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Black birth: Laboring for justice

Bailey Carson holds her newborn, Kairo after a difficult pregnancy and birth. Bailey says that today, "He's a very happy baby."
Elodie Reed, Larysa Pashkevich
Vermont Public / iStock
Bailey Carson holds her newborn, Kairo after a difficult pregnancy and birth. Bailey says that today, "He's a very happy baby."

In America, birth is a business; a cultural, political and for-profit system. And currently that system, for Black women, is in crisis. In this episode, host Myra Flynn speaks with a midwife, a doula, and swaps birth stories with two Black women. Together they discuss the joy, the trauma and the needed reckoning to address the racism baked into the pregnancy-industrial complex.

This is the latest episode of Homegoings, a seasonal podcast that features fearless conversations about race. Follow the series here.

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The best unsolicited advice I ever got about birth before giving birth is that when you feel out of control look around at the people listening, loving, helping and holding you: look for the angels.

Birth is different for each and every person. But, when it comes to Black birth, there are some unfortunate things we have in common.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually calls it the Black Maternal Health Crisis. Data shows that Black women are 2-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The CDC also says most of the maternal deaths were, and are, preventable.

That’s where the angels come in – the people who, in this unjust system, act as the guardians.

In this episode, we’ll hear more about those angels. How they provided this forcefield for three Black women experiencing the racism baked into the pregnancy-industrial complex.

We’ll dig into what that looks like, meet some people who are trying to change the status quo and lean into the joy of Black birth.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We highly recommend pressing play on the audio posted here. For accessibility, we also provide a transcript of the episode. Transcripts are generated using a combination of robots and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 

The midwife

Myra Flynn: This is Avalon, she’s three and a half now.

Mayano Ochi: Oh, look at that smile. Oh, she looks like Phil.

Myra: She looks just like Phil.

Mayano: Oh, so cute.

Myra: The best unsolicited advice I ever got about birth before giving birth, is that when you feel out of control, look around at the people listening, loving, helping and holding you: look for the angels.

Myra: She looks like Phil and she has my grandmother eyes.

Mayano: She has your eyes though I think.

Myra: Really? I don’t know… 

Myra: This is Mayano Ochi. The certified nurse midwife at the hospital I gave birth at in Southern California. She’s one of my angels.

Myra: And you were saying earlier that I'm like the only patient that you ever gave your personal phone number to. Why did you give me your number?

Mayano: A great question, why did I? You were just so charming and convincing. I mean, I could see that you were really, you know, curious and really, really valued information and did seem a little bit anxious about, you know, everything that was happening.

Myra: By the time I found Mayano, I was pretty convinced there weren’t any angels left in the world. More on that later. But let’s just say it all started with a little journey in search of a Black OBGYN.

It’s L.A. they said. There will be plenty, they said.

They lied. For a little context, only 5.7% of doctors in the U.S. are Black. Period. Only one-tenth of Black doctors practice obstetrics and gynecology, and only 4% of Black OBs are located in L.A. Add my Medi-Cal, (California's medicaid insurance) limitations of top of all that? Yeah, I had to let go of that dream real quick.

So, me and my big belly did what we had to do. And tested out as many folks as possible to try to find a comfortable provider. Four OB’s, three hospital tours, a freestanding birth center visit, midwife interviews, a birth doula, 60 lbs and 33 weeks later — I found Mayano. Who isn’t Black. She’s Japanese-American. But at that point? Ask me if I cared. All that mattered was that she was kind, and she saw me.

Myra: Do you see your ethnicity as playing a part in that psyche part that that comfort for some of your patients?

Mayano: I've never asked anybody, so I can't speak for how my patients feel. But I do know what it's like to feel invisible sometimes. And so I really do try to address that by being more present.

Myra: What do you remember about I don't know, my birth or me as a patient? I came to you all pretty late, so I don't know if you remember anything about me. But I'd love to hear …

Mayano: Yeah, I absolutely remember you. I don't know if I saw you for your first visit or not. But you were definitely towards the end of your pregnancy in your third trimester. Um, I just remember you, like, glowing!

Myra: Really? That was sweat. 

Mayano: And you were always dressed so like fashionably and like your hair was always perfect. And I just remember you had a very clear vision on what you wanted for your pregnancy and for your birth. And I remember doing a lot of talking about, you know, what to expect, and you know, how we can support you and just getting to know each other. I remember, it's some of your prenatal appointments. I think your mom came with you. And I just remember there was like, so much love and support from your family from Phil. And like, I could tell that, you know, you had this like really this like team of people around you that really wanted the best for you and wanted to support you. And it was really lovely.

