Birthing While Black: This African American Mom’s Experience Was Anything But VIP

There are a ton of things I’ll never forget about the first time I gave birth—showing up with a Donny Hathaway CD in one hand, a beautiful pink and white-striped “going home” dress and a white blanket handpicked special for my Mari in the other; being scared to death of the epidural needle but grateful that it smoothed me out almost immediately; waiting for what seemed like an eternity to see my baby’s beautiful face; how I seriously believe I saw a white light over my OB-GYN’s head when she entered the room to help me deliver the love of my life. Mari’s baby soft skin against my breast—her breath as sweet as Heaven. I imagine Beyonce, who gave birth just a few weeks ago to Blue Ivy Carter, her baby with husband Jay-Z, will have these memories, too, when the R&B superstar thinks back to the day she had her most incredible performance yet: giving birth.

But that is probably where our memories of that special day part. What I most remember? That the hospital and workers where I had my first daughter sullied what should have been one of the most amazing days of my life.

I gave birth at a hospital in upper Manhattan—a renowned teaching hospital that, because of where it’s situated, caters to a poor, uninsured community, but, because of its leading specialists, modern facilities and state-of-the-art technology, also is frequented by well-to-do patients who consider it one of the best hospitals in New York. They made it very clear in the brochures and birthing plans that a regular ol’ birth there was neither more nor less than what a pregnant women could get elsewhere, but if you were willing to fork over an additional $800 or so, you could get the Cadillac birthing experience: a private room, extra personal time with your significant other, a special waiting room for family members replete with free refreshments, and a complimentary congratulatory meal—two steak and lobster (!) dinners and champagne for two—for the new parents. I promise you this: the words were so pretty I was convinced I was about to give birth in a posh hotel.

I did not.

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.

I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough. And when it came time for me to have my second child, I stayed far, far away from that hospital—even changed my ob-gyn, which really broke my heart to do—to avoid it like the damn plague.

I wondered then what I know to be true now: 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. That human beings charged with caring for new life and the people who ushered in that miracle could traffic in this kind of reprehensible treatment of anyone, much less a new mother—no matter her race, financial or marital status, or background—is beyond my level of comprehension.

But it happens. A lot. And there are studies that show that my birthing experience is a lot like that of other African American women who’ve had babies in hospitals.

I bring up these things because earlier this week, the New York Times ran its story, “Chefs, Butlers, Marble Baths: Hospitals Vie for the Affluent,” about how hospitals are creating special wings and services to attract and cater to the wealthy. The story, no doubt dreamed up in an editor’s meeting after the whole debacle created after folk got wind of the opulent birthing suite and special treatment Beyonce got when she gave birth to Blue Ivy Carter at  Lenox Hill Hospital, kind of makes it seem like this is some kind of new phenomenon. I know better, though: VIP treatment for folk willing to pay for it is not new. Neither is disrespecting and giving sub-par care to people those in charge or extending care think are not worthy of VIP treatment.

And if you look like I did when I gave birth to my baby girl—like an African American woman giving birth to a black baby—you are decidedly not VIP. Unless, of course, you are Beyonce. Then maybe you and your baby have a chance. This is, perhaps, the saddest of all.

RELATED POSTS

  1.  Tackling Black Infant Mortality Rates—Without Stereotyping Black Mothers
  2. Paying Homage To The OB-GYN Who Escorted Me Into Motherhood
  3. Going It Alone: Survey Says Black Mothers Get Little Help, Support While Giving Birth
  4. Erykah “Badoula” And the Business of Birthing: Can Midwifery Help Stem Black Infant Mortality Rates?
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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.

51 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, I had a very similar experience. My husband was extremely supportive, but the treatment at my local hospital was appalling. I had excellent insurance and a wonderful OBGYN. I worked for a world-renowned company, but my birthing experience was extremely painful in more ways then one. After, I returned home, I received a survey call from the hospital and then I let them know exactly how I felt. Ignorance is not bliss and when black mothers go into the hospital you need to be armed with knowledge to ensure that you are receiving fair treatment. If possible, I would recommend having a knowledgeable advocate their with you as well. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Dear Denene, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m a birth doula in NYC and I knew exactly which hospital you were talking about from your very first description – and I knew exactly what your final experience would be. I became a doula because I could not believe the treatment women were subjected to as they transitioned into motherhood. And women of color definitely see an even uglier side of the system. I am not against medical treatment or a medicated birth, but I do feel that the peripheral experience which comes from a hospital birth can sometimes be so powerful that the negative effects of a hospital stay can far outweigh the benefits. It’s one of the reasons I think every woman in an NYC hospital should have a doula, and that goes double for women of color, single women, young women – or anyone even more likely to get an extra dose of prejudice on top of the already misogynistic medical establishment. It’s why I’ll never tell a women she can’t afford my services, and why most other doulas won’t either. We are here to serve mothers when they most need it – every mother. No matter who she is – or seems to be. I hope that your next birthing experience is better – there ARE good hospitals out there, and I hope you’ve found one. I wish you the very best, and I am so sorry for all you’ve experienced.

  3. I am due in May and have a sneaking suspicion as to what hospital this might be from previous experience (non-birthing). I am planning to give birth in CT actually, but am now a bit worried my experience may be less than what I am expecting.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Addienyc,

      I don’t want you to go into the hospital to have your baby worrying about how others will treat you. Instead, go into the hospital with a firm birthing plan that lets everyone who comes near you exactly what you need to have a good birthing experience. You might even want to stop by the hospital before it’s time for you to go to ask questions and find out ahead of time what you should be expecting of them, so that nothing is a surprise…

      • Thanks. I definitely have a birthing plan and I’m planning on doing a hospital tour as well.

        • @Addienyc. Please hire a Doula. Trust me, they will throw away your birthplan, laugh in your face and lie to you out right if you don’t have an advocate. No mother should have to go through that. Hire a Doula.

  4. I grew up in Boston, MA and my first child’s birthing experience was very similar, made me very weary and not wanting to have any other children. I arrived at about midnight with my water not broken, 19 and very scared (because my mother had kicked my a$$ after find out i was even preggo) the birth of my son was not only demeaning but scary. My mother (of all people) had the nerve to tell me that if i chose drugs my father (whom i had only met two years earlier) would be disappointed in me and that I was weak. I vomitted non stop, then when it was almost too late i elected for an epidural, to which the anestesiologist (sp?) inserting that long needle in my back said, “OOPS”. instead of being happy i was terrified. when he was born, they ushered him away for six hours. i just knew the inevitable was he was dead and they didn’t know how to tell me. when he got to me, he wasn’t clean and was very low temperature, from that point i never let him out of my sight. my two days at BIDMC were my last, never saw my OB again. Denene, you just made me think about all that I have overcome and all that we still have to over come. I mentor young ladies about this on a daily basis just knowing your ob and not going to just the clinic for a check up. Thanks !!! we still have a lot of work to do. OH my daughter was born in Atl and that experience was that much worse, no epidural but they wanted me to tell them my payment plan less than six hours after i gave birth (and i’m insured).

  5. Fenderick Pottersquash

    “That human beings charged with caring for new life and the people who ushered in that miracle could traffic in this kind of reprehensible treatment of anyone, much less a new mother—no matter her race, financial or marital status, or background—is beyond my level of comprehension.”

    Well glad you realize that now. You apparently were ok with different standards of care when you thought you could buy yourself to the elite package. But hey, atleast you learned.

  6. That story is disheartening and shameful behavior for that hospital. I’m pretty sure there were people that worked at Lenox hospital that probably weren’t happy about Beyonce’ practically shutting done the place either. Even as a celebrity with tons of money people don’t think she was worth it. I hope my experience goes okay in a couple weeks. I’ve gotten to know all the nurses and took tours of all the rooms, so I’m pretty confident that it will.

  7. OMG!–why did i go through the same exact thing!!–it just amazed me that nurses DO NOT KNOW HOW TO READ!–i take that back they do read but see us as ignorant–but my husband had to mince words with a nurse and told her we had insurance–her reply, are you married? hubby says ARE YOU? then he says read what the papers says–i thought they were going to call the police on him–but it was there in fine print that we were indeed married and had insurance–so why the abuse? why stick me in a a funky room with 5 other women accepted the rude treatments. who didnt know any better [they were younger than me at the time]–you have to STAND UP for your rights and refuse to be mistreated—but truth be told, it’s sad that many black women are mistreated in hospitals after giving birth-i pray black women WAKE UP AND KNOW YOUR PLACE and do you!—thank you for taking me down memory lane–going to do a post on a run in i had with a nurse while i was having contractions {soon!}

  8. I am so sorry to hear that. I delivered my son at a wonderful hospital in Maryland, so I didn’t have any of the problems discussed. However, when my son was 7 months old, he was sick, wheezing and had a high temperature. The doctor’s office told me to get him to the hospital. We live in a predominately black area, but I decided to drive 35 minutes away to a hospital in a white area because they had a pediatric ER. As soon as I arrived to check him in, the clerk at the front desk asked me to fill out some paperwork and show him my Medicaid card. I replied, “Excuse me? I have private insurance through my employer. Do you need to see that card?” I was fuming. After leaving the hospital and confirming my son was okay, I called the hospital and complained about my experience and they called me back to apologize and made the clerk call me back as well. I think it’s important to stand up for your rights.

    • I went to a hospital in the town I grew up in, the hospital I grew up going to, which is now 45 minutes from my home. (I had my pick of 3 hospitals within 45 minutes, I picked this one since I was familiar with it.) My first experience was okay overall, except the fact that the on-staff doctors didn’t place much weight on what I said about my own body and feelings during labor. And they wouldn’t call my ob for me, I had to call his cell myself. But overall I was treated well enough. For my second child 2 yrs later, very different story. I was treated like a discard, my daughter was brought to me infrequently, even though I was breast feeding I was told she was NOT fed anything by nurses, but yet every time my daughter came to me (after very long waits), she was never hungry.. Nurses were rude, curt, and rough with us, my daughter actually had a broken collar bone and I was never given an explanation for it. I could go on with my list of grievances. My opinion after having my second child is that the hospital staff do not care about us as patients or customers. They do not care who we are, what our background is, or what we want for ourselves. They typically act ignorant, under-educated, and bothered by any requests. I agree that the stigma surrounding black people in society in general causes maltreatment at face value rather than taking the extra effort to see the person as an individual. I went to a hospital in a mixed neighborhood. I have a mixed family. I have friends of all races. I myself am “white” (Native American to be exact). While I understand the point you are making as a black woman, I myself received unfair treatment, in part due to the fact that the hospital was in a neighborhood where they are all poor, black and white. So they assumed I was not worth their time either. It is a shame that people cannot learn to treat eachother by the content of one’s character. We are people, not white, not black, just people each deserving respect.. I do my part, and that’s all I can do. I recommend everyone else does the same, and together we can make that difference!

  9. This experience is my fear and this post is so timely. We are due in May and although my husband is Hispanic, we get the double wammy of people thinking I am a single parent (if I show up before him at our appts) and then assuming we don’t speak english when they come into the appt room (this happened, twice).
    I LOVE my doctors and I had a previous surgery at this hospital, but the nurses and the admin are impossible. I was told by a friend to make sure I have some kind of ring on that day or they will assume I am a single, black mom and ship me to the not so lovely end of the delivery ward. Her experience (as her husband was overseas at the time of her delivery).

    I just can’t deal with worrying about this in addition to preparing for the birth of our child. We already had to intervene and cancel a few extra tests for drugs, stds and other things I was 100% sure I didn’t have a problem with at our first prenatal visit (which they could have checked from my previous annual visit). But, they insist it is standard….it is not. We’re finishing out PhDs we don’t have extra money for overly pricey deductibles that are necessary! I’m trying to stay positive, but just today we had a nurse come in and then comment “you’re going to make pretty mixed babies! those are the best!” Because my husband is latino, he responded “because we’re together? because individually our children, being a darker skin little girl or a fairer skin little boy wouldn’t still be beautiful?” He was pissed! she apologized. the doctor apologized and we got a call from the head doctor by the time we got home with yet ANOTHER apology. But, I don’t think they would have apologized if they didn’t know we were PhD students at the neighboring University and were affiliated with one of the doctors on their staff.

    Seriously, how do you break down walls in perception?

    • There are all kinds of grammatical errors in this statement. I will never again post from my phone. Apologies to all.

      • Denene@MyBrownBaby

        Lol—no worries! I understood exactly what you were saying and appreciate it tremendously. It’s just amazing to me that these things continue to happen over and over and over again, and no one sees the insult, the disrespect, the nastiness. Yours is a great question: How do we break down walls of perception? It’s an almost impossible thing to do. But checking someone when they step out of line—like you and your husband did—certainly helps. One only hopes that they will know better for the next woman coming in. Somehow, though, as I read all these stories here and on FB, knowing that it’s still going on even 12 years after my horrible experience, I don’t see it ending. And that’s what hurts most.

    • What I say to one pregnant brown woman I say to every pregnant, brown woman. Always have a Doula as your advocate when you enter the hospital pregnant. Always.

  10. I was so worried people would mistake me for a stereotype that I went out of my way to let everyone know I was a graduate student who, though single, was entirely capable of supporting myself and my child to be (my parents were my rocks during this time, and present at the hospital). Looking back, it’s sad I felt so compelled to make sure everyone knew this.

