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5 Things Black Moms Can Say to Their Doctors When They Aren’t Being Heard

This story is part of a larger conversation on the Black Maternal Health Crisis.

There’s a certain level of anxiety that comes with being a Black woman at the doctor’s office. You question whether you’ll be patronized, dismissed, or ignored, or if this will be one of the few occasions where you’re actually listened to and leave feeling like everyone should when they visit their healthcare provider. This level of anxiety is only amplified when you’re a Black mom as it’s now two lives you have to make sure receive proper care, which can, unfortunately, be difficult to accomplish. According to a 2018 California Health Report’s findings, health providers often don’t listen to mothers about their birth preferences and African American women are the least likely to be listened to, which in turn increases the risk of death and complications for the mothers and their babies.

Because of the anxiety mothers, and especially Black mothers face in the doctor’s office, it can be difficult to ask your doctor questions (Dr. Terri Major-Kincaid offers a guide on what to ask your doctor) or leave with a full understanding of your diagnosis and next steps. To help combat this, Dr. Camille Clare, M.D., MPH, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Professor at the College of Medicine and the School of Public Health, suggests preparing before a doctor’s visit. “One of the main things you can do is develop trust with your provider,” Dr. Clare says. “If you have any questions about anything particular that you’re worried about, come in with those questions so that you can start the dialogue with your physician.” Read below for additional things Black moms can say to their doctors when they aren’t being heard and to help facilitate trust between doctor and patient.

Tell them to repeat themselves

One of the main things Black moms can do in the doctor’s office when they feel like they aren’t being heard is to tell their physician to repeat themselves. “When a woman goes to a health care provider, it’s important to jot down notes based on the conversation so you can refer back to it,” Dr. Peggy Roberts, a doctoral prepared, board-certified, New York licensed Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and founder of Trust Women’s Healthcare. “I think that that’s very important, especially if you’re hearing something that is not expected or getting some bad news. To make sure you’re getting everything, ask the provider to repeat the information.”

Tell them to give you additional resources and literature

Dr. Roberts also suggests telling your doctor to provide you with some literature you can refer to or additional resources. And Dr. Clare agrees. “I sometimes refer my patients to the internet for resources that I know are accurate,” Dr. Clare says. “I don’t get $1 if you check those sources, but I know I can rely on them. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a very reliable source of information for my patients. They also have a patient-facing website where my patients can get more information beyond our visit together.”

Tell them “you’re not addressing my issues or concerns”

When it comes to communicating with your doctor, transparency is key. That’s why Dr. Roberts says it’s best, to be honest. “Saying, ‘I don’t think you’re listening or understanding my concerns,’ is okay. I’ve had patients who have said that to prior providers and even to me. Sometimes providers go through the spiel, thinking that we’re addressing everything, but there might be something we missed — we’re human. So be transparent and honest so the provider can rephrase.”

Ask them why they aren’t hearing you 

As mentioned, many doctors tend to dismiss and ignore the feelings and questions of their Black, female patients. This could be due to a lack of experience with patients of color or racial bias. In the same vein as being transparent, black moms should feel empowered to figure out why a doctor isn’t hearing what they’re saying. And if they don’t agree or understand a prescription or treatment, they should tell their doctor to note that in their chart.

Tell them you want a different provider

If all of the above fails, the truth is that there are many healthcare providers out there. “If you’re not connecting with the person you’re scheduled to see, you can choose to have another provider, especially if it’s not an emergency situation,” says Dr. Clare. She adds that in addition to looking elsewhere for a physician, it never hurts to seek a second opinion. “Look into finding someone else that you can connect with,” Dr. Clare says. “It’s not a problem to seek another opinion. It’s your right, to be heard and to have an open dialogue with whoever’s taking care of you.”

You can learn more about the health crisis facing Black moms and birthing people here.

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