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Maternal Health: The Importance of Choosing a Caring Physician

Just in time for Mother’s Day, the BBC released a report on maternal health touting Finland as the best place on earth to be a mother and disparaging the DR of Congo as the worst. The report looks as if it was recycled from last year. Again, the United Sates came in dead last on this list at number 30 because it holds the record for highest newborn death rate compared with other nations in the developed world.

The subject of healthcare in America is a hot button issue, with Obamacare finally rolling out in earnest. One of the unfortunate consequences of universal healthcare has been demand outweighing supply. The US was already facing a shortage of medical professionals, and with more people opting out of the field altogether due to its cost prohibitive nature or, eventually, burn out, the quality of care the average American will receive can only decline.

My family is considered ‘healthy’ (well, except for my husband and I. We qualify as ‘obese’ and are thus subject to higher insurance rates), and hospital visits for are a rare and few between. I’m the only one of us 6 who has had the most hospital visits, and that’s because I was biological responsible for dispensing babies from my body. And with the exception of two unfortunate incidences, I have been blessed to be a part of a good group of doctors who have excellent bedside manner and genuinely care about their patients. However, for many women bringing babies into the world, this isn’t always the case. Like anything else in the human experience, the quality of service one receives will ultimately come down to race, geographic location, socio-economic status or a mix of all three.

I have friends of all races who have had babies, but I admit I have only talked to my African or African-American ones about the nuances of their child birth process. I would like to think that the events I am about to describe to you have absolutely nothing to do with their race and all to do with the fact that the medical professionals in these cases just sucked. I know that abortion is very much en vogue this century, what with our president (and his glamorous wife) being honored as the most pro-abortion president in history at a Planned Parenthood gala, but there are still a number of women out there that actually want a family and are willing to go through the pangs of childbirth and rearing, no matter how painful or “inconvenient”. Call us crazy; or call it a primal need to preserve our species – it is what it is.

When Stone was being delivered by c-section, I had placenta previa . As my OB cut and dug into my abdomen, I watched as liters of blood dripped into two canisters to my right. I was light-headed, but I didn’t pass out. In a way, I wish I had. At least then I wouldn’t have to hear the Eastern European anesthesiologist say something that no mom should hear while she’s in the midst of giving birth to her child. Her tome was mocking and condescending.

“Don’t have any more children. You see all this blood you’re losing? And I wish you could see your uterus. It looks like hamburger meat.”

I shared with you a few years ago that the geneticist affiliated with my Ob/Gyn’s practice (wrongly) predicted that Liya had Down’s Syndrome . I will never forget the call I received that late afternoon.

“Mrs. Grant?”


“We got the results back from your preliminary blood work and your ultrasound, and it looks like your baby is testing positive for Down’s Syndrome.”

I murmured something in acknowledgment. The coordinator then asked me (very sweetly) if I would be willing to consider an abortion. Whatever for? I told her no, under no circumstances, thank you. They still needed me to come in and see a specialist. I set up the appointment and went in. Turns out the machine they were using upstairs was delivering faulty results.

When my good friend M5X (which stands for Mom Five Times) went in to her doctor’s office to confirm that she was indeed on her fifth pregnancy – a shock considering her husband’s freshly minted vasectomy – a nurse approached her with a lop-sided smile.

“So, Mrs. M5X…this is your fifth pregnancy! What do you want to do about it?”

M5X played dumb and asked her what she meant. The nurse smiled a little broader, injecting her speech with “wells” and “you knows” before finally asking her if she planned to keep it.

“Yes,” M5X said flatly.

It was only at that moment that the nurse began to refer to the child she was carrying as a baby and not a fetus. Now, the reason this story struck me is because I was watching Dr. Phil this week and Troy Dunn (The Locator) was on the show. Troy and his wife have eight children together. I wonder – did his wife’s nurse practitioner have the gall to ask her if she planned to keep her fifth child, or did that child and subsequent others, have the assumed right to life because their parents were White and wealthy?

In another instance, I had a friend from the Caribbean who was advised to abort her baby, because she was showing to have a genetic defect. Her ultrasound showed she had a “broad, flat nose”. Well, so did the child’s dad. Many people of African descent have broad flat noses!

My own sister went through months of agony when she was informed that her son had trisomy 18, that he would be mentally retarded, and he would not live past a year. She too was advised to have an abortion. Again, the boy’s father has an unusually large head that my nephew had the misfortune to inherit. And today he’s a genius who’s about to make his third birthday. Order generic viagra pills online visit http://www.trendingdownward.com/generic-viagra-ed/ website.

Finally comes the case of my cousin whom I told you about two weeks ago. She is expecting her first child, and went to listen to the heartbeat earlier this week. She was elated that her child as doing so well, despite the fact that many other things in her life weren’t, including her relationship with its father. Her elation soon turned to distress when her Asian doctor turned and looked at her and said this:

“You shouldn’t get too attached to the fetus. Your risk factors for miscarriage are high, so you will probably lose it.”

In those words, exactly.

I was incensed for her and called my sister to rant.

“Dude, there are certain things that doctors don’t need to say to you under any circumstances,” she growled. “They need to do a preliminary questionnaire to ask a woman if she wants to have an abortion before it gets to a certain point.”

“Exactly! Like day one, I sit in your office, and you hand me a list that says “Can we ask you about an abortion? Check ‘ye’, ‘no’, or ‘I’m open to discussing it later’. Sometimes I feel like other cultures don’t think Black women love their (unborn) kids as much as anyone else!”

You can draw your own conclusions about these stories. I just find it disturbing that the FIRST option that these women of color (myself included) were offered when there was the slightest hint of a problem with their unborn children was a termination.

