartum, Breastfeeding + Bottle Feeding
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.
Jessica Pallay Bio
Jessica Pallay is the editor and co-founder of Well Rounded, a website focused on modern pregnancy & parenting, where she oversees editorial content and direction. Jessica is has been quoted about parenting and pregnancy in a wide range of publications including Vogue.com, Huffington Post, heymama and more, and has served as an expert panelist at industry events. She lives in Brooklyn with her two daughters, Libby & Elsie, and her husband Andrew. Read more on WellRoundedny.com and follow her at @wellroundedny and @jpals25 on Instagram.
BabyGlimpse by HumanCode
This episode is sponsored by HumanCode. HumanCode is a personal genomics company that developed the first DNA-powered app, BABYGlimpse. It gives couples a fascinating preview of their children’s potential genetic traits ranging from ancestry to eye color to behaviors and preferences. They are currently running a promotion: 2 kits for $99.98! Visit BABYGlimpse.com to find out more.
Hospital Birth with Rectal Intervention
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.
Baby + Co Fear-Free Birth Center Birth
Birth of Lydia—October 03, 2017: Amber planned her second natural birth at the Baby + Co Birth Center in Nashville. She immersed herself deep into the birth world and sought a highly educated and empowered redemptive unmedicated birth. Amber said she didn’t just want a good birth experience, she wanted the best birth possible. She wanted fear-free, pain-free, orgasmic, supernatural—ALL the things! In addition to listening to a birth story a day, Amber created a birth team around her with her husband and sisters and gave them each roles & tools to help her cope through labor.
Her plans were shaken however when her baby turned out to be in a persistent transverse lie, which can only be delivered through C-Section. She took the reigns again and used Spinning Babies, Acupuncture, Webster Chiropractic, and Moxibustion to help her baby turn at 37 weeks. Amber went on to have her dream birth. She says she got all the things and then some! Her favorite memory was when her midwife finally checked her and she turned out to be 10 cm. Amber remembers laughing out loud and exclaiming “This is awesome!” because she still hadn’t felt a moment of fear or pain and didn’t even know she went through transition yet! Her daughter Lydia was born 20 minutes later in the water. Amber’s first words after catching her baby were “That’s how God designed birth to be! That was perfect!”
Amber Keeler Bio
Amber Keeler is a Birth & Postpartum Doula living in Middle Tennessee with her husband Nathan and two daughters, Vienna & Lydia. She is also a birth & lifestyle blogger at HandyApron.com and is an active Instagramer @doulaamber. Amber is passionate about helping women take charge of their birth experience and believes that with the right preparations, every kind of birth can be a positive empowering one! You can also check out Amber’s Handy Apron blog.
How to be your own Doula
Coping Tools & Techniques for a Fear-Free Pain-Free Childbirth
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Three Birth Stories
Tonya’s first pregnancy ended in a misscarriage at 10 weeks, which lead to a D&C, continuous bleeding, and a hysteroscopy.
After her miscarriage, Tonya had a rough second pregnancy, fighting with all-day and all-night (morning) sickness all the way until the 3rd trimester. Also, the baby continued to be on the smaller side which lead to many ultrasounds. After having a miscarriage, Tonya was relieved to be able to see her baby so often, but she was always in the breech position. Every ultrasound, from 20 weeks on, she was in the same position. Baby was monitored for fluid levels, growth, and head size. Because she continued to be breech, Tonya reluctantly started planning a scheduled c-section. Tonya had always hoped for a vaginal birth, but she quick;y realized things don’t always go as planned. The day they went to the c-section, they did an ultrasound to make sure she still hadn’t turned and, sure enough, she was still in the same position; so, they continued on with the c-section. Everything went smoothly and they met their firstborn, Teal.
Second Birth Story – VBAC with Epidural
With Tonya’s next birth, she was determined to have a VBAC, but at the same time, she just wanted her baby here safely, whatever way that was going to be. Tonya didn’t want to put so much pressure on herself that she would be disappointed in how her baby was birthed. She was very nervous about what was going to happen.
Tonya tried everything in the books to have the baby on time because her care providers encouraged having the baby around 40 weeks or shortly after for a VBAC. Tonya was walking, even running, trying to get the baby out after 39 weeks. It felt to her like it was never going to happen and she started feeling defeated at the end of 39 weeks. On the night of 39 weeks 4 days, she got a phone call that her grandmother had fallen and was life-flighted to the hospital. By 3 a.m., she got the call that she should drive down to Denver (about an hour away), to say her goodbyes. Tonya’s mother-in-law came to watch Teal as Tonya, her husband, and her brother headed down to Denver at 4 a.m., arriving at 5.
