A few years ago, my partner emailed me about a consult.
“Dr. Carter, I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Smith today for a preconception consult for chronic hypertension. As a high-risk Black woman, she wants to know what we’re going to do to make sure that she doesn’t die in pregnancy or childbirth. I told her that you’re better equipped to answer this question.”
I was early in my career, and the only thing I could assume that equipped me to answer this question over my partners was my identity as a Black woman living in America.
Mrs. Smith was copied on the message and replied with a long list of follow-up questions and a request for an in-person meeting with me. I was conflicted. As a friend, daughter, and mother, I understood her fear and wanted to be there for her. As a newly appointed assistant professor on the tenure track with 20% clinical time, my clinical responsibilities easily exceeded 50% (in part, because I failed to set boundaries). I spent countless hours of uncompensated time serving on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and mentoring and volunteering for multiple community organizations; I was acutely aware that I would be measured against colleagues who rise through the ranks, unencumbered by these social, moral, and ethical responsibilities, collectively known as the “Black tax.”1
I knew from prior experiences and the tone of Mrs. Smith’s email that it would be a tough, long meeting that would set a precedent of concierge level care that only promised to intensify once she became pregnant. I agonized over my reply. How could I balance providing compassionate care for this patient with my young research program, which I hoped to nurture so that it would one day grow to have population-level impact?
It took me 2 days to finally reply to the message with a kind, but firm, email stating that I would be happy to see her for a follow-up preconception visit. It was my attempt to balance accessibility with boundaries. She did not reply.
Did I fail her?
The fact that I still think of Mrs. Smith may indicate that I did the wrong thing. In fact, writing the first draft of this letter was a therapeutic experience, and I addressed it to Mrs. Smith. As I shared the experience and letter with friends in the field, however, everyone had similar stories. The letter continued to pass between colleagues, who each made it infinitely better. This collective process created the beautiful love letter to Black birthing people that we share here.
We call upon all of our obstetric clinician colleagues to educate themselves to be equally, ethically, and equitably equipped to care for and serve historically marginalized women and birthing people. We hope that this letter will aid in the journey, and we encourage you to share it with patients to open conversations that are too often left closed.
Continue to: Our love letter to Black women and birthing people...