  11. Family. THis is what must happen to motivate us to build a hospital, or birthing center for ourselves. We have soooo many billionares, engineers, doctors, ob/gyn’s, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons, i’m sure you get the picture! Many people do for themselves and do not wait for others to do for them. Start small. Spread out. One in each community. Send our daughters and sons to school to become doctors, nurses, whatever WE need to provide service for ourselves. Not that we will not offer service to others, however, our OWN will not have to worry about being treated in any substandard way. The sooner we start, the better!

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience, as awful as it was. My birthing experience was pretty heartbreaking too — in a hospital, forced c-section, etc. Yours would have sent me over the edge. I hope your post serves as a wake up call to how hospitals treat moms. None of us should put up with it, and the way African American women are treated is deplorable. Good for you for getting the word out. Please name names next time. The hospital should be outed.

  13. So sorry to hear of your experience- those are moments that can’t be replaced! That being said, is it all possible that this hospital offers poor service in general? Sometimes it’s less about race and more about professionalism and respect. What evidence do you have (other than your gut) that this was purely racial?

  14. I was so glad to run across your post. I am not a Black woman, but this past summer we adopted a Black baby boy through an open adoption with an 18 year old birth mom. We were not new to the birthing process, as we had been to 3 adoption births prior to our son’s birth (one Latina birth mom, and the other 2 Caucasian women).

    Let me start by saying I hate hospitals in general because of the power they exert over everyone. Clearly, some are better than others, but in the end, we are all vulnerable to the mercy of the hospital staff when in a hospital. I am social worker by training, so I am naturally a good advocate, but most hospital workers are hard to crack. I sense they enjoy their power over everyone.

    We accompanied our birth mom to a scheduled c-section in a Cleveland hospital that definitely served a lot of poor people. We were so glad we were there for this young woman because she was only 18 and had no family or friends to look out for her. We waited 11 hours for the c-section to occur, and at one point she was even told she could go home and they would try to fit her in the next day (she clearly didn’t register as “important” on their radar screens). No, she didn’t have private insurance or a husband, but no one should be treated the way she was treated throughout the birthing process.

    As we had done for other adoptions, I was able to accompany the birth mom into the operating room for her c-section. When our first child was born through c-section, it was about a 15 minute process. For this young woman, it was a grueling 2 hour brutal experience where they almost killed her (she was bleeding out) and didn’t even mention that to her when it was happening. The doctors and nurses were so inappropriate with their comments throughout the surgery–in their minds, this beautiful young woman didn’t even exist (the anesthesiologist was the only decent medical provider in the room). The experience was brutal–I can’t say it enough. They twisted, pulled, turned, and yanked on the baby for what seemed like forever. All the while this poor woman was crying because she was in so much pain. I held her hand as tight as I could. I couldn’t change what was happening in the room, but I did my best to help her through it.

    When the baby finally came, what should have been a wonderful moment for me was taken away by this horrific experience. I felt so bad for our birth mom that I told them I would see the baby later. She needed me because no one in that room was going to help her. With tears streaming down her face because she was in so much pain and treated worse than a dog, I could do nothing but hold her hand and cry with her.

    My point in sharing this story is that no woman should be treated like this regardless of her insurance status. Yes, I definitely believe she was treated worse than other patients on the hall because she was a Black woman, but I imagine most of the people were treated terribly simply because they were poor and the people who worked there didn’t think these patients were worthy of dignity.

    On a side note, this young woman went through all the proper channels in Cleveland to have her tubes tied during the procedure so she wouldn’t get pregnant again (this would be her 4th pregnancy). The doctor informed her right before the surgery that he had decided he was not going to do it because she was too young. What the hell, America! This was a mature young woman trying to do what she thought would help her and her children get out of poverty.

    The whole experience was just awful. I was shell-shocked after it, and felt as if I had witnessed a terrible crime. I could only mumble to my partner that it was horrific and you can bet your ass that would never have happened to us in our home town. I knew it was wrong, but I sure didn’t feel as though I could do anything to change what was happening.

    Now, I am a mom to the most beautiful brown baby boy. I suppose this horrific experience will make me better prepared to help him in this world.

