Following three difficult years of infertility and treatments, we experienced our first pregnancy loss in 2016. Losing our baby after everything we had endured to achieve a pregnancy was one of the most challenging experiences my husband and I have ever faced together.
To avoid any extra pressure or unwarranted advice, we decided to not tell anyone outside our immediate families. As we tried to come to terms with our loss and grieved together, I became extremely isolated, spending endless hours looking for information and guidance on how to deal with my overwhelming sadness and loneliness.
But each time I read a new article, each time I clicked on a new website, each time I was reminded how common miscarriages were, each time I was assured that “I wasn’t alone”, for some reason I couldn’t relate to the messaging. The only place I could see someone who looked like me were stock photos of Black nurses comforting Caucasian couples.
This left me feeling like baby loss in the Black community somehow didn’t deserve to be included, as if our grief didn’t exist. How come, if baby loss is indeed experienced by so many and doesn’t discriminate, the stories of loss we see and hear are so focused on white women and white couples? Perhaps the ‘Strong Black Woman’ archetype was to blame, and we are meant to just move on and go get pregnant again.
“How come, if baby loss is indeed experienced by so many and doesn’t discriminate, the stories of loss we see and hear are so focused on white women and white couples?”
Years later, after we welcomed our baby boy through a second successful IVF cycle, something we would have never imagined happened: I fell pregnant naturally. Visiting my GP to get an opinion on some bleeding and one-sided pain, my doctor said he wasn’t concerned. If the symptoms I was experiencing were due to something like an ectopic pregnancy, he said, the pain I’d be experiencing would be so bad I wouldn’t even be sitting here right now.
I felt gaslighted, and I felt mocked. Just because I didn’t look how I ‘should’ have felt, I wasn’t to be taken seriously? Unsatisfied, I sought another opinion, and was reassured to be greeted by the smile of a female doctor, who also happened to be Black. On any other day, her skin colour wouldn’t have meant more than the novelty of seeing a ‘familiar’ face. However, this time, my life depended on her.
I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God as she explained to me she would booked me in for an ‘early reassurance scan’ the next day. As I left the room, I remember her saying: “I have only just realised that this pregnancy was conceived naturally following your history with IVF, I can only imagine how much you want this baby. I pray everything will get resolved. This is truly a miracle”. I felt so safe under her care. It made a big difference not having to exaggerate my symptoms just to be taken seriously. Sadly, however, we lost that baby due to a misdiagnosed ruptured ectopic pregnancy in my left fallopian tube.
Once again, I felt silenced and excluded after losing my baby. This time, it was almost as if my loss didn’t matter as much because I had already been honoured with the title of ‘mummy’. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone without potentially being judged, which further exacerbated my feelings of sadness, hopelessness and shame at losing a pregnancy.
“My want to share my story is only driven by a passion to help others recognise that we are all more than that ‘one in four’.”
At this point I didn’t want to hear insensitive comments like ‘at least you have your son, or ‘at least you know you can get pregnant naturally’. These insensitive comments further reinforced how much importance is placed on a woman’s fertility, all while I tried to navigate my feelings of being grateful for my living child, yet grieved the bigger family we had planned to be. I felt robbed of my voice and agency to grieve the way I felt was best for me.
I’m not talking about my experiences of baby loss as a Black woman to compete, or to compare mine to others’ experiences. My want to share my story is only driven by a passion to help others recognise that we are all more than that ‘one in four’, that our shared experiences of loss go way beyond a simple number, and that our unique personal, cultural and social influences mean we all experience loss differently.
That’s why I set up femelanin.org, an organisation that provides a safe space for Black women to share and learn about their intersectional reproductive health issues such as infertility, baby loss and gynaecological diseases. In sharing my story, I want to empower other marginalised voices to talk about their experiences in the hope that it will allow all of us who have lost a baby to feel included, and to feel our grief be acknowledged.
Vanessa Haye is a project manager, writer and founder of femelanin.org. Follow her on Twitter at @itsvanessahaye
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