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By Jennifer Roberts, Chair of the Advisory Board, Equity & Inclusion Lead for Make the Breast Pump Not Suck
Almost six years ago I sat in a doctor’s office scared, wondering what the doctors were going to say about the abnormal sonogram I’d just finished having. “We don’t think your pregnancy is viable…” The rest of the conversation is sort of a blur. Even now, I struggle to remember all of the words, but I do remember being given three choices by the doctor, whose bedside manner left a lot to be desired, to terminate my pregnancy. After sitting with my initial emotions, I knew something just didn’t feel right. Call it mommy instinct or a soon-to-be mother just not willing to totally give up yet, but I made a decision to do something that changed the way I approached my entire pregnancy…I chose not to listen to the doctors and advocate for my right to wait and see whether they were right.
I went home and scoured the internet looking for any women sharing experiences like mine. When I returned to the doctor to tell him I decided to wait, I was given a million medical reasons why I should make a decision that would “end all of this more quickly”, but empowered by my own research I stood firm and made the decision that felt right for me. Three weeks later at another sonogram there was my daughter, heart beat strong, most definitely viable.
> > It wouldn’t be the last time I had to advocate for myself in my pregnancy and delivery journey.
And though it was never easy, I recognize I have some privilege here. I had excellent medical insurance, access and time to search for answers that differed from my doctor, and even the means to switch practices and hospitals if their philosophy didn’t align with my own. So many women in our country don’t have those luxuries, which really shouldn’t be luxuries at all. And even when we do, we often are written off and unheard.
> Our expensive, failing, inequitable healthcare system fueled by systemic racism has kept many women from feeling empowered to make a decision like the one I made. A decision that essentially saved my daughter’s life.
I’ve watched as Serena Williams, arguably one of the greatest athletes of our time, shared her story of fighting to save her own life after her daughter’s delivery. And I hear of poor moms of color who aren’t given information on breastfeeding because it’s assumed (or decided for them) that breastfeeding isn’t something they desire to do. I’ve seen stories of middle class mothers, much like myself, who can’t afford to hire a doula to advocate for them so they try their best to advocate for themselves. Even being rich and accomplished doesn’t save us. So, many times, most times if we’re honest, for parents who look like me the weight of prejudice becomes too much for some of us to bear and we don’t breastfeed, don’t advocate and many times, we don’t live to tell about it.
I lead an organization that helps schools, teachers and educational organizations get real about equity, specifically racial equity, and examine their systems, relationships and policies for inequities and then take radical steps to be more equitable. The statistics on the success of children of color in our public education system are improving, but still depriving students of color of the education they deserve. What we often don’t consider is the ability for students of color to succeed in school, in some ways, begins with their time in their mother’s womb. The ability of a parent to have a healthy, safe pregnancy and delivery, to be given the support necessary to breastfeed their child and then the time and support after to nurture their new baby before heading back to work directly impacts life outcomes for that eventual student. Our education system, much like our birthing system, in America is failing parents and students, especially families of color. And all oppression is connected.
That’s why I am involved with the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck team. Our country has failed to give parents equitable access to information and support so they can advocate for what’s best for them. It has failed to provide parents with adequate parental leave so they can nurture their children without being rushed back to a job. It has failed to see the value in all parents building the necessary bonds to sustain the breastfeeding relationship. And it has failed to provide parents with living wage jobs that allow for time to pump and the adequate, affordable pumps for them to do so. It has failed the life-givers of this country. And it’s time for us to win.
Racism started this, but as a group of empowered parents, community members and equity advocates we plan to do our part to end these unequal, prejudice-filled systems that fail the parents who are most in need in our country. We’re catalyzing a movement in maternal health and #breastfeedinginnovation to let the powers that be know we’ve had enough! That we deserve to have supportive, equitable healthcare, birth options and support no matter what our zip-code. I hope you’ll join us in this fight.