  15. Funny thing, I gave birth to one white baby and adopted three beautiful brown babies. My white baby birth story is almost exactly the same as yours. Obviously, because the one I gave birth to is white, I am white – well, not if you take into account that I’m also 1/4 American Indian, but I have blonde hair and blue eyes, primarily due to the recessive gene from my paternal grandfather’s Danish roots – so I guess I’m white by genetics – the problem many women face when giving birth in our modern society isn’t due to the color of their skin, but rather the character of the people giving the care. I absolutely do not believe that the birth mother’s of my 3 beautifully brown adopted children were treated any differently than I and I know that all 4 of my children still received the best available medical care of any civilized nation in the union. I was there, so I saw with my own eyes.

    I love people, brown, white or otherwise. I believe many others do to. It is true that some don’t, and some of them were obviously working in L&D of your upscale hospital on the day you gave birth to your first child. That is a shame. They should love people – all people — they are instrumental in assuring that new life comes safely into this world. Perpetuating the myth that brown skin is treated less than white skin in our society is even more of a shame. MOST people are good with good hearts and good intentions. SOME have bad experiences with those who look, or feel differently than they do. SOME do harbor feelings (probably ones they don’t even understand) against people of other backgrounds, religions or ethnicity. MOST do not. Choosing to just see that color really isn’t the issue is hard, but necessary. I hope to give my kids a sense of what is real and what really matters. I assure you that God is color blind.

    • I meant world, not union. *sigh*

      • Denene@MyBrownBaby

        Rachel,

        Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry that your birthing experience was horrible; as I stated in my piece, no mother should have to be subjected to that kind of treatment.

        That said, I need to make very clear that the same hope you have for your kids—that they have a sense of what is real and what really matters—is the same hope my mother had for me, and the same hope I have for my own children. We have this hope despite that it is not the practice of so many others. I am by no means suggesting that all white people are racist or prejudiced, by any stretch. But having experienced countless micro aggressions and outright racist incidents during the course of my 43 years on this planet, I know when I’m being mistreated because of my color. I can say definitively that this was, most certainly, one of those instances.

        God IS colorblind. Unfortunately, humans are not. You would bode well to make sure you let your kids know this before they encounter those humans who, consciously or not, notice their color and treat them differently because of it.

  16. As a nurse, I try to treat every patient equally, and there’s a troubling overlay of prejudice in this story. I wouldn’t want a pregnant 14-year-old with no identified daddy to be treated badly, either. She is likely to be just as excited to have a baby as anyone else. The truth is that hospitals are understaffed and nurses are overwhelmed. What happened to this writer probably happened to every patient, and had much more to do with general disorganization than to race. In other words, don’t expect good treatment just because you’re white!

  17. Was the staff all white or did black staff members treat you badly as well? If the latter, to what do you attribute that?

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Israel,

      THANK YOU for this question. You noticed what no one else did: that I never once mentioned the race of the nurses. In fact, it was a mixture of black and white nurses who attended to me and my baby, and the black ones (except for the angel who was in the the birthing room with me and my OB-GYN) were just as cold, impersonal and willing to extend inadequate care as the white ones. I attribute this to the mentality that some people seem to have about the people who live in the neighborhood where the hospital is based: that young, poor women of color are irresponsible, unintelligent humans who get knocked up and suck off the system. This is a stereotype that attaches itself to black mothers and that stereotype is not the sole province of whites.

  18. Years ago I drove my next door (black) neighbor to the hospital after her water broke (and her husband was awol after having beaten her….and that’s a whole ‘nother story about how the cops treated her after I called them). I had had a baby some three months earlier and was horrified at how they treated this 36 year old pharmacist! They made her wait for hours, knowing her water had broken, they asked her if she were married (no one ever asked me that!) They asked for her medicaid form (she had insurance) and spoke to her like she was some yard trash barely worthy of their time. I was outraged and started to get a tad nasty and only stopped when it was clear I was embarrassing her. When we finally got her up to the floor her doctor asked what had taken her so long, thinking she’d run into trouble getting to the hospital. I told the doctor that the problem was that she’d been downstairs for hours dealing with contempt and rather blatant prejudice!!!! I was horrified at the difference between my son’s birth and my own….here…..in America.

  19. “I wondered then what I know to be true now: 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.”

    And poor women with no insurance who are unmarried don’t deserve to be treated with dignity and respect? It’s very upsetting that you were treated so poorly, but this whole peice smacks of – I payed for VIP treatment and I didn’t get it- whinyness rather than a genuine critique that all women should expect good treatment in hospitals.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Sarah,

      If that was your takeaway from my piece, then you did not read it in the way that I intended. *shrugs*

  20. As a dark-skinned black woman, I was at Lenox Hill Hospital when I gave birth to my son in 1997 and my daughter in 1999. Although when at 2am, I was first put into a beautiful private room with wood cabinetry and marble bathroom, the nurses treated me like a joke. They were mildly chuckling and told me I probably should get ready to go home because although in labor I was at 2cm. They did not want to bother with the IV, at first they very subtly tried to make me feel like I was wasting their time; both black & white nurses. After speaking with my OB Dr. Chang who knew I couldn’t have simple blood tests without someone holding he personally told me not to worry I wasn’t going anywhere. After speaking with him, everyone snapped to attention and the VIP treatment started.

