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”?
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!”