It Ain’t All Roses: Birthin Babies while Black

I’m officially Beyoncé…

Well ok not really but you gotta admit that pic is hilarious! But what I’m gonna talk about is no laughing matter, it’s serious and we have got to start casting more light on it…

” I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section.” -Beyoncé in September 2018 Vogue

Maybe I am officially Beyoncé… because I gained 100… yes, I said that correctly, ok maybe 96, pounds during pregnancy. I was so swollen my feet looked like loaves of bread and I didn’t have cankles, I had thankles, just one big ass thigh! I was a chicken dinner! I too had toxemia, so bad that my liver failed and I went into hepatic shock and a coma. I was hospitalized for over a month, and didn’t officially hold my son, well that I can recall anyway, until he was more than a month old. This was over ten years before Serena and Beyoncé made their pregnancy scares public, and over ten years before these stories about Black Women and childbirth were talked about at large. I thought my case was unique… turns out, like many of the concerns of Black Women, it just wasn’t a big deal to the medical community yet.

But we can change that…

Pregnancy was great for me until I reached my 7th month. Up until then I was rocking my loose fit size 10 jeans, pulling them a bit under my growing belly. I had no stretch marks, and had gained only about 18 pounds. Life was good. I was high risk because of a pre-existing liver disease, but for months I showed no signs of toxemia or preeclampsia, high blood pressure brought on by pregnancy. And literally, overnight, that changed.

From roses to rancid…

From sugar to shit…

According to the CDC, while generally only 3.4 women suffer from toxemia during pregnancy, and 700 die from its complications yearly, Black Women are three times as likely to suffer from these childbirth related issues. Conversely, Asian and Hispanic women seem to have an ever lesser chance of developing toxemia than White women. (1) Yet, no one seems to know why. It’s been one big mystery why pregnant Black Women looked like the boy in the bubble, compared to those cute baby bumps. Perhaps it is linked to the lack of research on the subject!

In a 2004, the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study that showed that women with preeclampsia had decreased levels of folic acid and high levels of homocysteine, which is linked to heart disease, but these levels were lowest and highest in Black Women. (2) The study suggested that since high levels of homocysteine were related to low folic acid, B6, and B12, that these supplements could potentially lower the risk of preeclampsia amongst all women, particularly African-Americans. Who knew?

Another study by ProPublica, in 2016, entitled Lost Mothers spoke with Black Women intergenerationally about pregnancy complications to try to prevent maternal complications and death. Out of the many complications a woman can face, it was found Black Women suffer disproportionately from postpartum hemorrhage, fibroids, preeclampsia, uterine rupture, coronary artery dissection, and maternal heart failure. (3) All of these illnesses boast a much higher mortality rate than other complications. When searching for other studies on these pregnancy related illnesses in Black Women, there were few to find.

It is essential that Black Women share our stories, and that if no one else will, Black Physicians and medical researchers focus on these maternal health concerns in our community. Central Brooklyn Hospital, featured in the Pro Publica study has a new initiative to reduce maternal complications in women of color. Hopefully other hospitals and medical professionals will follow suit. It is imperative to the health of mothers and children that research into how to prevent and treat these issues are brought to light.

Just on a human level, it is important that babies grow up with their mothers, and research into their mother’s potential mortality from childbirth is necessary and worth every dime it costs. The powers that be can’t claim to be pro-life and not simultaneously be pro- maternal health, pro-mother, or pro-Black mother. The continuance of the systematic ignorance of people of color in medicine must be taken to task. If we can study the effects of viagra, surely we can study the complications of childbirth.

It shouldn’t take Beyoncé or Serena or any public figure to talk about something that affects 7% of Black mothers to make it important to the public at large. If we only consider things when a celebrity brings them to light, we are neglecting 99% of the population. Furthermore, we are failing these women by failing to consider their medical concerns … and failing Black children by neglecting their mothers.

So, let’s all be Beyoncé…

Note: Fellas be Jay-Z, but not while drinking Lemonade with Becky, and never be Eric Benet!

……

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171100/#__ffn_sectitle

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4764298/

3. https://www.propublica.org/series/lost-mothers/p2

This Woman’s Work: Part II

“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.” -Eckhardt Tolle

Picture it, 2018, Detroit, three scenarios:

Two professional Black Women discussing a disturbing incident with a customer during lunch, the victim says, “…I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and be the Angry Black Woman.”

Similar environment, two sistas discussing career development, the older woman says to the younger woman, “Be careful with all those ideas and opinions or they’ll label you the “b” word.”