Myra: (DEEP breath) It is so nice that Mayano remembers me this way. Because I don’t remember me this way.

Birth is different for each and every person. BUT: When it comes to Black birth, there are some unfortunate things we have in common.

A reminder that birth, in America — is a business. A cultural, political and for-profit system. And currently that system, for Black women, is in crisis.

The CDC actually calls it the Black Maternal Health Crisis, as data shows that Black women are two to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. One study found the wealthiest Black woman in California is at a higher risk of maternal mortality than the least wealthy white woman. The CDC also states that most of the maternal deaths were and are preventable.

Take that in for a second.

There are many theories out there as to why this is, and we’ll dig into some of this today. But what this Black woman can tell you from my experience, is that you don’t have to wait until the birth itself to feel some of the injustice in this system. You just gotta be Black, and pregnant.

From Vermont Public, this is Homegoings. I’m Myra Flynn. Today on the show, we’re talking about Black birth.

The Joy.

Bailey Carson: He’s seven months right now. He's a very happy baby. 

Myra: The crisis.

Brandi Jordan: And after all the research, all the roundtables, we know that it's specifically and 100%, solely related to race.

Myra: And the reckoning.

Kim Carson: Without the courage of the whole continuum of people trying to bring this to light, we don't get change.

Myra: This is Homegoings. Welcome home.

At about 20 weeks into my pregnancy, my OB at the time told me casually in his office that I’d likely have to get a C-section because my baby … way too big, and my body, well it was just way too small.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a C-section, but to make that call at 20 weeks? Your baby is the size of a bell pepper.

Myra: Just that a C-section was mentioned to me twice. You know, so early was so alarming. It just took everything that I'd learned in my classes. And you know, from having a doula or just like reading books, or just being a human being with a brain like it just threw it out the window, because what you just don't expect is somebody's like, ‘ah, your baby’s too big for your vagina.’ 

Mayano: And it was second trimester. That's crazy. 

Myra: For the record, my kid was born at 7lbs, 6 oz. Not a big baby. Just a baby. Also, there is no such thing as big baby, tiny woman syndrome.

Moving on.

Me and my big baby had to find a place we actually wanted to give birth, so that birth center I mentioned earlier, I took a visit there. I was up for exploring birth outside of a hospital. But even that didn’t work.

Myra: I was like, Do you have any Black midwives here? Because that was something that was really important to me. And I was told by the owner of that birth center, well I would never choose your your midwife back based on race.

Mayano: She was white, I’m assuming?

Myra: Yes. So I was like, well, you've never have to.

Mayano: Well that’s a default for her. 

The second time a C-section was mentioned to me, I was told it was because I had fibroids, which are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. They said all of a sudden, they’d seen them on my ultrasound, and this was a very big deal to me. I knew that fibroids are more common among Black women in the U.S. than white women. There’s a lot of harmful hearsay out there about why that is. I’ll give you the cliffnotes: It’s our diet, our impoverished upbringings and exposure to chemicals, basically our fibroids — our fault.

But the truth is, we understand little about what causes them. All I knew is I didn’t want them. So I got a little money together and went to a specialist for a second opinion. And thank God because…

Myra: The fibroids didn't exist, the fibroids just didn't exist. Is there something that looks like fibroids that could be nothing?

Mayano: In general, just because you have a fibroid should not be a reason why you can't have a vaginal birth. Sometimes if a fibroid is in a location that is sort of obstructing the, the passageway for the baby, that could make it less likely that you will be able to have a vaginal birth, obviously, if you know the entrance is blocked. But yeah, I find that so much of pregnancy care is in the gray area. And people want to make it black and white.

Myra: No pun intended 

Mayano: Right, exactly, no pun intended! 

Myra: Lastly, (although certainly not the least of it) I hate to take a big old paintbrush and paint over the beautiful picture Mayano saw of me sitting in her lobby for the first time, surrounded by the people I love, but the reality was every one of these visits, microaggressions, scares or straight up lies required so much energy from me. Energy to advocate, energy to code-switch, smile, keep up morale. And you know, grow the human that was inside me. I wasn’t sleeping. I was so so pregnant.

I was getting tired.

So those folks around me had been gathered intentionally and strategically. They were my forcefield. My own team of angels.

