Today, Black women have a complicated relationship with all forms of reproductive activism. The modern reproductive movement focuses on the right to an abortion but overlooks those who have a history of being robbed of parenthood. From slavery to contemporary times, each generation carries a different loss as it relates to bodily autonomy.
It’s hard to explain what it feels like to know that, just a few generations ago, my great-great-grandmother was a slave woman whose body was controlled by a slave master. The knowledge becomes harder to stomach as I reflect on the past and realize what little has changed. When I gave birth to my child, my experience recalled that legacy and confirmed my own lack of bodily autonomy, as perceived by the physicians who assisted me and determined the quality of care I received.
During labor, I was given an episiotomy without my permission. I found out after the fact when the doctor told me what she’d done, with a smile on her face. “Don’t worry, I had them with both of my children. You’ll be fine,” she assured me.
I could sense from her tone that she expected me to be grateful, but I wasn’t. It scared me that she could dismiss my consent so easily. And soon afterward, it became clear that I wasn’t fine.
The pain intensified. Yet another week later, while visiting another state, I was admitted to a hospital for an emergency dilation and curettage, a procedure to remove the placenta the attending physician and emergency room visit had missed. I could have developed an infection and died. (My loved ones encouraged me to press charges, but the entire process was so complicated that I didn’t want …read more