One Black female supervisor speaking to her Black female team member on talking to White male managers…”You can’t lead with your intelligence because that is intimidating.”

But …. I am Black, I am a woman, I am opinionated, intelligent, and sometimes I am angry… especially in the one place I spend most of my waking hours that gives me zero respect despite the fact that it thrives off my intellect… Work.

I am who I am… and I don’t need to be less than that to ever get what I have worked hard for… even if I’m Black, female, opinionated, and sometimes angry. I have just as much right to be my authentic brilliant, compassionate, but take no shit self as:

these sexist and racist White men get to use work to play out their gestapo porn fantasies, shouting out authoritarian demands like orders at a fast food joints while trying to feel on your ass;

these racist White women get to prance around without a care in the world, except the hands going up their skirts which they payback (to the wrong people) in the form of harassment and discrimination of people of color;

these turncoat Black people get to act like they have assumed some privilege by selling their souls to do the racist’s dirty work, but as Jay-Z said “still nigga”.

Whether we know it or not, our presence is vital in every space and place, especially professionally, as we are representative of the people who use and purchase the services and goods we are in the business of providing or selling… whatever our role. We are their mouthpiece. And despite what insecure co-workers, supervisors, and managers might believe… we are often the leaders others look to for guidance and expertise… or perhaps it is the reason they dislike us. If those people get to be all they can be… then surely my whole authentic self is welcomed… no?

According to a 2018 survey of 100 Professional Black Women, 59% report feeling like they have to be less of themselves to be accepted in the workplace. While 58% reported co-workers who are not Black females are treated better than they are. 71% reported being discriminated against in the workplace. 72% reported being talked down to by a man, and 56% reported having a power struggle with another Black Woman. (1) Similarly, a study by the Perception Institute in 2016, tested bias of Black Women and their hair. It showed that Black Women had more anxiety about their hair than their White counterparts and that the majority of people had negative towards Black women with natural styles, particularly white women (2).

The writing is on the wall, that who Black Women are is looked down upon by people that they see and interact with daily, even to our own. And while we are capable and creative and innovative enough to break the glass ceiling, we can do it with our Afros, braids, sass, and round asses despite anyone’s prejudice. But that prejudice is a weighty issue.

Black Women are judged based on negative stereotypes that have no roots in the truth… assumptions about our hair and grooming, marital status, parental abilities, health, bodies, and community. We must be dirty if our hair is natural, singularly raising kids if we are parents, have undisciplined children, be unhealthy because we are curvy, and from violent and dangerous neighborhoods. Our personal lives are not considered our private business, and we are subjected to questions and demands that would never be made on White men or women. When your worth and lives are considered of minimal value it’s common for others to treat you as less than the professional you are… and instead treat you like a child in need of correction or a servant to take their orders.

It’s not our professionalism that should be being questioned. I assure you, the sistas I know are not only professionally responsible, but they can take care of their kids, mates, homes, selves… then come into work and deal with levels of harassment, discrimination, and privilege unlike any other group.

But we don’t have to deal with it!

We have earned the right to be exactly who the fuck we are… curly and kinky hair, big personalities, opinions, big ass brains, and yep, sometimes anger… because we carry the weight of the world’s -isms on our backs. Both Black and woman, marginalized and disenfranchised. Not just misogyny but misogynoir. Living at the intersection of racism, classism, sexism, and often, colorism. Let’s not forget our LGBTQ sister’s dealing with homophobia and transphobia, and our disabled sisters being discriminated against because of their physical limitations. I see it everyday, a Black woman with MS is treated like she has a learning disorder because she walks with a limp, and the sista with the big butt is talked to like she’s an idiot. Our brains are in our heads just like all other humans. WTF! Whose the idiot in this scenario?!?

We have to embrace our Blackness, and disallow anyone from making us believe that we have to conform to standards outside of ourselves to fit in… we don’t have to fit in. We were born to stand out! In a world full of thigh gaps ours were made to touch. In a world full of flat hair, ours waves, curls, and coils towards the heavens. In a world full of hateful and narrow thinkers, we continue to be compassionate because were meant to make them uncomfortable. Only in discomfort do people change.

In the workplace, we have to continue to assert ourselves, have confidence in ourselves, promote ourselves, stand up for ourselves, and be ourselves! And when it’s a detrimental environment, remove ourselves. Our voices, creativity, opinions, intelligence are necessary. We matter just the way we are… now go out with your fro out!

Update: I’m currently embarking on a bigger project about the lives of Black Women in the Professional space. If you would not mind doing a short phone interview or filling out a brief questionnaire about your professional experiences, please contact me at info@karyndeshields.com. Thank you.

