What the…wait a minute. Since when do doctors double as pigment police? Did my doctor just say what I think she just said?

At first, I thought it was the pain medication, an extra dose of laughing gas accidentally administered with the oxygen, something to that affect, because an educated medical professional criticizing my baby's skin tone just doesn’t happen, right?

Oh, but it did.

My C-section took place on a spring evening in 2006: after an uneventful pregnancy, 12 hours of labor and no progress being made by my daughter down into the birth canal, I was wheeled into the operating room, my anxious first-time-father spouse in tow. As he stood at my shoulder, squeezing my hand to give me strength, Dr. Bonehead (real name changed to protect the ignorant) began the incisions and offered her first dubious observation: “Why Mrs. Charles, you don’t have much fat here at all!”

O…kay, maybe that was meant to be a back-handed compliment of some sort, since pregnant women can be insecure about overdoing the weight. I let that slide. But what Dr. Bonehead uttered right after my daughter appeared was almost enough to levitate me off the operating table: “Wow…” she mused, then there was a long pause. “She’s really…..light-skinned.”

Oh no… she…DIDN’T!

After hearing her lusty cry and my husband’s sigh of relief that she was healthy, I watched as my beautiful, raven-haired newborn was swaddled and poised over my head in my line of blurry vision; as I kissed her before she was whisked away to the nursery, it took me awhile to process what I heard. I’m a Michelle Obama shade of chocolate brown, true enough, and my husband is lighter like Barack Obama. In the course of my full-term pregnancy, during the prenatal care visits, didn’t this woman notice that my husband was a different hue than me and that maybe, just maybe, our baby would end up with a complexion that mirrored either one or the other? How could she, in all of her years on Earth and after probably a decade of medical training, not realize that African-Americans come in more than just a handful of shades? Aside from that, how was that an appropriate statement to make while performing surgery, for crying out loud?

Some would say that the important thing is that my daughter and I emerged healthy, and I do give her props for doing her job well. However, during pregnancy and especially childbirth, a physician should understand that a woman is at her most vulnerable and needs support, not unsolicited commentary. And honestly, would she have made such an off-color observation about a white woman’s child, i.e., “Wow! That baby has some HUGE ears,” or “Ooh, she’s as white as a sheet”?

Probably not.

Did I report her? No—after all, I was engrossed in healing and taking care of my baby once I as discharged—but please believe that I would’ve chosen Dr. Pepper to deliver any future children before entrusting her with that honor again. I’m not naive enough to believe that racism or colorism is a thing of the past, but I never thought that I would be slapped in the face with such insensitivity in the midst of giving birth to my child.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Melody Charles, a freelance entertainment writer and married mother of two, is pregnant with her third child. She’s sure that when this little one is born, her new doctor will know better than to say anything other than, “What a beautiful baby!”

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  1. How awful and insensitive! I have four children and each has a complexion of their own, from warm chocolate-y brown, to sunny and tan. They are all beautiful! I can’t remember if anyone has been foolish enough to say anything like that, but when I was pregnant with number three and in the ER for a pregnancy related condition [very early in my pregnancy] a medical “professional” said to me: ‘Good Lord, girl-when are you going to stop?’ Luckily I was in too much pain to respond, but I promptly decided to have my child at a different hospital.

  2. Wow! Is that unprofessional or what. My youngest daughter was so light, her doctor actually asked me if I was sure she was mine. He told me she looked like a little Eskimo.

  3. Renée aka Mekhismom

    This story is unbelievable. What the hell? It is so disheartening to hear that in this day and age “professionals” are behaving in such a manner.

  4. Hey Denene..I just want to say that I have been a big fan of you and your husband’s writings for many years now. You guys inspired me to start writing again. I have two blogs -“Keith’s Space”
    ( that I write and that my wife edits and “Escapades” ( that features my
    fiction, erotica and poetry and spotlights art by
    african-american artists which is also written by me and edited by my wife. Feel free to visit both of my blogs whenever you get the chance. I will definitely be returning to your site.

  5. What an incredibly ignorant statement to make in such a vulnerable time. I am glad to hear you & baby are both healthy and well. And that a different doctor was chosen for the future. It's unfortunate that some people would behave that way. At least you have that sweet beautiful baby and that is what is most important.

  6. Wow! I don’t know how I would have reacted to that comment. Probably the same way Melody did, but after the fact I would definitely be thinking…WTF! It’s sad that the ignorance of some people can make all of our lives more difficult. What’s sad is that she probably saw absolutely nothing wrong with the comment and has been making these type of comments for years without recourse. It’s our job as non-ignorant people to help the ignorant. I don’t think I would have reported her, but I would explain to her why she can’t be my doctor anymore.

  7. I’m in shock-and I’m *never* shocked, but this got me, true enough. The world is indeed a strange and troubling place at times.

  8. Wow! I can’t believe a doctor would say that to you. How awful and insensitive! Glad you have a new doctor to deliver your third 🙂

  9. Ok, what happened to simply, “Its A Girl”? Are those times behind us? Unbelievable! Some doctors, and people in the medical field period are just… well… ignorant. Although no one commented on my daughter’s pigmentation at birth, some did find it amusing that I was having an anxiety attack on the operating table… and a nurse did manage to pour out a bottle of my hard work (ie, breast milk) and refilled with formula to take to my newborn who had to spend a day in the NICU.

    I am sorry that you had that experience, that any of us mothers have to have experiences like these. Lets just say that I am much more prepared if I am blessed with a second child =)

  10. Oh, you were a good one not to report her. Did you ever say anything to her about her unprofessional comment?

  11. Good afternoon Mommies!

    Thank you for all of your kind words and encouragement. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one simply aghast at the idiocy prevalent in the ob/gyn department, and I did leave a negative on-line review on her local profile. My present doctor, who operates out of the same office as his air-headed collegue, is more sensitive, probably because he has children of his own, and trust me, if HE ever steps out of line, it will be on and poppin’ WAY before he gets to snippin’! :o)

  12. Mouth open to floor while reading this post!! I’m disgusted with stupidity and ignorance from people! ((sigh))

    So glad though that you and baby made it ok 🙂

  13. from the desk of

    Wow…It’s sad to say that I’m not shocked by the comment but I am however surprised that the doctor said it directly to you. What happened to the days when people would make racist comments loud enough for us to hear but not directly to us?

    I hope that your current doctor will say some thing so wonderful and sweet that you will totally forget about Dr. Bonehead’s lack of bedside manners.

  14. Oh dear, it’s shocking that a doctor would allow that to come from her mouth! Totally unprofessional and inappropriate. So disappointing to hear that!!!

  15. WOW!! rude! Two..if she's a doctor you would THINK she would know that pigment is different for every baby (black or white)!I'm proud of you for holding your tongue…something I couldn't do. I actually had an interesting & rude remark made to me as well when my son was born. My husband & I adopted our beautiful boy @ birth. His birth mother is white, birth father is black (no idea what hue he is…doesn't matter to us). My husband & I are white…so I assume the nurse felt justified in saying this to us…she was WRONG! We waited 14 yrs for him & lost many babies in the process of trying to conceive on our own, so I was mommy lion!! We were in the delivery room & then we were taken with our baby to our own room right after. She comes in & asks, " you know your baby is biracial?" I give her a strange look. She says, "Because I don't know if you noticed he has different coloring in certain areas…and the birth mother never told us!! We are not able to tell you how dark he will be." I'm SO stunned & want to be REALLY rude! Instead I say, "YES, we do know he's biracial. We could care less how dark he gets or if he's polk-a-dotted…he's OUR SON!! And by the way…WHY would the birth mother tell you about the baby's skin color?? WHAT would that have to do with delivering him? Nothing!! Maybe you should think before you speak next time!" So… you can see I am not very good at holding my tongue. LOL I can honestly say that before our son we naively did not think about color…we have lots of friends of different races & thought nothing of it. We have been made very aware of how other people see you based on your skin color. It's sad & irritates us…but we hope to raise our son to be a confident, strong, wonderful, God loving man! God Bless to you & your BEAUTIFUL children.

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