In honor of Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17, 2022), Ready, Set, Soar Ohio has invited local Black-led organizations and organizations committed to advancing health equity to participate in a blog series sharing how their work supports Black maternal health and improves outcomes for Black mothers.
Founded and led by Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Black Maternal Health Week is a week of awareness and community building intended to deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the United States; amplify community-driven policy, research, and care solutions; center the voices of Black mothers, women, families, and stakeholders; and more.
The blog featured below was written by Rosemary D. Oglesby-Henry, founder and CEO of Rosemary's Babies Company.
In 2020, more than 129,000 women gave birth in Ohio. Like these women, I carried my daughter for 9 months – or 280 days or 6,720 hours, however you count it – but I was 16 years old at conception. I often wondered if all women dealt with the waves of emotions that come with carrying a child including fear, sadness, love, and regret. The greatest of these feelings was incompetence and vulnerability because I only knew the basics of childbirth and delivery.
I felt everyone overlooked me as a person because I was a child. Though it was my baby and my body, the doctors, nurses, and even my parents felt I deserved no education as it related to my treatment or care. I was scared to ask questions but even more afraid to tell anyone how I was treated at times during my prenatal visits.
Twenty-six years later as more than 6% of births in Ohio are still of teens under 20, I learned that this type of treatment is still happening. At Rosemary’s Babies Company, teen parents in our program who share their stories with me show the flaws and social injustices that still exist in our medical system. Presumably, the Hippocratic Oath – to “care adequately of the sick” while “remembering that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug” – seemingly does not apply to the care of teen mothers who give birth.
Here are just a few of the many stories I’ve heard over the years:
Yolanda shared that at 20 years old, she reported shortness of breath to her doctor but was still discharged from the hospital. Once she got home, she had to call the ambulance; later she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Lai shared that at 17, when she had her baby, days after she was discharged from the hospital, she became infected from surgical gauze that was left in her cervix.
Amari delivered her baby at 14 and nurses refused to educate her on breastfeeding, stating bottles would be better so she could go back to school.
Niah, at 14, was sent home three times because she was not fully dilated. The final time she stayed at the hospital. Even today she does not know how many centimeters dilated you must be to deliver.
And my own story: I was in excruciating pain when discharged and days later was re-admitted for endometriosis. Doctors told me it came from being a teen mother but years later I learned this was not the case and pregnancy can worsen symptoms of endometriosis.
Based on these stories, my presumption is accurate; but does it have to be? The solutions are simple: 1. Doctors and other health care professionals should value and respect their patients; 2. Doctors should educate their patients and provide the best care possible; 3. Doctors and health care professionals should treat all patients equitably, regardless of age; and 4. Doctors should honor and abide their sworn code of ethics.
At minimum, physicians, nurses, and medical facilities should always provide adequate prenatal and postpartum care. The minimum consists of risk assessment, health promotion and education, and therapeutic intervention. Without this, you are furthering a cycle of miseducation, distrust of the medical community, and wrongdoing towards teen parents. This population deserves better from their physician for themselves and their babies.
If you have a teen parent in need of support, please visit www.teenparentresources.org.
Rosemary Oglesby-Henry is the founder and CEO of Rosemary's Babies Company, a Cincinnati-based impact organization (501c3) committed to helping teen parents master the concepts of self-leadership to leave a legacy. Rosemary herself was a teen parent and has dedicated her life to changing the outlook for teen parents.