When I got to chat with Connie Simpson, usually known as “Nanny Connie,” baby whisperer to stars like Jessica Alba and Emily Blunt, I was ostensibly just going to pump her for secrets on caring for newborns — and I did, so you’ll get to read that soon enough. But beyond being the go-to nanny for the rich and famous and author of The Nanny Connie Way, Simpson also happens to be a Black mother, from a long line of caregiving women. We knew she might have a thought or two about the tragic puzzle plaguing this country: Why Black women in the U.S. die in childbirth three to four times more often than white women.
And even though Nanny Connie was there to speak to SheKnows about her partnership with Owlet — the high-tech baby monitor system that can give peace of mind to those of us who can’t afford to hire a person to watch our newborns while we sleep — she was very interested in sharing her thoughts about this pressing matter. After all, this is something she had been thinking about since giving birth to her own daughter. She had been in labor for 17 hours when the doctor gave her just half an hour more of pushing before he wanted to give up and give her a C-section.
“But I was so blessed, because I had my mom, who was a nurse and she was in the whole process with me, and she was my advocate,” Simpson recalls. “She was my voice. She knew she knew my back history. So it was it was great for me to be able to relax and be able to turn to that left side of me and go, ‘Mom, I want to push her out.'”
Many women can relate to the story of getting pressure from doctors to go for the Caesarian before they’re ready. When you’re in the middle of a stressful labor, it’s pretty difficult to contradict a medical provider. But Simpson’s mother was there to do that for her.
“She was that voice to say, ‘We’re going to stay in this position,’ [to the doctor], and then she came in closer to me to say, ‘Let’s do this.’ And that connection speaks volumes for a mother who’s in the midst of giving birth.”
Just knowing she an advocate there made her feel better. “You can relax more knowing, ‘I might not be firing on all the cylinders that I have to make the proper decisions right now, but I have someone who does have that ability and knows me and can make those decisions for me.'”
Given some of the health complications more prevalent in Black women, such as high blood pressure, sickle cell disease, having a person in the room who knows their medical history isn’t just a preference, it could be a life saver.
“They put us all pigeonholed into the same little box,” Simpson said. “A lot of moms will walk out not being able to have children because they didn’t have anyone in there to tell doctors, ‘No, they can’t have this medication. They have to do it this way.’ And they end up having a hysterectomy because no one was there, and a doctor doesn’t think a hill of beans about making those decisions, because this is just another patient to them in the end.”
Of course, the Black maternal mortality problem is a very complex one, with causes rooted in racism, income inequality, and this country’s dysfunctional health-care system. Organizations such as Black Women Birthing Justice and Every Mother Counts have many suggestions fo how to begin remedying this crisis. It’s clear that simply hiring a doula won’t be the solution for all expecting parents. But it is a step that parents can take for themselves, while the system as a whole remains faulty.
“I tell moms, it doesn’t matter [how much] money that you have, it matters about you doing your research of who you want to have in your corner,” Simpson said. “Knowledge is power, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of color or diversity. And if you can’t find the best doctor, find the best doula, find the best midwife … whoever it is that can take this journey with you.”
Some hospitals and cities have begun to realize the value of having extra help for birthing parents, so there may be free or low-cost doula services available in your area. If you want to help others get such services, consider making a donation to Every Mother Counts, which gives grants to community-based birth support organizations.