When I was 29 weeks pregnant, my water broke. Babies are the size of coconuts and they should be the size of watermelons. The weather outside was still warm and sunny when it should have been cool and gray — drugstore shelves filled with Halloween candy in what should have been Valentine’s Day chocolates. Instead of sitting at home doing Kegel exercises, I’m at work. In other words, it’s too early.
At the hospital, they pumped meds into my veins to make me feel hot, metallic, and nauseous, with the prognosis: not good. This was followed by a vocabulary salad of neonatal disorders associated with preterm birth. Cerebral palsy, necrotizing enterocolitis, retinopathy of prematurity, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, impaired lung function, behavioral problems, mental health conditions, neurological disorders, hearing loss, cognitive decline. After letting me know of all the ways my baby could be hurt, a doctor tried to reassure me. “Your child,” he told me, “has a good chance of surviving.” For the first time it occurred to me that he might not.
This is not reassuring. My babies may not die, but they will be born with serious complications requiring breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and growing in an incubator instead of me. It’s scary, it’s shocking. But even more worrying: I knew this was going to happen. It shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t have to happen. But I know it will happen. It was entirely foreseeable and preventable, but it was also unavoidable.
The United States is the most dangerous place in the developed world for black women to have children. Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Babies born to black women are twice as likely as babies born to white women to die before their first birthday, largely due to low birth weight. Babies born to black women with a college education still die at a higher rate than babies born to white women without a high school education, a statistic that is terrible in many ways.
I knew these stats when I was pregnant. I’m a black woman with a college degree and a data scientist. But no matter what the stats tell me, I still hope my wealth and education will protect me. What else is it good for? knowledge is power. Money was supposed to prevent it. I’m not naive enough to believe this is entirely true – even Oprah has been photographed trying to buy an expensive handbag – but the glory and genius of America is that if you work hard and make a lot of money, you can Reduce the burden of living. It can alleviate at least some forms of discrimination. If nothing else, it gives you the ability to afford things: a nice house, good schools, top-notch doctors, a $1700 cradle that rocks using smart tech Your baby falls asleep. So even though I know that when some people look at me, they don’t see my humanity, let alone my degree or my money – all they see is a black person, someone lower than me – I still occasionally find myself thinking that accepting money can protect me.