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Finding Community During Pregnancy As A Black Non-Binary Femme

modified from flickr / katiek2

During my pregnancy I experienced racism at my OB office at nearly every visit; I finally stopped going around 35 weeks.

As a Black, non-binary femme who, while pregnant, intended to raise a “gender creative” child after birth, many of my concerns as a parent-to-be weren’t—not surprising, but disheartening nonetheless—addressed in the traditional parenting books I read about, was gifted or purchased.

I had countless romanticized ideas about the experience of pregnancy combined with feelings of paranoia regarding things that could go wrong, anxiety about how I’d cope with the upcoming changes while in recovery for an eating disorder, and general curiosity about what it meant to be pregnant. Due to health reasons, I’d been warned by doctors that my pregnancy would be high-risk and I had to take special precautions to ensure that myself and the baby would be healthy and safe.

Given the alarming statistics and data regarding Black maternal health in the U.S. (according to the CDC, Black woman are three to four times more likely than non-Hispanic white women to die as a result of giving birth as just one concern), I was riddled with worry at the potential for problems. Thankfully, I had a solid support system primarily in the form of an understanding and loving partner who supported me fully. Still, I hoped to find a sense of community or even a small village of people who could relate to my journey as a pregnant person and soon-to-be mom.

I started my pregnancy on Medicaid, enrolled in my final semester of undergraduate studies as a returning student, battling hyperemesis gravidarum—a severe form of vomiting and nausea vomiting—and hoping to have a doula-assisted home water birth. Fast forward eight months to an unexpected hospital birth, after over a day of excruciating but lovingly-supported labor at home, and an earlier-than-planned transition into motherhood.

Despite the last minute drastic changes to my birth plan, any sense of preparedness I had while birthing—and upon returning home with my newborn—was fostered and instilled in me not by any of the conventional pregnancy and parenting books I eagerly devoured early on in my pregnancy, but by a source not available to most prior generations of parents: social media-based forums and pages. I was gifted so many books and out of curiosity and fear of the unknown I read each one cover-to-cover.

I mostly read them with my future doula work in mind, gathering tools and information I could possibly need given the diversity of possible clients in my area. For me personally, though, the book just didn’t help for my unique journey as much as I hoped they would. They lacked the intersectional analyses of different issued related to pregnancy and birth I longed for.

During my pregnancy I experienced racism at my OB office at nearly every visit; I finally stopped going around 35 weeks. Each time I went I wished I had the confidence to advocate for myself and my child. Thankfully, my partner and I were honest and open with each other every step of the way so during moments of stress he would support me. Further, he would respectfully advocate for me if I was on the verge of a breakdown.

The levels of discomfort felt by my partner and I subsequently lead to crippling anxiety. Primarily for me. We would unpack the visits together because the racism we experienced was blatant but we decided to hang in there for as long as possible given the risks of my pregnancy. When we did stop going, though, if we needed help we sought the help of midwives, doulas, and nurse relatives for guidance. As a doula myself, I felt confident in my ability to seek the help of a new doctor if need be or to find other forms of professional, medical help.

Racism During Prenatal Visits isn’t a topic covered in any of the popular pregnancy books so I scoured the internet for people who could relate beyond peer-reviewed articles and academic texts about the intersections between institutional racism and the medical industrial complex. Sure I read those as well, but I wanted personal stories and honest narratives written by other pregnant people with relatable transparency.

There were other issues I yearned to talk with other pregnant people that the popular texts simply didn’t begin to broach: dealing with misgendering as a non-binary femme, choosing a parenting style that no one else in your family takes seriously or will most likely criticize, opting to raise gender creative children, planning for a home water birth with a doula in New York City, coping with body image issues as someone in recovery from bulimia, issues regarding receiving different physical exams during pregnancy as a survivor of sexual assault and rape, addressing intergenerational trauma as a soon-to-be Black mother. The list went on and on (and on) but luckily I eventually found exactly what I was looking for.

About halfway through my pregnancy I saw a shared post on Facebook that led me to a private group for pregnant people suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum. This was the first space I felt I could be open and honest about my experiences because the thousands of other people in the group could genuinely relate to me and I didn’t have to worry about suggestions for ginger or crackers. They, too, knew the struggle of wanting to take just a sip of water only to have your body reject it. Not eating for days, vomiting more than ten times a day, emergency room visits.

There were other issues I yearned to talk with other pregnant people that the popular texts simply didn’t begin to broach like theintergenerational trauma as a soon-to-be Black mother. Click To Tweet

Having found a sense of real community and understanding in that group I began to search for more solace, more solidarity. In time I was a member of about ten different groups that focused on the issues I was dealing with. I would discuss different topics everyday and eventually I made close bonds with people around the world by becoming friends on Facebook, texting, and following each other’s journeys on Instagram. Everything I couldn’t find and would never find in traditional parenting books I found online at all hours of the day.

Something that most traditional parenting books leave out are the effects that structural, institutional, and systemic forces have on lived experiences. Race, class, gender (or the lack thereof), nation of origin, disability, sexual orientation, region, and so much more impact our lives in ways that make experiences like pregnancy and childbirth truly unique.

Our bodies alone, and their differences and histories, make pregnancy and childbirth a unique experience, but so do things like the food we have access to, the way we are perceived by others, the type of insurance we have (if we have insurance at all) whether or not we work, whether or not we have a partner or partners, implicit biases medical professionals have toward us based on our race—there is so much silenced and overlooked.

But thanks to the internet, there are online spaces for people with shared experiences to connect, bond, and offer each other support. I’m thankful I found those spaces because they made my journey feel less helpless and made me feel less alone. I didn’t feel silent, I felt understood. My experience wasn’t erased. I, and thousands of others, could be seen and heard in those spaces.

Those spaces helped me see that for some pregnant people and parents, or people considering starting that journey, the most helpful guides to turn to for advice, useful information, and necessary guidance won’t be found on your local bookstore shelf (or online shopping cart). Instead, it’ll be found on social media, most likely Instagram or Facebook. And while we all navigate these journeys in our own way, if you’re like me and enjoy a sense of community with others who genuinely understand you, then I highly recommend you find an online space you consider safe.

Our bodies alone — their differences and histories, make pregnancy and childbirth a unique experience and there is so much silenced and overlooked. Click To Tweet

Sometimes you can’t always turn to family and sometimes the books won’t have answers to your questions. If you go into these spaces knowing you can learn, as a supplement to whatever level of professional and medical advice from doctors or other specialists you seek out, then your journey as a pregnant person or parent can be deeply enlightened and maybe, just maybe, less stressful.

It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone and it’s empowering to feel affirmed. Online communities offer that and I’m grateful I found them during such a major transitional and transformative time of my life.