This is where Mayano found me.

My husband took three months off of work just to sit in waiting rooms with me, ready to fight which really affected our income. I’d flown my mom there because I was losing faith. I needed my mama. I needed her to remind me to have faith because I was feeling like If I couldn’t even protect my body or baby now, what kind of mother would I be once she was born. My doula, Amanda, felt so bad for me and these experiences that she came to every hospital visit just to advocate for me. That was not her job.

There was also this third feeling I was just too foggy to know how to name at the time. What’s that feeling called when you swear you know something for certain but someone distorts that reality forcing you to question your own judgment and intuition?

Mayano: So you were feeling gaslit?

Myra: Totally. Yeah. 

Myra: This feeling of Black women being gaslit or not taken seriously is common. The National Library of Medicine actually has a term for this mistreatment. It’s called: Racialized implicit bias, and this bias has perpetuated some wild theories out there about Black people and pain.

Some studies, like one in 2016, found that nearly half of first and second year medical students believed that Black people were actually experiencing less pain than white people, due to having quote: thicker skin. An idea born from 19th century experiments that were conducted by a physician named Thomas Hamilton. He was a wealthy plantation owner who regularly tortured an enslaved Black man named John Brown, creating blisters all over his body in an effort to prove Black skin went deeper than white skin.

The repercussions of this bias means Black women are systematically undertreated for pain. And back to my leadup to birth, this was also the very first time in my fortunate, privileged, woke, educated, lucky and beautiful life that I realized — damn. I’m just a number. I don’t have any agency or autonomy when it comes to my own body in this system. I could get hurt here.

It also just felt sad. Like, wasn’t some point of this whole having a kid thing supposed to be, like, fun?

Then there was my birth itself. And a heads up, that though I’m hoping to shine a big old spotlight on some important stuff today, if you are Black and gestating a baby in any capacity right now — even if it’s a hopeful gestation in your mind — some of this could make you anxious. So tread lightly, and take good care.

But just in case you're like me, plagued with what I can only describe as a curiosity compulsion, and being informed of all possibilities and options out there feels more empowering than scary? Listen on.

The Christmas mama

Myra and her daughter, Avalon, endured five days of labor, plus three more days in the NICU due to complications.
Myra Flynn
Vermont Public
Myra and her daughter, Avalon, endured five days of labor, plus three more days in the NICU due to complications.

So I was called on Christmas eve – before I was past due — and told out of the blue that I would need an induction. Not exactly what you expect to hear while picking out stocking stuffers at Target, especially since I was being monitored daily. Just that morning I had been told all was fine.

I later learned that around the holidays, many pregnant people experience pressure from family or healthcare providers to get induced because, hey they celebrate holidays too. But there was no sign of an emergency with my baby so I told them I wasn’t ready yet. I told them my baby wasn’t ready yet. And they told me that if I didn’t come in to get induced I would be going against hospital advice and expelled from the midwifery program all together. So, I agreed to go in and get more monitoring which, I was then told I couldn’t get a room for unless I was three centimeters dilated. Which I wasn’t. Because I wasn’t ready to have a baby, like I told them.

So I couldn’t go home, and I couldn’t stay. My only option was an induction. I ended up having 12 membrane sweeps, a procedure where your healthcare provider sweeps a gloved finger across the membranes that connect your amniotic sac to the wall of your uterus. It’s still the most painful part about my labor – and I did them to force dilation — just to keep my bed.

From there I walked, paced, ran, crouched, pleaded — anything I could do to get my labor going naturally so they wouldn’t force me into an induction. I smiled to everyone new who came in the room and explained my story over and over to them so that they would see me and maybe feel for me and let me try to labor on my own a little longer. I asked for pity, for the first time in my life — as there seemed to be a shortage on empathy. I kept my tone even while advocating between the contractions that had finally begun from sheer stress, so as not to be perceived as the angry Black woman trope so many of us get whenever we get slightly upset. My husband did the same so he wouldn’t be considered threatening even though we knew what was happening felt wrong. Or at least — incredibly confusing. Even my doula baked the nurses station cookies.

All in all, I labored for five days in that hospital — fighting for what my body and baby felt was right through each day. Each staff change. Each contraction. Each membrane sweep. Each sleepless night. Each new person telling me I was wrong, until eventually Avalon was eventually born.

