#BirthingWhileBlack: This African American Mom’s Experience Was Anything But VIP

This story circled headlines in 2012, published in Huffington Post and other mom sites/blogs as an illustration of the treatment of Black women in the maternal health care system.  Denene shares her nightmare experience of giving birth to her first child in a hospital in New York City.

“It didn’t matter how much money I had in my bank account or how good my insurance was, or that I had a ring on my finger, or that I was smart and accomplished, or that I tried to pay my way out of substandard service. At the end of the day, to almost everyone in that hospital, I was just another black girl pushing out another black baby and neither of us deserved to be treated with dignity or respect, much less special.”

Despite an incredible birthing experience facilitated by my personal angel/ob-gyn, from almost the moment my baby took her first breath, her mother was treated like a 14-year-old drug-addicted welfare queen, there to push out yet another daddy-less baby. Seriously.

  • They tested my newborn for drugs (though I’ve never taken an illicit substance in my entire life) without my consent—something I later found out hospitals do at disproportionately higher rates with black babies than white ones.
  • Despite that I paid for the private room and meals, I was immediately put in a massive post-birth room with three other women and their newborns. I was moved only after I asked why I wasn’t in a private room—a question that elicited scowls and foot-dragging from the nurse until she bothered to check my paperwork to see that, indeed, I’d paid for a private room. It took three hours for my room to be changed.
  • Once in the private room, the nurses disappeared for nine hours! Seriously. Nine. I had no diapers. No idea how to breastfeed properly (and no bottle or milk to feed my baby if I chose to formula feed). No instructions on what to do to care for my post-birth body (was it okay to walk? Pee? Wash?). Nothing. I seriously thought I was being punished for asking (nicely) for what I’d paid for. When a nurse finally did show up, she came with a “gift bag” full of Similac and coupons for… Similac.
  • The private “suite” was disgusting. The bathroom smelled like cheap, potent cleaning chemicals. The shower tiles were grimy and the shower curtain was full of mold. There wasn’t so much as a picture on the bland walls. (I begged my back-up ob-gyn to let me go home after one night; thank God, she signed off on it.)
  • The nursing staff was genuinely surprised (!) that the guy by my side, Nick, was my husband—and actually said that stupid-ish out loud.
  • Our special meal arrived only after we pointed out to the nurses that the fees we paid included it, and by the time it got to us, our dinner was cold and our champagne (a tiny hand-held bottle we could have finished with one big sip from the straw) was warm.

Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


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