As soon as they pulled into the hospital, Tonya started having diarrhea with contractions beginning shortly after. They were spaced out 10-15 minutes, but throughout the rest of the morning the contractions grew closer and closer. By around 1 p.m., Tonya’s mother and husband told her it was time to get going to the hospital. Tonya was afraid it wasn’t really happening (she wasn’t in as much pain as she was expecting; she just felt uncomfortable), so she hesitated to go in. Finally, they headed to the hospital at about 2:30pm to get checked. She was dilated to 5 cm with contractions coming about every 5 minutes so was admitted.
She was asked about an epidural, and the nurse on hand highly recommended it, especially being a VBAC patient, so she went ahead with it. Immediately, the epidural caused her to get sick, lose her hearing, and get dizzy, but the anesthesiologist eventually got it balanced out to where Tonya regained her hearing and started feeling better again. At about 7:30pm it was push time. Tonya felt like she was struggling to push, asked for a mirror, and eventually got the baby out at around 9:00pm. And they met their 2nd daughter, Layne. Within a half-hour of Layne being born, Tonya’s grandmother passed away. It truly felt like she was holding on until she heard Tonya’s baby’s name, who was named after her. A very bittersweet day.
Unmedicated VBAC & Emergency Hysterectomy
With her next baby, again, Tonya was determined to have a VBAC and felt much more confident this time. But, she really hated everything about the epidural so she really wanted to have an unmedicated birth this time. She watched many youtube videos and listened to the Birth Hour daily to help her prepare. At 39 weeks 4 days, Tonya woke up at midnight with her first contraction. She tried to sleep through them, but they progressively got more painful and closer together. At about 3am, she decided she better eat something in case she wasn’t going to be able to eat again for awhile.
At 4am, she showered and her husband started getting up and packing, thinking they should head to the hospital soon. Shortly after the shower, the contractions seemed to taper off, so Tonya laid back down and encouraged her husband to head to work. Once her older children woke up, the contractions were anywhere from around 7 to 12 minutes apart, so she fed them breakfast and decided to take them on a walk. The walk seemed to pick the contractions back up so when her husband called around 10am to check up on her, he decided it was time to head back home. They went to the hospital at 11:30am and were admitted because she was 6 cm dilated with contractions coming about every 3-5 minutes by then.
She had planned on walking, bouncing, and possibly sitting in the tub for labor, but the room they were admitted to did not have a tub. She also discussed with her doctor using the TENS unit and/or laughing gas for pain management before going to an epidural. Tonya tried the TENS unit, but within about 5 minutes of that, it was push time. She had about 5 big pushes and baby Eva was born. Tonya felt amazing after this birth! Like she could go run a marathon! She was in awe of her baby and the whole experience.
Then, the doctors started trying to get her placenta out. It was not coming out normally, so the doctors started kneading Tonya’s stomach. Still, it wasn’t coming, so they started pressing harder and harder. It got so painful, Tonya had to hand her baby off because she was in excruciating pain. Still, the placenta wouldn’t detach. Finally, after an hour of trying to manually extract the placenta, the doctor determined it was time for a D&C. Tonya was able to nurse her baby and introduce her to her sisters, mother, and mother-in-law and then they prepped her for what was supposed to be a 30 minute surgery. About 8 hours later, Tonya woke up on life support. Eventually she learned she had nearly bled to death and in order to stop the bleeding, the doctor had to perform a cesarean hysterectomy.
Tonya Trostel Bio
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.
The Birth Hour
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Unplanned Cesarean Birth Under General Anesthesia
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.
Birth Trauma Therapy
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.
Allison Lynch Bio
Allison lives in Madison, WI with her husband Jesse and their one year old daughter, Cora. She is a research administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Allison and her family love spending as much time as they can outdoors, even in the cold Wisconsin winters. Although her birth ended up in a traumatic emergency c-section, she is an advocate for natural birth and is very passionate about postpartum support and finding help when you need it. She is active in her local birth and new mother communities, so if you are local she can connect you. Connect with Allison on Instagram @AlliLynch14.
How to Heal a Bad Birth
Heal your Birth Story
Madison Postpartum Collective
Today’s episode was sponsored by Ergobaby. Ergobaby creates innovative solutions to meet the needs of today’s parents. With over 30 baby carriers in five different categories, Ergobaby is dedicated to building a global community of confident parents with smart, ergonomic solutions that enable and encourage bonding between parents and babies. At the end of today’s episode I spoke to Laura from Ergobaby about what makes them unique and the features of their newest stretchy wrap for those early days with baby. We will also be giving away a wrap over on Instagram so be sure to check that out as well!
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 Gesundheit Bio
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.
Melissa Spilstead Hypnobirthing (online option)
Why Not Home
This episode is sponsored by Crane Humidifiers. Crane’s colorful humidifiers are a nursery necessity to help relieve your baby’s tiny congested nose, which can make feeding and sleeping a struggle for both baby and mom. A happy baby is a healthy baby. Crane is generously offering $10 OFF and free shipping on all of their 1 gallon adorable animal shaped humidifiers and drop humidifiers with the code BIRTH17 at www.crane-usa.com.