In good news, I was able to have the vaginal birth I’d hoped for. In other news, at that point there had been so much pitocin, a drug that creates artificial contractions — stress and frankly time allowed for more to go wrong. Like Avalon managed to wrap the umbilical cord around her neck three times and poop inside of me – giving us both an infection, and three more days in the hospital. This time in the NICU.

And here’s the thing: statistically, for me, a Black woman in America with average healthcare, a holiday baby and what’s considered a geriatric pregnancy at 35 — I got off easy. At least we’re both alive.

Not everyone is that lucky.

Myra: Have you ever been present for what you would consider to be an unjust birth? And what did it look like … your face is telling me yes …

Mayano: I mean, I hate to say this, but a lot more than I would want, you know, sorry to get emotional about it, too.

But before I became a midwife, I was a labor and delivery nurse. And I saw a lot of shit. And that was, that was part of the reason why I wanted to be a midwife, because there's so much violence that happens, you know?  And maybe not even violence, sometimes big, more, you know, violence. And then sometimes it's just like, all these micro aggressions and you know, little ways that we take away people's power and autonomy and their humanity. And that weighed very heavily on me. And as a nurse, I felt like there wasn't much I could do, like I felt powerless. And so it led me to become a midwife, so I could provide the kind of care that I knew people deserved. Yeah, it's, it's so normalized. The way we, the horrible ways we treat pregnant people. And I think it has to do with the years and years of misogyny and sexism and all that kind of stuff, too. But yeah, I hope that things … the new generation of providers, I think, are more aware of these kinds of injustices. So I do have hope that future generations of people who are giving birth are treated more compassionately, and fairly and, you know, all that kind of stuff. And it also is upon us too, who do train the future providers, to really emphasize those small things and help them to continue to see patients as humans and people.

Myra: Thank you you can make me want to almost give birth all over again.

The Doula

Brandi Jordan is a doula, educator and owner of The Cradle Company which is a pregnancy and postpartum resource center that was started in Los Angeles, and now serves the entire U.S. and parts of Europe.
Brandi Jordan
Brandi Jordan is a doula, educator and owner of The Cradle Company which is a pregnancy and postpartum resource center that was started in Los Angeles, and now serves the entire U.S. and parts of Europe.

Myra: What is this business online about you and Meghan Markel, and Prince Harry? And maybe Meghan Markel’s mom taking some classes? What are you going on? Are you royalty? What is happening? 

Brandi Jordan: That's gonna be an easy one to cover. No comment. So that one's easy. No comment. I'll let you guys do your own online sleuthing.

Myra: This is Brandi Jordan, doula, educator and owner of The Cradle Company which is a pregnancy and postpartum resource center that was started in Los Angeles, but now serves the whole of the U.S. and quite a bit of Europe.

And, of course, I did do some sleuthing. So if Brandi wont brag, I’ll do it for her. Here’s the tea: Brandi’s nickname in the birth world is “the baby sleep fairy.” Apparently she is pretty magical with all things baby, another helping angel. The Internet tells me Brandi’s services have been enlisted by a-listers like Megan Fox, Rosamund Pike, Julia Stiles and Doria Ragland — who’s the mother to the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

But like Brandi says — we won’t be talking about that. Anymore at least.

What I do want to talk about is how she does what she does. The word “doula” is a Greek word that literally means “female slave for the child-bearing woman.” Since the word slave might be sllllllightly problematic, the word has come to mean “one who mothers the mother.”

So, what does a doula do?

Brandi: I think for some people, it's kind of like, if you've never played a sport, you might hire a coach who's played that sport, who has excelled at that sport, to help you to get the best outcome. And so for new parents who haven't had any babies before, and are not sure about the process might have some anxieties or fears about what it's going to look like. Now the other reason might just be that, you know, particularly in the case of Black women, that there is a concern that I need to have an advocate for myself, someone who knows the system better than I know it, who can help me to understand what is like normal advice they would give to anyone? Or is there something where they're not taking me as seriously, like, my care is not being taken care of as seriously, and someone who's been in the system who understands birth, might be able to help me navigate that better than I could myself?

Myra: Why would a Black woman not be able to advocate on her own or not be taken seriously if she tried? 

Brandi: How much time do we have? I’ve seen so many things.

What Brandi says is true. She’s bared witness to a lot of injustice in her role as a doula. But she says the unjust birth that sticks out most in her mind — is her own. In 2017. And get this: at a hospital she worked at.