(1) The Balancing Act.www.karyndeshields.com

(2) The Good Hair project. The Perception Institute, 2016. http://www.perception.org/good hair/

This Woman’s Work: Part I

At least we aren’t handmaids….

living in the fictitious, but eerily and oddly relatable -given the current state of things- Gilead in post war America. A country taken over by men, using divine law to subjugate women and the poor into servitude. Of particular disturbance is the work of the handmaid. The “lady in waiting” each leader, or commander, with an infertile wife employs, her sex and womb for room and board. Her job, to birth children for the couple, in the way of Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah in the Bible. Luckily it is confined to the Hulu menu of great acting that is hard as hell to watch. A twisted dystopian This is Us. Even as I applaud Offred’s attempts to escape on the edge of my seat, I can’t help but wonder how she will ever be mentally and emotionally healed.

But when we cut off the tv, and really look at the lives of working women… much of what is portrayed and endured by Offred, the Martha’s, and Aunt Lydia is applicable modern day, we just pick our own clothes and keep our same names. So much of our reality in the private and public workplace is controlled by men, who take license to act in ways very similar to fiction. In a recent study, 38% of women reported being sexually harassed at work. (1) We all know this reality creates lifelong traumas from which many of these women forever suffer.

Imagine now, the lives of Professional, Black, and educated women… who come with their own set of very real and very intersectional concerns, race and culture based traumas, and historical wounds. From blatant racial discrimination to patriarchy, and everything in between… the lives of sistas who collect a paycheck are fraught with issues that not only create trauma but cause us to relive unhealed and past trauma all the time. But at least we aren’t handmaids…

When 100 random Black Women working in professional (non blue collar or service industry) jobs with at least a college degree were surveyed (2), the results were not shocking but definitely painted a bold and unquestionable picture of the professional lives of these women. 71% indicated they had experienced discrimination at their job. 79% felt race, gender, or both contributed to negative attitudes about them at work. 72% indicated they had been talked down to by a man, and 65% reported hearing offensive comments about Black people at work. Clearly, Black Women are subjected to pervasive racism and sexism in the workplace.

While Black men are seen as far greater victims of racism, and sexism is generally identified as a White woman’s issue, it is the intersectionality of these issues that are the bitch that Black Women go toe to toe with daily. Since these intersectional concerns are not shared simultaneously with most groups and not as pervasive for other women of color, we often get labeled as having bad attitudes or being “angry” for no reason at all. When in fact, our reasons are front and center. We will always be Black and always be female. When combined with the naturally occurring childhood and adult traumas, most of us have never fully healed from, intersectionality in the workplace is a beast most of us are not properly prepared to handle, but must handle nonetheless. But at least we aren’t handmaids…

Take Kelsey, a teacher in the suburbs of the inner city. Kelsey grew up with demanding parents who made her feel her best wasn’t enough. Not only did she live with the “you have to be 10x better” lesson most Black children learn about themselves in relation to White children early on… her own familial demands were hard to bear. So in both her professional and social life, Kelsey overextended herself. She went above and beyond the duties she was paid for, spreading herself too thin, and not even acknowledged for her efforts. While she was definitely the best teacher in her school district, the most reliable daughter, the most loyal friend, the most steadfast wife, and all with the best twist-out west of Woodward… she brought with her the pain of being labeled “not good enough” to a workplace that didn’t appreciate her skill and hard work. Her employers, in the business of educating, which she was stellar at, had no problem taking advantage while never giving her the props she deserved!

Black Women are often the diving board for other people’s dreams and success…and systematically limited from realizing our own.

Jessica is similarly reminded of childhood conflict with other Black girls when she’s harassed and mistreated by Black Women in the office, the real life Aunt Lydias, and the abuse she’s experienced when spoken to in a patronizing manner and set up for failure at the hands of Black men at her job. It’s as if they are overseers for the powers that be, preparing her to walk the green mile to her professional fate, because she’s not a “good gal.” Constantly under his eye. Jess has to quell her fight response every single time… and since her mouth is much mightier than the sharpest sword, she just straps on her invisible muzzle to secure the bag… at least until something better presents itself.

So many sistas I know have taken pay cuts for peace.

Maya is haunted by her own family’s experiences with mental illness, and their failure to heal or even acknowledge it, when she encounters children and their parents struggling with emotional disturbances in her role as a school psychologist. So much so she has a visceral reaction to the work. Have you ever been traumatized to illness… I know a gang of sistas who have.

