I almost died from preeclampsia. I wasn’t tested because I’m black.
Originally I was going to publish this story with the Huffington Post. They wouldn’t run it because it wasn’t inspiration porn, it didn’t have a happy ending, just recommendations for other black women on how to stay alive. It was too scary for a white woman editor to take that on. I feel the alternative is scarier, so I’m publishing here so others can learn from my experience and feelings.
Looking down at my daughter in the hospital crib, I knew looking at Autumn’s face for the second time was supposed to be one of the happiest moments in my life. But I wasn’t happy. I was silently sobbing as to not wake the baby. Finishing pregnancy and labor was harrowing for me. I narrowly survived the whole process because I had carried Autumn almost to term while enduring preeclampsia that was only diagnosed after I had gone into labor. In some ways I felt vindicated. I had been complaining of symptoms for months. At the same time, I was saddened because I had spoken up repeatedly, but hadn’t been heard. Again.
Looking back with a mind that isn’t clouded by pregnancy brain, it is clear I had all of the classic symptoms of pre-eclampsia starting in my second trimester. At almost every appointment I complained of vomiting in my sleep (I used to wake up choking and terrified), relentless headaches, stomach aches, blurry vision, swelling in my face and hands, and higher than normal blood pressure. Instead of looking at the data from my blood pressure, considering my symptoms, or giving me a simple urine test, the nurses typically told me, “Your blood pressure is getting a little high, but you look fine.” Over and over, the nurses and midwives at my clinic told me “You look fine,” but never ran a test. I realize now the phrase, “You look fine”, was code based on stereotypes about “strong” black women. The medical professionals I encountered based their diagnoses on how I looked, not evidence.
I’m tenacious by nature, so I kept complaining. The midwife assigned to me, I’ll call her Samantha, decided it was time “to have a talk” with me. Samantha basically told me, again, I “looked fine.” She claimed I needed to relax and I was just feeling stressed because I was an overachieving graduate student who felt like I needed to do everything while I was pregnant. I literally wept…