Facing Pain As A Black Mama

Image by Lauren Crothers

Today, I went to see a prenatal chiropractor. I’ve been suffering from really awful sciatica for the past few weeks. No biggie to me because I had sciatica with my first pregnancy and powered through it. The difference is that this time, my son noticed. He’s been having a really rough few days and I asked him what was wrong. He told me I don’t “get up anymore” and I don’t play with him (among other issues). He’s right. I spend most of my time at home on the couch, unable to move much because of shooting pains down the backs of my legs. Adam is super active with him, though, so I thought he made up for my absence. Turns out my son has been noticing. I asked around for suggestions of chiropractors and saw one today. She did her thing and I now amazingly have full range of motion in my hips, again. No more pain. No more sciatica. It’s really quite mind-blowing. The best part about being able to move again is getting to spend more time with our son but let’s face it. It’s also nice to not be in pain. So why did I wait so long?

Let’s talk about black women, the healthcare system and maternal health. In April, we commemorated Black Maternal Health Week, to encourage discussions and change around how black mamas as treated by the healthcare industry. What’s really troubling is that black women are often not listened to when it comes to our health. We’re often treated like we’re overreacting. This leads to us doubting ourselves, holding it all in and not seeking help when we need it. As black women, we already carry so much emotional weight. As an immigrant woman, I sometimes find that I don’t share some of the trauma of black women because I grew up in another country where blackness, through still cloaked in a system of white supremacy, has different implications in Trinidad. But this isn’t the case when it comes to my health. As it turns out, I’ve also internalized this mentality that pain is something for me to manage on my own, that I won’t be believed if I ask for help from my doctor, that I’m overreacting and that my problem can’t be fixed by a system that doesn’t make space for me. What prompted me to seek help this time was my obligation to my child, not my obligation to my own wellbeing. And that’s worrisome but also so common with black mamas.

So how do we move past this? We need institutionalized changes to how black women are treated by the healthcare system. We need doctors to listen to us. We need validation that our bodies matter, our voices matter and our pain matters. If you’re a partner to or are close to a black woman, some of that validation can come from you. Listen to us and advocate for us at the doctor’s office. Two voices are louder than one. I’ve been talking to Adam about the need to advocate for me when I give birth to Scarlett. Be a helping hand. Being in pain or sick and having to fight to be heard is exhausting and emotionally traumatizing. Help us by being a support system. You can also help make change on a grassroots level by donating to Black Mamas Matter here.

So I’m sciatica-free for the moment. My chiropractor says I need another visit to really set things right but for tonight, I’m enjoying the fact that I got to “get up” with my son, cuddle him without any pain and be present in his life. I’m still working on seeking healing for my own wellbeing. That will come with time.

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