Tatyana Ali’s ‘Birthright’: An Open Letter

Now that the Black maternal mortality rate has come to the attention of law makers and even some presidential candidates and made headline news, the public is increasingly aware that the rates for Black women are three and four times higher than they are for White women. Yet U.S. media have pathologized the story, as though Black women, Black families, and Black bodies are to blame. Some Black women I’ve spoken with are now scared to get pregnant as if there is something broken in us. Because our lives are so often framed in a “culture of poverty” narrative, I fear that we have internalized the problem and made ourselves the cause when the truth is we are being treated unfairly, disrespectfully, at worst criminally, or not treated at all. The recently published study, Giving Voice to Mothers, found that “mistreatment is experienced more frequently by women of color, when birth occurs in hospitals, and among those with social, economic or health challenges.”

In addition, patriarchy has shrouded birth in mystery. Start asking the mothers you know about their experiences. It’s stunning how little we share with one another. We are so used to questioning our intuition and the strength and beauty of our bodies, not just in appearance, but also in function. We internalize other peoples’ gestures and comments—even more so when those people are health care professionals. Now, I’m fairly used to being a Black woman in this world. I put on the necessary psychological armor when I leave my home. But who has time for all of that when they are in labor?