My Traumatic Birth Experience Is the Reason My Son Is an Only Child

Like too many Black birthing people, I may want to expand my family but I'm not sure I want to face the systemic issues in our healthcare system again.

A mother rubs her son's head.

Many parents of only children hear the question, "When are you going to have a second?" The decision to have a second child is often a difficult one, particularly when the first pregnancy and delivery are fraught with complications. For many, the desire to expand their family is weighed against the very real risks and concerns that come with another pregnancy. 

My first pregnancy almost broke me. I had morning sickness from three weeks until I gave birth; my pelvis separated after five months, and I was placed on bed rest; then I had 26 hours of labor. After leaving the hospital, I said to myself, "Not another after this one."

My labor lasted an exhausting 26 hours, and I would not dilate past three centimeters. During that time, my then-boyfriend and now-husband and I repeatedly expressed concerns about the baby's well-being. Despite our pleas, the nurses and medical staff dismissed our worries. Their solution was to constantly shift me from side to side, thinking that the baby was "lying awkwardly inside me." 

As the hours passed, my baby's heart rate dropped significantly, an alarming development that went largely ignored. Finally, after hours of suffering, an emergency cesarean section was performed to deliver the baby. My son was wrapped around his umbilical cord twice, similar to a noose. If I had given birth naturally, he would have hung him.

Still, I am grateful that my son and I are alive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women and Black people with uteruses are 3–4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white people with uteruses. In fact, the Black maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 26.6 for white birthing people.

There are many factors that contribute to these alarming statistics, including access to quality healthcare, socioeconomic status, and systemic racism. Studies have shown that Black women are often less likely to be listened to or taken seriously by healthcare providers, leading to inadequate care and potentially life-threatening situations.

I experienced this firsthand.

My pregnancy was marked by relentless morning sickness that began at just three weeks and persisted until I gave birth. This constant nausea made it incredibly difficult for me to eat and gain weight, which had a direct impact on my baby's growth. Ultimately, my child was born weighing only 5 pounds, 6 ounces—an outcome that I attributed to my struggle with severe morning sickness. I learned that I am not alone in this experience. 

Research has found that Black women are more likely to have preterm births and low birth weight babies, which can lead to long-term health complications for both mother and child. According to the March of Dimes, in 2020, the preterm birth rate among Black women was 50% higher than the rate among white women, at 14.4% compared to 9.3%.

Furthermore, Black women are more likely to experience pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that Black women have a 70% higher risk of developing severe maternal morbidity (SMM), a life-threatening condition, compared to white women. The disparity in SMM rates underscores the urgent need for improved prenatal care and increased awareness of the unique risks that Black women face during pregnancy.

Although both myself and my baby ultimately survived, the ordeal could have been avoided had medical professionals heeded my concerns earlier. This harrowing experience has left me questioning whether I am willing to risk another pregnancy. My husband and I are fearful our next child could potentially be a stillbirth.

The decision to have a second child is a deeply personal and complex one, especially for families who have experienced significant health issues during previous pregnancies. For Black women, the decision is further complicated by the alarming rates of maternal mortality and the implicit biases they may face in healthcare settings. As I contemplate my choice, I must weigh my desire to expand my family against the potential risks that another pregnancy might entail.

It is a choice too many Black people with uteruses have to make.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles