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Childbirth & maternity: Does the UK have a race problem? BBC Stories


I’ve not had one person that I can be like: ‘Oh they were lovely,
I’m so glad I had them during my baby journey’,
because they’ve all just been
pretty rubbish.
We know that black women are much more likely to have
severe complications than white women
so it’s clearly a really important area to focus on and work out why.
The difficulty is that there is no one easy answer. It’s actually a very complex picture.
Like I don’t want to believe that I’m being treated a certain way because of
how I look.
I’m Mars Lord and I am a birth doula.
When you start to talk about
the way you felt you’ve been treated
and people say: ‘No, it’s not racism
it’s not black women, it’s all women, this happens to all women’,
so you’re shut down, you’re silenced and so you say nothing.
It was very scary when I found out I was pregnant with Levi
because I was only 20.
I had like my big birth plan where I was having a water birth
and everything was going to be so beautiful.
Then someone came and then I remember saying to her:
‘I’m going to have my water birth right?’
And she was like: ‘No, we don’t have time for that’.
And I was like: ‘What?’
And she was like: ‘No we have to just get you, get the baby born now
the baby is coming we don’t have any time’.
So we get into a room. There’s a midwife
she comes up to me and she says to me: ‘You’re screaming’.
I was like: ‘It hurts (laughs) like I don’t know what else you want me to do’.
I just wanted to go.
Nobody that I’ve actually come into contact with since I’ve been here has been nice.
I just want to go home.
One of the problems we’ve
identified in our reports
is that a lot of symptoms are
dismissed as due to pregnancy,
when actually they’re quite concerning symptoms.
We need to dismantle the stereotypes.
The stereotype of the angry black woman, the strong black woman.
You know, we need to allow people the freedom to say: ‘I’m struggling in this’
rather than shutting them down and saying: ‘No that’s just the way the system works’.
I was in a wheelchair by the end of my pregnancy and I physically could not give birth
and I was asking for a C-section and I was refused all the way to the very end
when his heart-beat dropped and I couldn’t push him out.
I had three days in labour, and then I had to end up having a C-section after all of that
which was really traumatic.
So if there are no images, there are no people that look like you,
if the education is culturally incompetant, culturally unsafe,
then why would they come in and access your information.
I did go to antenatal classes. It was a good experience, with my husband.
The maternity classes were good. There were good opportunities to ask questions
and it was nice to be in a
room with diverse people
because you could hear different stories.
There must be something going on to cause
the deaths to rise from three times more likely in the previous tri-annual
to five times more likely.
But there are issues that need refining and I think what is lacking
is insightful perspective of the black community.
When I found out I was pregnant with Elijah I was like: ‘That’s it’.
The least interaction I have with hospitals and things, the better I know it will be for me.
But I still had a hospital birth although I knew I didn’t want it.
I was still a bit nervous about the possibilities of having a baby at home
I don’t trust them at all.
Nobody within the maternity field
could convince me that
they had my best interest in heart.
When we’re thinking about why women die there’s two types of ‘why’.
So there’s ‘why’ in terms of did they have heart disease or did they have severe bleeding
but there’s also a ‘why’ in terms of
was the treatment that we gave to these women,
could we treat women better to prevent them dying?
If there is any evidence that she’s not being listened to,
or if the system doesn’t seem to be working for them. So it’s going back
and making sure that we are focusing on those issues.
When you start to talk about the way you felt you’ve been treated
the things that have
happened to you and you say:
‘Actually you know that was really hinky, that was really racist’.
And people say: ‘No it’s not racism
it’s not black women it’s all women.
This happens to all women’, so you’re shut down, you’re silenced and so you say nothing.
If we can accept that education and the police etc.
is all systemically racist and we’re working to change that,
then we need to accept the same of the medical system.
What we have to do is to look
for the main ingredient
that will actually turn the
tide for black women.
I believe part of that is around cultural safety
which not just focuses on the individual woman and her culture
but it focuses on the person who is giving the care as well.
Three babies on, there’s got to be something there hasn’t there?
I can’t just be the most unlucky person.
It’s a weird feeling when you’re supposed to be so happy and things and then you’re just…
it’s overshadowed by the treatment that you get afterwards.
I hope this time around will be a lot better and I’ll have a nice story to tell.

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