I was recently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) by my OBGYN. For months, I complained to her about the pain that I would have for some months but not have a menstrual cycle. In 2022, I took a visit to my previous OBGYN, and they discovered I had a small fibroid. I disclosed this information to my new OBGYN, but there was no follow-up. The solution? Get back on birth control. Since I was 14 I took my birth control pills every day until I turned 23 and decided to give my body a break. My body responded fairly well until April 2022, when I wasn’t having a cycle at all. This is when everything went downhill.
Two doctors, multiple sonograms, and bloodwork were being done, but it wasn’t until July 2023 that my doctor finally decided to listen to me and send me for a sonogram, one year later. Black women are one of the largest groups of people who experience the worst side of this healthcare system. Black women have the highest mortality rate, coming in at 69.9 per 100,000 live births, which is three times the rate per women (Associated Press Projects). We are disproportionately high in numbers, even though Black women as a whole only make up 7% of the population of the United States. We have discussed not feeling heard or seen at our doctor’s appointments numerous times. Doctors have discussed that they do not serve certain pain medications to us because we are being “dramatic” or our pain levels aren’t as bad as we are making it seem.
So why is it that we are treated as such when we visit doctors? Do our voices not matter? Does our pain not equate to a certain metric of understanding? According to the Center for Disease Control, “in 2021, 1,205 women died of maternal causes in the U.S. compared with 861 in 2020 and 751 in 2019(CDC.gov). Lower to working middle-class Black women do not always have access to healthcare, which can also play a role in why we experience so many disparities. In my case,
I am thankful to be under the age of 26 and still under my mother’s health insurance. Because of this, I have access to certain doctors and streams of decent healthcare (thank you, President Obama). We are not rich, but we have access to doctors and care that other Black women may not have. Most “poor” or “lower class” Black women do not have health insurance or the money to pay for their copayment, which results in them not showing up to receive treatment at all.
So what can we do to fix this? We need a better healthcare system for everyone. In 2023 there should be no one left without health insurance. We need more neighborhood health clinics/centers equipped with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. who want to serve and have a passion for helping others. We need a better transit system in poverty-stricken communities so that it isn’t hard to get access to these systems of care. As a social worker, I see on a daily basis how many young girls and women who don’t have access to health care and don’t have a clue on how to get there suffer in silence while they face other challenges in life.
To the doctors and nurses out there, please start listening to your patients the first time around so that we don’t have to keep dealing with these disproportionate rates and issues in our healthcare system. To Black women, don’t give up. Keep advocating for yourself and showing up for yourself. You know your body better than anyone else, so if you don’t feel right, please go see a doctor or even go to urgent care. Be assertive; be the “aggressive Black woman” if needed. You only get one life to live and one temple to take care of. To the world, remember Black women deserve good healthcare too.
Sources: An AP series examining the health disparities experienced by Black Americans across a lifetime, and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021
Article originally ran in the Septemeber/October 2023 issue of Black Westchester Newspaper