13 Ways of Ignoring a Black Woman’s Birth Trauma

Issue No. 4: Black maternal health
words - Phyllisa Smith Deroze

A Black woman
is one.
A Black woman and her husband
are two.
A Black woman, her husband, and their baby
are three.
A Black woman, her husband, their baby, and her birth trauma
are three.

The tears the Black woman shed
the day she gave birth
were nothing compared to
the tears she shed over the years
healing from birth trauma.

The Black woman’s husband didn’t know
what to do or say
with his newborn crying for breastmilk
and his wife crying for mercy

All the birthing books
paint pretty pictures of birth
like rainbows and lilies.
None of the birthing books tell
the Black woman how to
climb out of a postpartum valley.

The midwife, the nurse, and the OBGYN.
Their six eyes watching
for the Black woman’s baby to crown.
Their six eyes blinded
by their mission to deliver a baby.
They don’t see the trauma
their six hands
are creating.

During her delivery
the Black woman demanded to be heard
as her body and ancestral knowledge
directed her path.
Her pleas spit into the air like thunder
but didn’t create
one beat
on the eardrums
of the midwife, the nurse, or the OBGYN.

A Black woman was admitted
to the maternity ward on Tuesday.
A baby was born on Wednesday.
A Black woman, her baby, and her birth trauma
were discharged on Friday.
When a Black woman leaves the hospital,
no one cares if she returns for a postpartum follow-up.

In the delivery room
the medical team checked the weight of her baby
no one checked to see that
the Black woman’s birth trauma
held the heaviest weight.

At the Black woman’s postpartum visit
fingers measured
the status of her stitches
eyes measured
the status of her body
ears could have measured
the status of her emotional recovery.

They saw that the Black woman’s bags
were packed with essentials for a newborn.
They saw that the Black woman’s heart
was ready to greet her first child.
They wrongly assumed that the Black woman
was equipped to handle birth trauma.

Within 32 hours of labor
a Black woman was transformed
into a mother
and a victim of birth trauma.
Family and friends only asked about one transformation.

Research states
one of the major risk factors for
developing birth trauma and postpartum PTSD
is when a woman has had
at least one previous experience with PTSD.
Had they asked the Black woman,
“Have you ever endured a traumatic event?”
She could have told them about
the Atlantic Slave Trade,
Jim Crow,
the Civil Rights Movement,
the Tuskegee experiment,
church bombings,
church shootings,
the crack cocaine epidemic,
the prison industrial complex,
and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Maybe then they could have flagged her properly
as “high risk.”
Instead, her experiences as
a Black woman in America
was like a shadow
seen and not seen,
so she fell deep,
not through a crack,
but through a systemic fault.