Today is maternal health awareness day. On this day, I am a little over three months out from giving birth to my second child. I’m thankful for the little bundle of joy, and to be alive after delivering him.
Last year, I had a conversation with a colleague about the reality that for some young women living in the United States, they were rethinking whether or not to have children because of the maternal mortality crisis that has been a persistent issue over the last few years. It made sense to me as Black women are reportedly two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women. And the stories are becoming all too common, as are the names, the murals, and the initiatives made to honor women who’d lost their lives giving life. I’d given birth before, delivering my 2-year-old via Cesarean. The experience didn’t leave me with complications outside of the usual immense pain that accompanies the recovery process and some clotting, but it still was unforgettably uncomfortable. From the epidural block and catheter to the pressure that sometimes felt like pain, it was a rough hour. Don’t get me started on the pushing on the abdomen to get your uterus to contract that comes at the end. Childbirth is not a game, it’s not cozy, and these days, it’s not always safe.
So imagine my surprise when I found out, around the time of this conversation, that I was expecting my second child. When people close to me would ask how I felt about it, my feelings were always mixed. I was excited to be blessed with another child and simultaneously nervous about being tasked with raising multiple kids. But most of all, I was scared. I was scared every month as I prepared my mind and body for another C-section to come. This time it was going to be longer than before due to scar tissue, and according to my doctor, the recovery time would be longer, too. I was worried every moment, including when my due date finally came in October and I was finally guided to the delivery room. Would everything be ok the second time around?
As I’m typing my experience, I obviously made it out ok, which I’m thankful for. These days, I feel good. I’m back in the gym, back to work and trying to feel like myself again, the version of me that just so happens to have two kids. I’m trying to find balance between my life as a mom, a wife, and as my own person. That is my current focus.
But because I have two boys, that has left people with questions about my future. You can probably guess: “Will you try for a girl?” I’ve been asked this and told “Maybe the next one will look like you,” which is hella rude by the way. I’m at a place where I’d be fine with just having boys and don’t feel any less blessed. But more than anything, I realized that I can’t say I’m interested in doing this all over again right now because of how hard pregnancy and getting out on the other side from it can truly be.
While some people take pictures smiling with blue tarp surrounding them during a C-section, there was never a smile for me. Relief when the baby came out crying and when it was over. My second surgery was just as distressing as the first, if not a bit more. My obstetrician did a great job overall, once again, but there were moments during delivery where I was honestly worried I wouldn’t make it. Medication given to me to keep me from feeling anything was heavier than before and left me feeling something alright — like I was losing grasp of what was going on around me. It got to the point where I grabbed my anesthesiologist’s arm as I felt the room spinning around me. I didn’t say anything because I was too warped to speak, but my actions were meant to say, “If I go, I’m taking you with me!” I ended up trying to push through this discomfort, grasping the hand of my husband as tight as I could, to avoid being administered any more. It took a few hours to stop feeling itchy. It took a few days before I could actually walk fully upright. It took a couple of weeks to find a sleep position that wouldn’t put pressure on my incision and leave me writhing (so I slept sitting up), and a month or two of dealing with painful trapped gas in my abdomen from my organs being moved around during the surgery. Again, delivery is not a game.
I’ve been warned about being cut open again by my doctor, as I was told there were just so many times one should have their uterus opened (it would be my fourth time technically because I had a myomectomy before having two C-sections). So when I get that question of will I do it again, it’s awkward. There’s just so much detail I can go into during a friendly visit or conversation and I don’t know how to be honest without being morbid. With that in mind, I simply do a fake “a ha” laugh and say, “I don’t know about that…but we’ll see.”
But honestly, I just don’t know that I want to do it again out of a desire to not put myself at risk. Truly, every delivery is a risk. According to the CDC, in 2020, 861 women died of maternal causes in the United States compared to 754 in 2019. The maternal mortality rate for Black women that same year was was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. And the numbers continue to get worse, as the maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are more than three times the rates in other high-income and developed countries.
So when people ask me about another child, it’s a complicated question to answer, not just for me but for any woman, specifically any Black woman in this country. If things changed, where we could feel like we were truly heard always and not rushed in and out of appointments, that we were in the very best hands that would look out for us from start of pregnancy to its finish, and if delivery didn’t come with a concern for things taking a turn for the worse because they have in so many cases, then maybe there would be a stronger desire to have the larger families of yesteryear. Maybe I’d say I can do three or four babies. But alas, that’s not the way things are and they need to improve. Until then, don’t ask me to put myself in harm’s way for something as petty as making sure I have a girl. For me and my house, right now, two boys is a blessing, and it’s more than enough for me.