It’s a Sunday afternoon in July, and I’m lying on my bed trying to calm down. The month’s rapid-fire events are hitting me square in the gut. Today, someone agitated by police shootings of black men ambushed police in Baton Rouge. Already, commentators are pointing a finger at black organizers. Just over a week ago, a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas ended with a sniper targeting police there; in return, the police circulated an image of an innocent protester as a suspect before using a robot to kill the perpetrator. Two days before the Dallas shooting, Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling while he was pinned to the ground, and the next day Philando Castile was shot dead by police during a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, while his girlfriend and her daughter sit inches away.
For the past three years, my job has been to report on black-led organizing and the police violence that fuels it, and, until recently, I’ve been able to read and process related news with the detachment that my journalism training has instilled in me. But now, what I see online and on TV simply makes me afraid. I am seven months pregnant, and these days, tragic events hit me in a way that I can’t neatly tuck away. I’m learning that in moments like these, it’s critical that I step away from the screen and stop crying, that I figure out how to return my breathing to normal. My health and my fetus’s health depend on it.
Black women, after all, are almost four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than our white counterparts, and black babies are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. I worry that I’ll have a baby that’s too small to thrive, or that I’ll be treated so negligently by the hospital staff during delivery that I will end up seriously injured, or dead.
You might think that I don’t need to worry: I eat a healthy diet; I don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes. I am not poor; I have private insurance and a master’s degree. I started prenatal appointments at 10 weeks and haven’t missed one. But I’m under no illusion that my class privilege will save me. Research suggests that it’s the stress caused by racial discrimination experienced over a lifetime that leads to black American women’s troubling birth outcomes, not the individual choices those women make or how much money or education they have.
I sat slack-jawed as I read the work of public-health researcher Arline Geronimus, who has found that the average black woman might be less healthy at 25 than she was at 15, and that African-American women at 35 have the rates of disability of white Americans who are 55. There’s something about the American experience that tears away at the black body. I was 38 years old, and so daily slights and structural racism had had plenty of time to take their toll.
Thus my decision, made during the long summer of my third trimester, to take a break from the news, which serves as a constant reminder of two disturbing realities: One, that in carrying a black child, I was carrying a potential Sterling or Castile or Rekia Boyd or Tamir Rice. And two, that my health and that of my child-to-be were largely in the hands of people who, like me, have been watching events unfold in Baton Rouge or Dallas or Ferguson or Chicago—but may have a completely different understanding than me of how race works in this country.