I'm A Black Mum Who Gave Birth During Covid-19. I've Never Felt More Vulnerable

Our healthcare system should see Black women as humans, not stereotypes or objects that don’t need love and care.
Tobi Oredein during her pregnancy.
Tobi Oredein during her pregnancy.

This story is part of Black Ballad’s takeover of HuffPost UK, a week-long series by Black women on parenting, family, and our post-Covid future.

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter last August, I rehearsed how my birth would go a million times in my mind. I imagined myself in a pool of warm, tranquil water with my husband by my side and the unexplainable rush of blood coursing through my veins as I held my daughter for the first time.

I also mentally rehearsed the not so pleasant things I would have to deal with during pregnancy – a racist healthcare system.

How would I advocate for myself if I felt midwives and doctors weren’t taking my health concerns seriously during labour? Some may ask why I would rehearse such unpleasant moments that aren’t even a reality? It is because that is what Black people – and in this case, Black mothers – do.

Black mothers aren’t born with the privilege of thinking that society will work in our favour. We know that systems that should work for us, don’t. Systems that are meant to serve and protect us can in fact put our lives more in danger, so we push ourselves to imagine the worst and how we will deal with those situations that may arise.

We imagine these unpleasant scenarios so we aren’t caught out, so that we are prepared and armed to deal with these nightmares that far too often turn into realities. Yet, giving birth in a global pandemic was something even my mind couldn’t imagine.

The author at her pre-lockdown baby shower.
The author at her pre-lockdown baby shower.

I gave birth to my daughter by myself after needing an emergency c-section. Of course, doctors were there, but my husband wasn’t allowed by my side and I had never felt more alone or more powerless, in a face mask and looking up a white ceiling with lights so bright they felt like they were piercing my eyeballs.

Spending nearly 60 hours in labour pushed me not just physically, but mentally in a way I could have never predicted. While I ended up having some wonderful midwives and healthcare professionals who guided me every step of the way, attitudes from others changed dramatically when I gained a fever during labour.

I remember waking up due to a painful contraction and calling out my husband’s name for support, only for a midwife to urge me to carry on without my husband and let him continue to get “rest”. Of course, we both decided to ignore her “advice”.

My husband and I knew the expectation for me to breeze through labour with a lack of emotional support and medical intervention is a consequence of the strong Black woman stereotype. A stereotype that has left many Black women having labour experiences that have been unpleasant at best and life threatening and ending at worst.

“I want an NHS that serves me, a Black woman, like every other woman who comes through their doors.”

Yet, while I quickly brushed off that microaggression, nothing could prepare me for what happened as I was taken to have my c-section. I waited for what felt like hours in a hospital corridor, when a particular doctor looked at me and shouted to her colleagues: “Get this Covid suspect out of here! Why is she here?!”

It was hard to believe the person meant to be in charge of my care threw a tantrum about me – in front of me. There was no regard for me as a first time mum, stressed out because her baby’s heartbeat was creeping closer to being in distress. What I witnessed wasn’t just unprofessional, it was unsettling, and I wanted to rip off my mask and say: “Talk to me, not about me! I deserve care, despite being a Covid suspect.”

Yet, when you are so crippled with fear due to a system that doesn’t view your health as a priority, you stay silent and hope that it is an uncharacteristic moment, and not a clear glimpse of the personality who is about to lead an operation and hold your child’s life in their hands.

Tobi and her newborn daughter.
Tobi Oredein
Tobi and her newborn daughter.

Despite (thankfully) leaving the hospital with a healthy baby, I want our healthcare system to see Black women as humans, not stereotypes or objects that don’t need love and care. I want a healthcare system that asks me what I need, rather than tells me to carry on when I feel like I can’t, that shows compassion to Black women when we feel at our weakest.

I want healthcare that doesn’t call my husband a ‘baby daddy’ when we attend a routine checkup in tracksuits. I want healthcare that in times of a pandemic or not, doesn’t make me feel like a burden. I want doctors that see the fear on my face and console me. I’m not asking to be wrapped up in cotton wool but I am asking for care.

I also want a healthcare system that thinks about the mental and emotional pressures of labour and does a better job of following up with those of us who have had traumatic experiences. Maybe a 60-hour labour, emergency C-section and a baby heading towards distress are all in a day’s work for a midwife, but it isn’t what I imagined for my labour.

I will never get a first chance to give birth again and if I am fortunate to be pregnant a second time, I don’t want to have to rehearse my worst fears. I want an NHS that serves me, a Black woman, like every other woman who comes through their doors – without racial microaggressions and with aftercare that helps us work through our traumatic experiences.

Tobi Oredein is founder and CEO of Black Ballad.

This article was commissioned for HuffPost UK by Black Ballad, the lifestyle platform that tells stories of human experience through the eyes of Black British women and elevates their voices. If you would like to read more, become a Black Ballad member to get unlimited access to content, events and discounts, and to connect to its community of like-minded women.

Camilla Ru