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The Unexpected Loss Of My Son Put Me On The Frontlines Of Reproductive Justice

Unbothered's Birth Rights acknowledges inspiring mothers and showcases the beautiful diversity and depth of Black parenthood. As Black birthing people continue to reconsider what motherhood looks like, we are spotlighting Black maternity, reproductive health, and exploring cultural conversations on re-parenting ourselves and the next generation.
It was the unexpected loss of my son that put me on the frontlines to defend Black birthing people and their babies. 
I was 29 and I’d just become pregnant. My boyfriend and I weren’t making much money at the time, so I enrolled in Medi-Cal. I learned that with coverage in California’s Medicaid program, I could go practically anywhere for pregnancy care. Though we lived in Inglewood, I chose Beverly Hills because that’s where rich white women went, so I thought that’s where I’d get the best care. 
I was very misled and later realized my doctor was absolutely cold. While I didn’t expect him to be warm or caring then, I know now that those type of providers do exist.
He was a doctor who took notes, nodded his head and commented here and there. When I started to tell him about the uneasy feeling I was getting in my stomach at around four months, he didn’t pay it much attention. I’d call to try to get seen, and his team would tell me that it was morning sickness. Because it was my first pregnancy, I trusted their words.
My water broke at 20 weeks. 
Photographed by Djeneba Aduayom
Norblack Norwhite dress; J Norahz earrings. 
I was at the doctor’s office, and my family surrounded me. My mother was there. She and I were both calm. I tried to remain optimistic and not panic. But I watched the Black men in my life break down immediately. My now husband. My father. My father-in-law. It was clear that they were traumatized. As my protectors, they could not protect me from what was happening. 
The doctors said, “We can’t save the baby,” but I didn’t process it all right away. Once I pushed my son out, everything changed. I started asking for someone to help me. An angel nurse was there to save me — a Black woman who I believe was not a real person, but an actual angel. 
She told me they’d have to take the baby, that “the baby’s spirit is gone on.” The angel nurse helped me hold my son. She said, “You'll regret not holding the baby if you decide to later more than you'll regret holding the baby if you didn’t want to hold it.” 
This moment would influence the rest of my life — how I’d choose my care providers, where I’d go work, and what I’d teach my children about themselves. It also influenced my family. We’d just gone through loss together. So, we healed together, too. 

I find justice in helping Black birthing people understand that they can have the sacred birth that I couldn’t have.

There were times when we talked about what happened. Other times, we sat in silence or wrote down what we were feeling. Sometimes, my husband and I would just hug. Even today, I still don’t think he’s fully healed because he and everyone else were so focused on me. I tried my best to focus on him, but I was also in deep pain. 
Eventually, I became pregnant with our second child, Judah. This time, I was hungry to know where the folks were who were supporting Black mothers. With the help of my mom, I found Great Beginnings for Black Babies; a local non-profit organization focused on healthy birth outcomes. They opened my mind to reproductive justice, taught me about my pregnant body and informed me of the nationwide maternal and infant mortality crisis. 
After empowering me, the organization brought me on staff. I’ve been in the reproductive health field ever since. 
During my second pregnancy, I was hospitalized and put on bed rest for two months after receiving a cervical cerclage. Those months were challenging. While my husband slept overnight at the hospital daily before going to work during the day, I felt like I’d lost friends. I was being checked often by medical staff because my son was having kidney troubles. 
I started contracting two months before Judah’s due date. When I told the nurse, she gave me some medicine, but also discredited the pain I was experiencing. She said the monitor wasn’t reflecting contractions. After forcing her to look, I was rushed into an emergency c-section because my umbilical cord had prolapsed. 
With my third child, Justice, I’d developed a strategy for how I wanted to get my reproductive justice — I chose a Black woman OB/GYN. I was put on bedrest again, but I was taken care of. During my full-term c-section the OB/GYN played “Earth, Wind and Fire,” joked, sang, and smiled at me. 
Both of my children are healthy. 
During those pregnancies, I went to specialists. I took hormones. I was educated on my options and the side effects.That’s what reproductive justice is to me — doing what I want to get the outcome that I desire in this reproductive cycle. 

I’m stepping forward in the spirit of my parents’ activism by doing something about the wronging of Black families by the medical system. And I’m planting seeds of understanding in the next generation by educating my children about their bodies and where they came from. 

As a maternal and infant health advocate, I find justice in helping Black birthing people understand that they can have the sacred birth that I couldn’t have. Over the years, I’ve held space for others during group facilitation and provided peer-to-peer mental health support. My goal is to get them to take care of themselves. I’ve done policy work, advocating for doula services and paid leave. 
And while policy is important, we have to understand that we can take care of ourselves. The community has the solutions. We have ancestral knowledge that we can build on with more training, so we can go back to doing what we know how to do. 
Now, as the Sr. Manager of Maternal and Infant Health at the California Black Women’s Health Project, I focus heavily on collaboration between community organizations. This looks like connecting doulas and physicians to have conversations and bringing together medical and art students with community organizations. 
This work is so necessary, but is sadly underfunded. I wish that we could change the landscape of philanthropy, so people who are working to eliminate the public health crisis of Black infant and maternal mortality wouldn’t have to beg, jump through hoops, or compete.
The world has so much potential. 
When I imagine a world in which Black birthing people have everything they need, I imagine we have as many birthing centers as we do hospitals and as many community midwives as we do OB/GYNS. Our neighbors, pastors, and best friends have doula-like knowledge. Every birthing person understands that they can curate a sacred and joyous birth experience exactly how they want it to be. Whether funded through insurance or paid out-of-pocket, they have the means to support their vision. 
In the meantime, I’m carrying on in the lineage of my grandmother, who was a mother of nine children. She was fierce and inspired me to become a mother. I’m stepping forward in the spirit of my parents’ activism by doing something about the wronging of Black families by the medical system. And I’m planting seeds of understanding in the next generation by educating my children about their bodies and where they came from. 
These conversations empower them from the beginning to have bodily autonomy, which I believe is at the crux of reproductive justice for them.
As told to Alexa Imani Spencer. This interview has been condensed from its original transcription. 

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