    With the 7am shift change it turned into a Beyonce-like experience without me closing off a floor. The nurse that was with me for the epidural was an older Black lady with a kind smile who firmly, if not a bit suddenly thrust my face into her well-upholstered GG bosom; literally thank God for her. When the nurses overheard my conversation with my husband who suddenly did not want to come to the hospital, I could hear sympathetic comments among them outside my door. They looked at me with knowing eyes and asked if I wanted them to call someone which they did for me: my Mom and best friend. My husband finally arrived 20min before my son was born and nurses were respectful an encouraging to him. When my son was born every nurse that I saw that morning came in and hugged me with no nasty looks to my husband. When it was time to go to a regular room they picked a double room where I had the window without me asking; they said it would be more private when I had visitors.

    When I went back in 1999, I saw another Mom that was there in 1997 who was white and we were friendly with each other. Some of the same nurses from before were on duty and remembered me because they told my charge nurse that I would be staying even if hardly dilated. This time they upgraded me to a larger private room delivery than I had before. Again, when I was moved, I got the bed by the window.

    Having my children at Lenox Hill was as close to going to a swanky party as you can get. Fortunately, I have been able to add to the wonderful stories of living in Manhattan to my children.

    Now we live in New Haven CT, a predominantly black city, we have had a stellar experience at both the Yale Adult & Children’s hospitals.

  21. I love your post.  It boils down to the hospital not providing people the service they hired the hospital to perform.  Whether you hired the hospital to cater to your every whim or to simply ensure that you and your baby remain healthy, you should receive what you are requesting of them.  Who cares whether or not I have private insurance, private pay, public assistance, light skinned, dark skinned, muslim, jewish, etc, etc.  I’m giving that hospital business.  They should be held to the same, if not higher, standards we use for any other business.  If I pay them to do a little more, then that is what I’m expecting.  The hospital is offering a service to women who choose to go to a hospital to give birth.  No one said we have to use hospitals to deliver our precious ones  (Is pregnancy an illness?!?!?!  I personally don’t think so – but I’m aware there are other medical issues that ‘complicate’ your pregnancy).    My birthing experience went completely opposite of what I planned – for both my children (and I had a doula and my husband!!) I was saddened to read these other posts and realized I was not alone.  My hospital stays affected me so much that I used to sit alone and cry whenever I thought of the things that happened with the birth of my children.  I decided to really focus on the positives and it has helped tremendously. I realized after reviewing our medical charts (oh, yes, that is what I said…) that my children and myself were cared for very well.  I then started to think of the ‘nice’ people who were present at these births.  I don’t think there was a moment we did not receive excellent medical care.  It was just that I went to the hospital with these grand expectations that were shattered by just a few ugly people.  Fortunately, my children are completely healthy blessings and I have moved forward but learned from my naiveness about the “healthcare” system.  I’ve also learned that as a black woman in America, there are times when I have to demand respect to get respect. Healthcare workers are human, too – with all their prejudices, loves, hates, sorrows, stresses, joys, errs… You definitely need an advocate (non-hospital affiliated) with you when you receive healthcare – no matter what you get treatment for or how well you trust your providers.

  22. I had my 1st baby last year in Washington, DC and I had a wonderful experience at the hospital where I delievered, expect for one of the doctors in the operating room who was on his iPhone during my C-section. This made my husband irate. However, I had one horrible experience with an OB/GYN while I was looking for a doctor. She yelled throughout the office, “NEXT! Who’s NEXT!” She said to my husband and I, “I assume this baby is wanted.” She was horrible. I filed a complaint against her and never went back. We have to advocate for ourselves and demand respect and dignity no matter what our social location is. Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect. If something doesn’t seem right, speak up and let your demands be heard.