Brandi:  I actually arrived to the hospital, pregnant with my third baby. And my water had broken at home. This is my third baby, by the way. So I think I'm, you know, at this point, pretty clear on how it all works, not to mention been working in this field quite a long time. And when I arrived at the hospital, I was told by the resident doctor, I said, ‘Yeah, I'm in labor – my water broke.’ And he said, you know, and this is his exact words ‘It doesn't matter that you think during labor, it matters when I think you're in labor.’ Like word for word, is what he said to me.. So I'm actually in a bit of shock when this is happening. Now, I did have a doula with me, who also happened to be my best friend, and I had my husband with me. And so I think I kind of, you know, even having – this is someone myself at this point, I had 20-plus years of maternal child health experience. I'm here to birth my third baby. And even in that moment, was frozen of like, I don't even know how to respond to that, you know, and I'm, this is me with all the background and all the support. And I actually, in that moment, thought, like, what are all the women who come here who don't have the background that I  have and know the system. So he says this. My husband stepped in, and was like you know, her water broke.  And this is he said next, he said, ‘she probably just peed herself and didn't know the difference between that and her water breaking.’ So …

And for people who haven't had a baby, or who don't know  that experience, when you come into the hospital, you first go into what they would call a triage room, which is basically them assessing like what they should do with you. Should you go into a room? Should you be sent home? Should you be monitored, etc,. triage, size wise, it's like a coat closet. There's not a real bed, it's kind of like a little cot situation. And so essentially, what they were saying was that.  I mean, I don't think you're in labor right now, we're not going to give you a room. And so at this point, now, I should mention that my first baby was my second baby was born in 52 minutes total, five, two. So I'm already an hour into this. And I'm thinking to myself, like I know what my body needs and what's going to happen, like, you know, I can't even converse with him in a way to kind of advocate for myself. And so I firsthand got to see what it meant to have a doula to speak for me at a time where I really couldn't speak for myself. All of my energy, my brainpower was going to like thinking about how I'm going to get this human out of my body and into the world. Likewise, I didn't have a room so that meant that every moan, every moan every cry, going to the bathroom, it's happening in the public in front of other people. And as you mentioned, when that other person came in, you were able to relax. It's that comfort, that familiarity. Like going to a public bathroom while you're in labor, and like not having a room, it can affect your labor at some point, because I was nine months pregnant, I could no longer like sit in this little cot. And I literally got my hands and knees on the cold hospital floor. And I thought to myself, like, what is it about me that I I'm not even worthy of a hospital bed on a slow Tuesday night.

I guess they had finally realized that not only did I work in that hospital, I worked in that exact department. And so because I didn't have my white coat on, and I didn't, you know, fit the bill, I was just a black lady on Tuesday night, they came in, like, let us get you a room and everything shifted. And literally 30 minutes later, I was holding my baby. But during that time, he tried to convince us to go home, my husband was able to stand up to that. And we didn't go home. But I think about how many people not really sure about their bodies would have said, ‘Oh, maybe I didn't pee myself, maybe I should go home, maybe I should be in the car.’ And it's these kinds of stories where we see that we aren't trusted about our own bodies. 

Myra: What are the results of some of this lack of care?

Brandi: So I mean, the saddest result is that Black women are dying – are four times more likely to die in childbirth, and that's really scary in a country where we put millions into health care. And so that's obviously the scariest thing. The other obviously equally scary thing is not only are Black women dying in childbirth, so are their babies and/or not making it to the you know, age one, because of that lack of care of making sure that that same amount of care and research and support  that they would give to any other client isn't always happening when it comes to Black families. 

I mean, we know that in certain parts, the United States, you know, it's up to even one in four Black women who, you know, could have complications in their birth, directly related to just people not believing them or, you know, trusting their pain, trusting their concern about their bodies and about their babies. You know, we have a very high maternal death rate for Black women in the United States, despite all the money that we throw at health care. And after all the research, all the roundtables, we know that it's specifically and 100% solely related to race. It's not socioeconomic status. It's not eating too much chicken, which is what one resident doctor actually told me, was the reason.  It's truly because people in health care are a microcosm of what we have in the United States. They're the same people who you know, go to the live in grocery store with us who have feelings about Black people. 

And so those are the things. Now, if we want to talk about the like blowback from that is that you have women who are now getting pregnant, instead of it being a very joyous occasion, they're actually terrified of what they're up against. And that just shouldn't be not only for Black woman, but for any woman.

