I was familiar with the challenges women had with getting pregnant, but the issues associated with maternal health care were not as evident. The multitude of health risks that can become present during pregnancy was not well known to me.
In the third trimester of my second pregnancy, I began to experience extreme swelling and discomfort, not like the typically swollen feet at the end of the day. But swelling that spread from my ankles to my knees. My fingers to my wrist, and finally in my face — for weeks.
It wasn’t until my complaints to my doctor went ignored did I understand how Black women face racial disparities in maternal healthcare. How Black women go unheard, or are written off as not knowing their own bodies. Not only was I ignored by my OBGYN, but I was ignored by two others as well. After prodding my swollen calves, I was told the swelling was “normal.”
Due to the misdiagnosis, we lost our baby girl, and I was near death.
On January 1, 2018 — I should have been enjoying my black-eyed peas and cabbage. Instead, I was rushed to the emergency room after waking to an extreme headache and vaginal bleeding. They couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat, and the words, “that’s the mother’s heartbeat” are still clear in my mind. They are words I would never wish any pregnant woman to hear.
We lost our baby girl, Cali Rose.
The rest of the day, although vivid in my memory, was a blur. I later learned the swelling I complained to my doctor about, the swelling I was told was normal was actually evidence of pre-eclampsia. The swelling was an outward sign of what was going on in my body. My blood pressure had been slowly increasing with each visit to the doctor. Due to the misdiagnosis, we lost our baby girl, and I was near death.
After leaving the hospital, I faced a storm like no other — random outbursts of ugly crying, sleepless nights, deep sorrow, regret, loneliness. Oh, and physical pain, my body had to heal from the emergency c-section.
I had to take the days, weeks, and months that followed one second at a time. I couldn’t focus on much more than that. My plate was too full with all of the emotions. This was different for me because I was the one who liked to be in control of everything.
I was the epitome of a ‘strong Black woman.’
It took losing Cali Rose for me to realize I needed to be gentle with myself. I learned it was okay not to be strong. I could just be me-filled with a full spectrum of varied emotions.
My faith grew stronger, and I turned to self-care in every form imaginable. I ended my high-stress consulting business, journaled, and practiced yoga regularly. I also changed my diet and gave up meat to help with the aftermath of pre-eclampsia.
A little over a year and, just as the fog began to clear, I learned we were pregnant with our “Rainbow baby.” We decided not to publicly share the news, instead choosing to wait it out to ensure all would be well. All was well, and on January 1, 2020, I gave birth to our beautiful baby boy, Langston Lamar, affectionately known as “Bow”-short for Rainbow.
It took losing Cali Rose for me to realize I needed to be gentle with myself. I learned it was okay not to be strong.
The date I thought would forever bring me sorrow now brings me joy. The grief hasn’t ended with his birth, though. There are still moments, days, even when I feel overwhelmed with emotion, but those moments and days are fewer and further between.
As we hit milestones with Bow, I think about what they would have been like with Cali — his dimpled smile, calm laughter, and humming his way to sleep. Would Cali have had a personality like her sister, or be as sweet as her brother? Only God knows.
I continuously remind myself we are fortunate to be blessed with a “Rainbow baby” because I know some women are still suffering through their storm —waiting on their Rainbow.
I pray the disparities in Black maternal health care receive the attention it deserves, and that Black mamas won’t have to suffer the heartache of losing a baby, or families the loss of a mama. Until then, any of my family or friends who share their exciting pregnancy news receive constant check-ins from me to make sure they are okay and to know they have an advocate in their corner.