  23. I had a really hard time with this piece. Partly because of memories of my own birth experience and partly because of the assumptions of the author.
    In 1989 I was an 18 year old pregnant wanna be hippie who couldn’t be told anything. I was going to have my baby at home with a midwife BUT had a back up birth plan with my OB/GYN ‘cuz sometimes ‘things’ happen.
    About a month before my due date I went on a tour of the delivery floor and understood that this was my “Decent person” interview. My understanding was that I was a teenager and brown, two factors that would possibly lead the nurses to have negative feelings towards me that might impact my care. I used the tour as a time to introduce myself to the women who would care for me if the worst case scenario happened. I brought them a copy of my contingency birth plan, complimented them on their collage of baby pictures and thanked them for all that they did.
    When it was time for Joseph to be born, he was the same person then that he is 22 years later, slow! After a LONG time, my midwife told me that we HAD to go to the hospital, so we all trouped up there. Once there, they remembered me, because really, it’s hard to forget a pregnant brown teenager who has explained to you to benefits of La Leche League and asked for your opinion on Attachment Parenting.
    My midwife was the best advocate that I could have asked for and while Joe’s birth involved monitors and forceps, the nursing staff couldn’t have been more respectful. Once he was born, we taped our pre-made, “Please don’t give me a bottle, I’m a breast fed baby” signs on his bassinet and I never had to deal with anyone questioning my choice.
    My birth experience was different from the authors for many reasons, but an important factor, I feel, is the fact that I EXPECT for folks to screw up when there’s a certain amount of melanin involved. As unfair as it is, I have yet to read even ONE report that says that Black folks and White folks are treated anywhere near close to equally by the medical profession.
    I was raised in a middle-class home with a very well-educated father and we were never allowed to believe that money or education made us different than other Blacks. It was clear in our almost all white town that when my father wore a suit, he was respected and when he wore his cut-offs to work in the yard, many of our neighbors didn’t even recognize him.
    From the article, it seems as if the author thought that by paying lots of money, she could null and void her color. While I take offense at “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.” and the implication that somehow a 14 year old on welfare would deserve such treatment, I’m more struck by her lack of understanding of how racism plays out.
    Too many of us have been lulled into believing that we only have to achieve monetary success in order to escape those scary statistics; heck even Skip Gates had to have that veil lifted. I’m interested in knowing if, after going through this ordeal, the author has a more clear understanding (and empathy) of what her poor sisters have to deal with.

  24. So sorry about your experience. It’s really unfortunate.

    Based on your description, I am aware of the hospital you are referring to and have had a very similar experience with a recent gyno surgery (I seriously couldn’t even tell you what my nurses looked like because no one even came to check on me within a 24 hour period besides housekeeping. They simply closed the door to my private room and ignored my call button). I too love my OBGYN but when it comes time to deliver my child I have decided that I too will switch gyno’s/hospitals because the service there is beyond the worst I have experienced.

  25. Yes! I had a similar experience. I gave birth in Long Island. The room was disgusting ( the toilet wasn’t even working), cold water in the shower, no nurses in sight for hours, bad food… but getting to meet my wonderful son was the silver lining over that dark cloud. I had no idea this was a common occurrence. I didn’t connect it to being black at the time.

  26. I am really sorry about your experience and just as sorry about those who have replied and have not understood the article’s implications. I sit on a hospital board and will make sure that ALL women are treated like VIPs and that no one should be prejudged.

    Second, there are some wonderful new women’s hospitals that have been created around the tri-state area. Please check them out if you want to see some new facilities (i.e., North Shore LIJ, etc.)

    Finally, you should have an advocate with you when you are giving birth, whether it be a doula, spouse, parent or concerned loved one.

  27. So sad you had to go through that experience! I do agree that some people just judge by the color of your skin regardless of how smart, educated, wealthy, and so forth you may be. Can’t believe they tested your baby for drugs without your permission. I doubt that routinely would happen on white babies.

  28. Reading your story makes me thank my lucky stars for the OB care I have received. It makes me sick because I hate hearing about poor patient care! I live in California (SF Bay Area to be exact), and I am a hospital worker. I think everyone’s experiences range from horrific to a great when it comes to this particular issue. I have heard nothing but horror stories about medical care received in New York. I think that your concerns are valid that you were treated differently for being a Black mother. As black women, or women of color there is always going to be a part of us that wonders if many of the transgressions we endure are attributed to the color of our skin, the wave of our hair or just the plain candor in our voices. I am a hospital worker. I have not experienced horrible hospital service personally but I have heard comments being made, eyes being rolled and breath being blown with the occasional patient. I think I am more aware when the patient is black than when they are not. I am returning to the same hospital for my second birth as I did for my first because of the care. They are wonderful. I only encountered one nurse who I deemed rude and it was mainly because she barely spoke clear English and when I questioned the medication she was trying to inject into me she could not explain why. She also called me fat less than 10hrs after giving birth. I quickly asked for another nurse. I think it is important to know that you can always request another nurse to care for you. If you have a valid complaint request the charge nurse or page your Doctor. Do not just take the crappy service or improper attitudes. If all else fails come out to SF to birth your babies, I have heard great things about many of our hospitals. Every child deserves to be born in celebration, I think my hospital truly acknowledges that. Good luck fellow birthing mamas!

