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.
How do you feel about being a first-time mom? I've gotten this question so many times now since I’m due in two weeks. I'm very excited and very nervous and anxious. There are a lot of questions going through my mind: Am I going to be a good-enough mom? Is my baby going to like me? What kind of mom will I be? You just want to be the best version of yourself for your baby. And I think that really sums it up for me as I step into motherhood.
I found out I was pregnant on September 1, 2021, and I scheduled a doctor's appointment for two weeks after that to see my OB/GYN, who is white. I went in not knowing what to expect, because I'd never been to an appointment with an OB/GYN. It was completely different than what I anticipated. In the first few appointments, they do explain a couple of things to you like how big the baby is, any health risks, and when the due date is, but after that it was just nothing. On my 7-week appointment, I heard the sound of my baby's heartbeat and then they told me everything was fine and that was it. I was in and out in five minutes and I didn’t feel like I was provided with any information. Especially as a first-time mom, you would expect them to guide you, give you tips and tricks, and give you updates on the stage of your pregnancy. If I’m at 25 weeks, I want them to tell me what my body is going through. Tell me what I should expect. Tell me what is happening with the baby. But they didn't do any of that. I didn’t feel protected or cared for in any way.
That's why I started looking at other options. And I asked around and found out that a lot of Black women felt the same way, and when they turned to doulas or midwives, they got way more education versus just going to their regular OB/GYN appointments. And so that's what I did. I found an incredible doula, Jeanine Rodgers, who is a Black woman, and I also have a midwife team now from Kindred Space LA, and they are also Black-owned.
It has made all the difference.
My doula is an educator to me. She has taught me so much about my body, about my baby, about how I'm going to feel mental-health wise during the birth, and what to expect from the day-to-day as a new mom. She has explained so much to me in the short amount of time that I've known her compared to my entire pregnancy of going to my OB/GYN. She's also the one who encouraged me to look into midwives. My first appointment with my midwives, I was blown away: the appointment lasted about an hour, compared to my short OB appointments.
In my experience, a huge difference between midwives and OB/GYNs is that an OB is solely there for the health and the wellbeing of the baby, whereas a midwife is there for the health and the wellbeing of the mother and the baby. As a birthing person, you need to be taken care of and looked after. My midwives asked about my mental health, they asked me how I was feeling and how I was exercising and taking care of my body. They explained what stage of pregnancy I was in, how my body was going to react, and how I should treat my body in certain stages. They also discussed postpartum care and stressed how necessary it is, things that my OB never discussed with me. But the most important takeaway that I’ve gotten from my doula and my midwives is that I'm in charge. It's my body, it's my baby, and I actually get to say what happens. I wish all Black women knew that going into their birthing experience.
I know there are a lot of Black women who don't know about the options that they have, especially in America. And sometimes they're not accessible to all women. For example, it was actually really hard for me to find a Black doula in LA, which I thought was very strange. It was easier for me to find Black doulas in the New York, Texas, or Atlanta. If you are not familiar with the terms doula or midwife, you probably don't even know that these options are out there. So you just go with the hospital route, because that's just naturally what we are conditioned to default to.
I've decided to give birth at Kindred Space LA, a Black-owned birthing center in Los Angeles.I never planned to go to a birthing center. I didn't even know what one was until my doula introduced me to them a month or two ago. I went into it thinking, That's a little too natural for me. I thought that when you give birth, you just go to the hospital and that’s it.
I found out that a lot of Black women nowadays are opting for birthing centers because it's a safer option. As soon as I stepped into a birthing center, I felt safe, I felt heard. I felt like, These women are really here for my well being. Whereas, at the hospital I felt like I was just another number. I think safety is the most important thing as a Black person and especially as a Black birthing mother. When it comes to Black women, our pain is oftentimes overlooked because it’s like “Oh, you've got to be strong.” But we experience pain in childbirth just like any other person. We deserve to feel safe and protected. At a birthing center, they take their time, they listen to you, they look at your birth plan, and they respect your wishes.
I didn't even know what a birth plan was until I met my doula. It’s basically a plan where you come up with a list of things that you want to do, or that you do not want to do when you are about to give birth. I thought that as soon as you walk into the hospital you just have to say yes to everything that they say. But apparently you can say no! My doula is great at explaining to me why I can say no, and why I can say yes.
I’ll admit, I was nervous in the beginning to give birth in a birthing center, mostly because of the pain. I also didn’t want to be a statistic (like how Black women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women). I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural. Midwives are certified to give you medical attention, but since they can’t administer epidurals, I was wary of the more natural holistic route. I also thought to myself, Oh my God, what if I think I can do this, and then I'm in the moment and I'm in excruciating pain and I want medical intervention? But our bodies are naturally designed to do this. And once I heard someone say that, I thought, If I go into it with a mindset like that, I can do this.
My husband is warming up to the idea of us not giving birth in a hospital – his sisters and aunties and mom all went to the hospital, so he assumed we would, too. He just likes to let me do my thing, because he trusts me. And he has seen how much I've learned throughout the process of having a doula and a midwife, things that he didn't even know, even though he has sisters who've had multiple kids and aunties that have so many kids.
Trusting myself, my gut, and knowing what is best for me are traits I’m hoping to take into motherhood. I think it ties into those initial questions about how I feel being a first-time mom. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself and instill that into my child. I hope that by showing my child the best version of me, they become a better version for themselves as well. I want to allow myself to make mistakes, not be too hard on myself, and teach my kid that it's okay to make mistakes. I also want to be a softer parent to my kid and show them that their parents can be a safe space. I was raised as a Black Muslim girl in Europe, and it was not a soft environment. I was not allowed to have a big personality, or to dream big. You have to follow the rules by the book, especially if you are Black, and especially if you are Muslim. And this goes for your school environment, work environment, and the people around you. Everyone had a very limited outlook on life. It's like, Okay, this is what you do if you are Black and Muslim, and you can't do anything outside of that. Just go to school, finish school, get married, then settle down and have some kids. Get a nine to five, a regular office job. And that's it. Don't do anything else in life.
You're taught to be hard on the outside. You have a lot of obstacles coming your way, so there's not a lot of room for soft love or tenderness. I want my kid to know what it’s like to grow up in a soft, loving household, and it's okay to grow up in a soft environment. You don't always have to build up walls for yourself. You don't always have to be ready to fight. You don't always have to be on guard. It's okay to allow softness and gentleness into your life.
I want new moms to be soft, to be nicer to ourselves and to ask: What would you tell a new mom? Tell yourself that. And just love on your baby and love on yourself too, because at the end of the day, we have the power. And we should never forget that.
When I moved to New York, it opened my eyes and showed me different types of women who looked like me — Black, Muslim, and doing amazing things — and who were not held back by their cultures, their environment, or their school systems. Even though things in America aren't the greatest either, I was shown that despite those obstacles, you can still do amazing things. And you can do it while being a mother. When I moved, for the first time I had the freedom to just be loud. To be a loud Black girl. To dream bigger, and do whatever I want to do when it comes to my career and my goals. I think I found a piece of myself that I probably always had in me when I moved in New York. She's very non-apologetic, she's a go-getter, she says, "I work on my own time. I'm not here to please anybody." And I think she’s the person who is choosing to give birth on her terms.
As told to Kathleen Newman-Bremang. This interview has been condensed from its original transcription.