How to Advocate for Yourself

Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
words - betty fermin

Advocating for yourself as a Black parent means more than making a birth plan. While all parents need to decide on the use of an epidural, the desire to have skin-to-skin contact, or whether to breastfeed as soon as possible, Black parents must also consider how their racial identity can affect their quality of care. Learning how to navigate a system that is unfair will help keep you and your baby safe and healthy.

As you advocate for your quality of care, do not be afraid to continue to ask your medical team questions, and to remind them of your goals and preferences.

As you advocate for your quality of care, do not be afraid to continue to ask your medical team questions, and to remind them of your goals and preferences.

Remember, you have the right to informed consent and refusal.  Any time a health care provider or member of the medical staff wants to perform a procedure or treat you, even something as simple as putting in an IV line, they have an obligation to explain to you the procedure, the reason for its suggestion, and the associated benefits and risks. Then they must wait for your decision about whether or not you agree. 

To show the doctor you are listening to them, repeat back what they said or ask clarifying questions. More importantly, say, “I don't agree,” if you don’t. Even if the only reason you don't agree is because it doesn’t sit well with you, that’s still a valid reason. This is about your safety and comfort, so you should not give consent until you get the answer or information you need. You don’t have to just accept the care that is given. Your voice in your own care is important.

Ask your doctors’ questions, such as:

  • Why did you go into this field?

  • What are your feelings about the disparities in health care for African American women and babies?

  • How long do you spend with patients and how can parents contact you with questions and concerns?

  • How soon will you respond to emails or phone calls?

  • What are my treatment options?

  • What are the benefits and risks of this treatment for myself and my baby?

  • What if I don’t have the treatment recommended? Are there alternatives?

  • Will I need to take medication? If so, what are the possible side effects?