  29. Greetings. This powerful testimony is why I am uber-passionate about supporting mothers and families to learn about their *options* in pregnancy, labor and birth.

    So many things in our society attempt to rob women of their instinctual power when it comes to birth. And I get why. It brings in more money. But when you birth-in-awareness, and do the research to learn about the benefits and risks, of ANY choice, be it natural or home birth, hospital births, C-sections, inductions, VBACs, etc., know what the benefits and risks are. And then ask yourself which outweighs the other, for YOU.

    We are blessed to have three experiences of successful, unassisted, home births. I invite you to read my children’s birth stories here: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-480482 and here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/kimberly-stewart/sophia-jamilahs-birth-story/10150931657462258

    I know it is part of my life’s divine purpose to share resources and support; particularly to new mothers and their families. I believe healthy families and communities start in a mother’s womb. And she MUST be supported and encouraged, and empowered, and inspired, and reminded of her instinctual gifts all along the way…

    Give thanks,
    Kimberly

  30. i just happened on your blog through a link on facebook. i’m so sad and sorry to read about your experience. i birthed my baby at a birth center with a midwife precisely to avoid this type of experience. i’m white, but even so, i hear of so many awful hospital experiences, it makes me so sad to think that any women have their most important day tainted by thoughtless, arrogant people – who you are paying for a service! i don’t doubt at all that you were treated differently because of the color of your skin either, and that just gets my blood pressure all pumped up.
    i have been considering becoming a birth doula so that i can help advocate for women birthing in hospitals. thank you for sharing your story, i think it’s important that women know that these things can happen in hospitals and look into resources or other options for care.

    deanna

  31. Also, I don’t care if you’re well-to-do or pushing out your 9th welfare baby, no birthing woman, or any hospital patient for that matter, should be treated that way. Sigh.

  32. I had a nurse tell me that I was getting on her nerves with my panting breaths. Hey, sister! It was working perfectly fine for me. Not to mention, cut me some slack- I am pushing someone roughly the size of a watermelon, out of a hole the size of a lemon. I think I am entitled to breathe any damn way I want.

    This treatment is not new or is it unusual, I am afraid. I was also almost given the wrong baby, because ‘All babies look alike.’ While I do think babies are a variation on a theme, isn’t a thoughtful, qualified nurse supposed to check the nifty security bracelets the hospitals charge us a lot of money for before handing over a newborn? I knew what I first daughter looked like from the top of her jet black straight hair to her very pale but rosy cheeked cara to the tiny Hobbit feet-looking feet she was sporting courtesy of her huge hoofed father. When the nurse wheeled a bassinet over to my bed, I was shocked to see a very cute but very chocolate little face with curly hair atop it staring up at me.

    What if I had nursed this baby without realizing he was not my baby? What if someone else had nursed my baby? What if someone had taken either or both babies home- with good or bad intent? I know things happen. But in this country, birthing while Black can have very serious consequences. I was lucky my situation ended well.

  33. Wow – I just happend on this blog from the Whiz/Khalifa story, and it brought back the nightmare of my own son’s birth, nearly 21 years ago. It was my first, and from the time the pregnancy was confirmed to his birth, I received a mixed bag of humane treatment and flat out stupidity…I was called an “elderly primipara” (28-yr old 1st time mom)…water was prematurely broken by an impatient OB/GYN who then left because her shift was ending…which led to an emergency c-section which threatened both our lives….post-partum nurses acted like I had stolen their husbands…one even ripped open my hospital gown when I was too slow to raise it myself to let her check my bandages…I will never forget the look on her face when she left the room impatiently to check something on my chart and she realized I was an active duty soldier…she looked up from that chart like she had just made the biggest boo-boo ever…from that point on, I was treated better, but I still made tracks out of that hospital as soon as I could…

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      My God, Rhonda—that story just brought tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry that happened to you and your child. I just don’t even know what else to say.

  34. Horrible! This made me so sad to read and all that much more glad I will be giving birth in the comfort of my home with a midwife whose respect for me and my unborn baby is unrelated to how much money I have in the bank.

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