That's Stone's foot on the left!

That’s Stone’s foot on the left!

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, and tolerate the litany of TV commercials encouraging our families to buy us bouquets that will eventually die and jewelry that we will eventually lose, I’d like us to give some thought to the process of motherhood if we could, and all those who are involved in it. I believe it is absolutely imperative that moms-to-be have a strong network to rely on to help them reach the goal of delivering healthy babies; and no one is more important in that endeavor than her doctor and his/her medical team. That strength is displayed through offering caring, encouraging words and positive affirmations, as well as the ability to write out proper prescriptions. It truly does set the tone for one’s mothering experience. Personally, I know I felt better knowing that the first person to touch my child was someone who genuinely cared for my well-being… or at least did a fabulous job faking it.


This article has 6 comments

  1. akumbu

    I would like to believe that what your anesthesiologist said to you was an unintentional gaffe. It was so wrong on so many levels and completely unacceptable.
    Imagine advising someone to abort because of the shape of the baby’s nose! I wonder how many unnecessary abortions people have had to go through for similar reasons. (I sometimes wonder if there are ever any necessary abortions in the first place).
    Happy Mother’s Day, Malaka (Congrats on the new book as well). Your kids are fortunate to have you.

    • Malaka

      You know, I can chalk it up to a gaffe. I don’t think she was being intentionally racist or anything like that – but I do think that people are more inclined to say things to Black people than they are to other races because they either 1) don’t care or 2) assume we are indifferent to flippant remarks.
      But I too have often wondered how many unborn babies have been killed needlessly courtesy to misdiagnosis. It’s really sad.

  2. Abena

    Aha being meaning to ask: is Stone his real name or a moniker ?and if its his real name,why that name choice?I’m very very curious Malaka..

    • Malaka

      His real name is Stone, and I actually get asked this question all the time! My husband’s family name is Stone, and when we were dating in college I told him IF we ever got married and IF we had a son, I’d like to name him Stone. I was a Mass Media Major, and Stone Phillips was this cool cat on TV that epitomized professionalism.
      12 years later, a Stone was born. 🙂

  3. Allison

    Malaka, you make my LIFE! The economic downturn brought with it spotty employment for me so lady part doctor visits weren’t part of my life for a number of years. I finally got me a stable job with benefits and the whole shebang literally just in time for me to get pregnant. I knew the hospital I wanted to deliver in, but I was new to my current area and didn’t have a network to whom I could pose research questions. I did know that I wanted my OB to be black and female so I found one who was affiliated with my chosen hospital and had pretty good reviews so I called and set up an appointment. Now, I’ve questioned since my very first visit with her whether she was just practicing medical detachment or if she thought I was just another undereducated black woman that she could talk down to. Dealing with her was literally like talking to a car salesman who ignores you in favor of the male you happen to be with. At my very first visit, she informed me that I was fat so it was in my best interest to not get a whole lot fatter. It went downhill from there. My pregnancy was pretty smooth for the most part, but around 14 weeks I woke up spotting and was out of my mind. I happened to have an appointment that day so I tried to calmly wait the hour and a half for that instead of rushing to the ER. I was immediately told that at 14 weeks, if I was in fact miscarrying, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do (understandable, as we all know about viability and such). It was only after this dubious pep talk that she decided to do a pelvic exam and then informed me that I had a complete previa which was the cause of the spotting. I had no idea what a previa – complete or otherwise – meant and she didn’t offer any clarifications so I just cried silently and nodded at everything she said. Probably didn’t raise her estimation of me. After the pelvic, she finally got out the Doppel and we were able to detect the baby’s heartbeat after about 2 minutes of agonizing silence. It was after this that she began her crusade to give me a c-section. “Your previa is more than likely not going to resolve so we’re going to have to do a section or you’ll bleed out in the delivery room.” Then, my darling son refused to turn head down so it was, “Your canal is untried so we’re going to have to do a section.” I was ready for her this time so I did my research and posed questions about ECVs and all the wives’ tales about hanging upside down and the like. She looked surprised, but pooh poohed everything in favor of the section. Then I was told I had gestational diabetes (really all it was was an elevated fasting blood sugar rate) which she tried to convince me meant that my kid was going to be a 20 pound monster that couldn’t possibly be delivered vaginally even if he did turn. At every visit, I kept hearing that I was going to have too much fluid and my baby was “big” despite the fact that the ultrasound techs always told me that he was in the 50-60th percentile in terms of size. My mom is a nurse who practiced midwifery early in her career so I asked her advice on ECV vs just caving to the section. She told me honestly that the success rate of an ECV was spotty and the pain and risks weren’t worth it so I needed to come to terms with the section. Well, my fluids were always normal, but my kid never did turn so I did end up having to schedule the section. And my massive gestational diabetes baby wound up being only 6lbs 4oz. I dealt with other doctors in the practice and they all seem to share the attitude so I’m a bit reluctant to to hunting for another office, but I don’t know if I can endure another cycle of prenatal visits like that.

    • Malaka

      Giirrrrllll NO!
      You do NOT deserve to go through another experience like that! The last time I checked, you were paying for this service, and medical treatment does not come CHEAP! One of my Asian friends confided in me that doctors do not like to labor with Black women. They’d rather slice you up, yank the baby out, and get back to the golf course. She told me this back in 2003, and I didn’t want to believe her. I thought she was a conspiracy theorist who had been hanging around too many Black folk. And then you share your tale, and so many other share similar ones.
      My advice is to start looking for alternative care. I wouldn’t even let that group take a stool sample from me, let alone deliver my child!
      In the end, I’m grateful your “monster” baby was born healthy and to such a loving, intelligent mother. God bless your family!

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