Myra: So for, say, some pregnant Black women who are listening because it’s a confusing time,  What are some warning signs that things are not going right?

Brandi: So here’s the first thing. I've been working with women for 20 plus years, if you feel that something isn't right, 98% chance it's not right. So if you have a small headache, and it's kind of bothering you, and  it doesn't feel right, it's probably not right. Your back is kind of hurting you and they're just telling you it's just pregnancy, and you're like, ah, it doesn't feel like that you're probably right. And a good provider is gonna say you know what you've mentioned a couple of times, I don't see anything, but let's do some further testing. If you're not hearing that, from your responses, and it's time to get advocacy, it might be time to change providers, your provider should be listening to you. And if you said something like over and over again as a problem, and they're not listening, and they're not asking to do you know, additional testing, that's a huge red flag.

The disbelieved

Kairo Carson is seven months old now, crawling and escaping his playpen. He is quite the hand full his mama, Bailey and grandma, Kim.
James Stewart
Vermont Public
Kairo Carson is seven months old now, crawling and escaping his playpen. He is adored by his mama, Bailey and grandma, Kim.

Bailey Carson: I kind of knew in the grand scheme of things, I was wanting to be a mom. Maybe not this early, but I know I did want to be a mom

Myra: This is Bailey Carson. She’s speaking with me with her team of angels, her mom Kim Carson, who in 2022 was named the director of racial, equity inclusion and belonging, for the city of Burlington, Vermont, and Bailey’s son, Kairo Carson who is seven months old and siting on her lap. Bailey is 19.

Bailey: The beginning of my pregnancy experience was actually really well, when it came to the medical experience. I was at was in Iowa when I first started. And I generally go to a lot of time private hospitals. But when I got pregnant, decided I was going to a public hospital. They worked more with people of color. And they had a bigger program. 

Kim Carson: We knew people that were there, the hospital had just taken off and made it initiative hired a Chief Diversity Officer. They had just hired a CEO that was a Black man. So they were really making efforts at this particular public institution to look at equity. And specifically, at this particular hospital, there were Black and brown and people of color nurses and doctors and all these different kinds of things. And so even at 19, she was conscious about making sure that where she went, people would look like her and she would have a voice. 

Myra: Bailey is no stranger to the medical system. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was four, and with that came a lot of both inpatient and outpatient hospital experience. She received treatment in many forms for years and just when things were starting to look up, Bailey’s cancer came back around 2012.

Bailey also lives with a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury, and though her story is the exception not the rule — as someone with a hefty medical record, a history of cancer, a current injury and a young, pregnant Black woman — she is a pretty perfect example of someone who should have been given extra care and attention to during birth. But that didn’t happen.

Bailey: I think when I knew it was going to be an issue is when I was on mental health medication, they told me that it was damaging for the baby. And they took me off for them. Yes. They were saying that it wasn't healthy for the baby. And I just needed to work on emotional regulation. 

Myra: Here’s the thing about Kim and Bailey: These women know their stuff. At this point, Bailey is an expert on her condition, her needs, and the hospital systems she’s been navigating since she was four years old. Kim is responsible for the equity needs of an entire city. And her mom has been a pediatric nurse for more than 50 years. To put it lightly, these women are walking barometers for BS. And even so — when you’re vulnerable and in need of care, you don’t want to be in a position to have any BS, to spot it, to have to name it, call it out, avoid it or advocate around it. Your activism should be off duty. And when you tell people something’s wrong — you just want to be believed. Like when Bailey began to feel what she says was an abnormal amount of pain during her pregnancy.

Bailey: You know, she just told me, you know, it's hard pregnancy is hard, it's kind of have to get over it.  What I wanted to happen was because I was in so much pain, we're trying to discuss whether being induced a little bit earlier than scheduled would be conducive to my health. You know, because the whole conversation we had was about the baby's health. My, what I got from this conversation was my health wasn't as important as the baby’s.

Kim: So the constant conversation was always “oh I didn’t know that, oh I didn’t know that.”  And it was everytime we went. And I think this is something somewhere to, especially Black women, but Black people in general, or marginalized people is constantly having to retell your story. It gets exhausting, and you quit. And I think that's part of what happens with this is it just becomes so overwhelming and so monotonous that you just give up. And I wonder if sometimes the system wants you to do that because it's just easier for you to go away.

