It’s Black Maternal Health Week. It hits differently because, for me, the statistics are very real and could have been deadly. I had preeclampsia in my first pregnancy. As a doctor, I’ve always stated this as a fact without allowing myself to process how terrifying it was as the woman walking through the journey. This week I’ve read stories of beautiful Black women who look like me who can’t tell their stories. It’s been heartbreaking.
My preeclampsia didn’t show up with all the typical symptoms of high blood pressure, high protein in the urine, and swelling. Well, I did have swelling - lots of it. But initially, it just showed up as gaining weight.
My OB/GYN did all the usual testing, and it came back “normal.” She advised me to “Watch my weight gain and exercise more.” At the time, I was a third-year resident working 80+ hours a week, so my response was, “My life is exercise.” I felt like I was on a treadmill that never turned off.
I was constantly going at work and at home, and I was not listening to my body or my needs.
I remember my last day of work before I delivered. I was so exhausted. I was 60lbs heavier than before pregnancy, and my feet were so swollen I had to buy all new shoes. Yet, I pushed through and waddled into work, still excited to treat my patients on the respiratory unit.
I didn’t know that all week my OB/GYN had been trying to reach me to let me know the test I had done the week before revealed what she’d been suspecting: I had preeclampsia.
I didn’t get any of her voicemails because I had been so focused on finishing work and not missing any days so I could have enough maternity leave to spend every moment with my baby.
By the time I called her back a week later, she ordered me to go to the hospital immediately. My mom and Hubby sprang into action. Once in the hospital, my vitals were so abnormal I was immediately placed on IV medication to treat my preeclampsia, and they tried to induce labor. When Baby Boy started showing signs of distress, they made the decision to do an emergency C-section. Fortunately, he was delivered safely by C-section. We both stayed in the hospital for five days for treatment and monitoring.
The C-section recovery was so painful and took months. To this day, I still have pain in my C-section scar if I work out wrong. With the combination of sleep deprivation, high stress, and limited self-care, I developed postpartum anxiety. I’m so thankful for the support I had to get me through my postpartum anxiety, which lasted about six months postpartum. It took two years before I reclaimed my overall wellness and lost the remaining 40lbs of 60lbs pregnancy weight gain I was still carrying around.
Sadly my story is not uncommon.
Black women are:
💔 more likely to have preeclampsia
💔3-4x more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications
❣️We are college-educated
❣️Seek prenatal care
After we deliver we have ⬆️ higher rates of untreated postpartum depression and anxiety.
As terrifying as my experience was, I learned invaluable lessons that forever transformed me as a physician:
💜Always listen to my patients. You know your body better than anyone. I just am a guide and advisor. I put words and explanations to what you see, sense and feel.
💜Weight is more than a number, it’s your story. My only initial preeclampsia symptom was gaining weight quickly. I gained 60lbs in pregnancy. I’m glad my OB kept looking for the cause. I learned to never give advice about weight without digging deep for the cause. There’s always a deeper reason than just “diet and exercise.”
💜Check my bias. Bias is so deeply rooted in our education system I could have been infected and not even realize it. I have to be vigilant to stay aware of the impact of systemic racism and weight bias in healthcare as I treat patients.
As a woman & wellness coach:
💜Prioritize you. During my pregnancy journey everyone and everything was a priority. It cause me to miss important warning signs my body was giving me and even calls from my doctor. I see so many successful woman who fall into this trap of not prioritizing yourself. As a coach I am passionate about helping women embrace themselves as a high priority on their to do list.
Above all as I write this I am so grateful to be alive, able to share my story.
So many of my Black sisters don’t have this opportunity and never will have.
I thank God that I’m here to write these words and see my children grow. I write these words with the prayer that every Black woman will have the same opportunity.
Listen to Black women & treat us equally👸🏾
To optimize your weight and wellness before or after pregnancy, schedule a complimentary Embrace YOU consultation with Dr. Bollie.
American College of OB/ Gynecology
Black Mamas Matter Alliance
National Black Doula Association
Therapy for Black Girls
Dr. Robyn Gobin, Self Care Expert & Therapist
Instagram Ob/Gyn to follow
Dr. Kina Peppers
Dr. Nicole Alicia MD
Instagram Doulas to follow