Like Maya , Monique faces the same trauma related setbacks when she handles family legal issues in private practice. Guardianship and power of attorney processes remind her of the pain her family put her through when a loved one was no longer able to care for herself. Jumping hurdles over familial patriarchy, youthism, and the “White is right” brainwashing that many of us have accepted as fact, is yet another hump we must traverse.

Young Black Women often carry our race and gender as badges of pride, bridled to our education and talent, that others often see as a threat. Thinly veiled disrespect, even at the hands of our own people, is commonplace in these instances.

In addition to these very real issues we carry with us from personal experiences, Black Women have a very real historical reality that makes navigating the workplace, often dominated by White men and a much more protected space for White women, painful. You might not be like Monique, Jessica, Kelsey, or Maya, but perhaps you are just Jane-, yep Jane is Black- who is reminded of her ancestor’s enslavement, involuntary servitude, and the hurt and pain of Jim Crow, lynching, systematic racism, and her own ancestral trauma in her workplace. Jane took on union work as an act of service, but living out the modern vestiges of White supremacy is a very real source of trauma.

For Jane, it isn’t her personal experiences but our collective reality that wells up in her soul when she listens to the stories of her co-workers, women spoken down to and inappropriately propositioned by the men in her office. Qualified people of color being passed over for opportunities they are the most qualified for, and Black overseers serving the supremacy by setting up those with whom they are in competition. Like Jane, so many of us hold this history in our bosom, and in an oppressive workplace, it’s realization mimics asphyxiation.

The very real wounds that Black Women cover, depriving of air, so they can scab over with our own protective shield and heal by our own strength, have a way of seeping when we face stress in areas of our lives that we take personally. For the woman who has gathered together more student loans in her name than prayers, vacations, or shoes… her career is a very important part of her life, and the very real fact is that it often serves as a reminder of her most tragic memories. Therefore, it is imperative that she deal with and heal from those tragedies. Whether through therapy, meditation, prayer, or some combination of healing mechanisms. You see… we may not be handmaids, but we have wings, and we only activate them if we lay down our burdens, under His eye.

Praise be.

(1) stopstreetharassment.org

(2) karyndeshields.com

Black Women are Unicorns

Black Women are magical

We are at the bottom of the totem pole but we don’t age, don’t crack… cuz crack is wack, and we were the definition of lit before DTJ used the word and buried it from our brains eternally. I guess it wasn’t enough to take “whoop there it is” and “my bad” … although neither of those were as well liked as “lit”… but whatever!  Upon our wooden shoulders we carry the weight of all the burdens that everyone else piled on top of us, but despite it all,  we keep a fresh beat!

Whose got it harder than us?

No one. But we are among the most highly educated and the lowest paid for our skill, value, knowledge! We are the most worked, often keeping a home, mate, kids, job, and maybe even school and several other obligations to organizations and caregiving on lock!

Internally, in the Black community, our bottom rung status is challenged, often! I once was talking to a Black male co-worker about my plight at work as a highly educated, experienced, and God forbid opinionated and proud Black Woman… and his comment… “Stop doing that Black Woman Stuff, just be a woman!”

Jigga what? Jigga who? And NO, I am not making that up. Needless to say I spazzed on his ass, but it was after work at the bar so I didn’t do it in front of company!

Similar topic, and another Black male commented to me, “So Black Women have it harder than Black men?” Hmmm let’s see. In the street my body gets unwanted attention, at work my mind doesn’t get enough respect, and you are asking me this crap…. so?!????! I acknowledge your plight even though it is not mine, acknowledge mine even if you don’t understand it.

Trust me brothas, we do such a good job at caping for y’all… all the time… I think sometimes you forget that while you were picking cotton, we were picking cotton, having babies in the field then attaching Little Chicken George to our nip to gets back to picking more cotton, and then having to visit Massa and his ole shriveled dry ass for some late night slavery. You got it bad. We get it. But let’s not have a competition in hard knocks. Mmmkay!

Externally, we are invisible. Unless it’s our hair, our ass, our style, or some negative stereotype… very little else seems to make waves. It’s a fight of the stereotypes that personally I’m not going to engage in… but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We aren’t hard working in the home like Hispanic and Latino Women, we aren’t smart like Asian women, we aren’t princesses who need to be rescued or brutish, Sarah Huckabee Sanders type, White women.  Unless of course you are Beyoncé… and then y’all go apeshit!

We are entering a time in history, American history, where humanity is being pushed aside by power. If you believe in the value of all human life, evaluate your personal spot on the totem. We can accomplish more when we break down the power hierarchy and acknowledge each other’s unique skills and talents as humans! And if that fails…

Black Women, be Beyoncé…“Pay me in equity”