Myra: After days of communicating her excruciating pain and being told things like: Pregnancy is hard, all pregnancy is painful, you need to regulate your emotions — Bailey says she was finally induced. She gave birth. But days later, the pain hadn’t quit. She found herself right back in the hospital, this time in New York. And this time Bailey got an answer –

Bailey: I was having gallstones the whole time. They didn't care until there was no baby in the picture. They also didn't let me see my son for a week in the hospital in New York. And I was only a couple weeks postpartum so that's been a huge issue with this whole experience because I was a breastfeeding mom I didn't see my son for a week. So that just took my opportunity away from breastfeeding which I was really passionate about. I'm sorry for getting emotional.

Myra: In the world of birth, most places would agree that postpartum time, AKA the first six weeks after you give birth, AKA the fourth trimester — is often hardest. I feel like that could be a whole other episode, but for now, all we need to know is that it’s hard on so many levels. The biggest challenge for many birthing folks is navigating breast and chest feeding. Before this time, you’ve never had to sustain another human being with your body. And if that’s your plan, you never imagined anyone getting in the way of you doing it. That first week in breast and chest feeding can be crucial, to the baby bonding, latching and eventually feeding.

But racism, which I believe we should begin naming as the crux of this crisis — touches this, too.

Bailey: I had been planning it my whole pregnancy. Because you know they always say, if a mom can't breastfeed, they're not a good mom. And I heard that multiple times. The lactation lady was like, ‘what did you even try? You're not trying hard enough.’ She would wake me up at night, ‘you need to try again, you need to try all night.’ And she was like, ‘what are you proud of yourself? You don't seem like you're working hard enough.’

I think not just the sense of me being a Black woman, which I think was a huge part. But also me being a young mom played a huge part. They’re like ‘oh she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’ In a sense, I have, I don't think I'm completely over the situation and everything that's happened. But I just know that in a sense, you have to just keep moving forward. You have to be there for your son no matter what I mean. For moms, it's kind of hard to say but you can't let what happened dictate the rest of your life because at the end of the day, there's someone here who needs you 24 … he can't do anything by himself. He needs you 24/7 And he just needs you to be there and do whatever it takes for him to be happy.

He is seven months right now. He's actually kind of walking around right now. He pulls up on the couch and he walks across. He's crawling. He's almost escaping his playpen at this point. He likes to pull up on it. He's a very happy baby.

Mayano Ochi, Brandi Jordan, Kim, Bailey and Kairo Carson. Thank you, for trusting this show with all of your stories.

As you know, here on the show, we end our episodes with a deep listen. The whole time I’ve been reporting this episode, I’ve been pretty perplexed as to what this would be since frankly, all of these stories are so depthful. But then I remembered a song I wrote, back in 2020 — right after I gave birth. It’s a song about Black legacy, as you’ll hear it features my mama at the start — it’s also a song about hopeful empowerment.

I was and am still working on feeling empowered about my birth. But making music helped a lot. And I think, making this episode will too. I hope you, whoever you are, wherever you are, have your own version of something healing. Maybe it’s community. Maybe it’s art. Whatever it is: name it. Because it’s an angel too.

This is Mama Song. By me.

Deep listen

Our deep listen for this episode is Myra Flynn's "Mama Song."
Myra Flynn
Our deep listen for this episode is Myra Flynn's "Mama Song."


This episode was mixed, scored and reported by Myra Flynn. I also composed the theme music. Other music by Blue Dot Sessions and Derick Rice. Brittany Patterson edits the show, and James Stewart always contributes to so many things on the backend of making this thing come to life.

Special thanks to Corey Dockser, Tim Sonnefeld, Gregory Douglass, and Amanda Brydell. Also thanks to Elodie Reed, who is the graphic artist behind all of our Homegoings artist portraits.

The CDC is working to help stop this crisis and save Black mothers. If you are in need of more information, or help, give them a call, at 1-800-232-4636. You do not have to navigate this alone..

As always, you are welcome here. To continue to be part of the Homegoings family:


Myra Flynn joined Vermont Public in March 2021 and is the DEIB Advisor, Host and Executive Producer of Homegoings. Raised in Vermont, Myra Flynn is an accomplished musician who has come to know the lay of dirt-road land that much more intimately through touring both well-known and obscure stages all around the state and beyond. She also has experience as a teaching artist and wore many hats at the Burlington Free Press, including features reporter and correspondent, before her pursuits took her deep into the arts world. Prior to joining Vermont Public, Myra spent eight years in the Los Angeles music industry.