My wellness matters: I will continue to push for my joy

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One can only imagine the journey we experience as we travel from the protection and covering of the womb; thus, surfacing in this existence called Earth. The birthing day for the mom is a transformative and revolutionary experience. The Earth day, often regarded as the birthday, is the day the child makes their appearance. And the unimaginable pause the parents yearn for—waiting with bated breath—is the cry from the tiny human.  

Ashley N. Campbell

The journey for any woman, especially a Black woman, to decide if they want to have children is often met with joy, hesitancy, and questions all in the same thought. For me, I had hope, faith, and trusted the timing of conceiving would happen in due season. However, my mind would have its own journeys of the what ifs … and could I even.

Truthfully, I felt the unwelcomed pressure of aligning my life to the order of things—finish school, find a suitable mate, find stable employment, get married, and have children. The order of operations plagued my spirit and brought a discomfort that I did not know how to unpack. It was not until I was finishing my doctoral degree that I settled my mind on appreciating the beautiful complexity of Blackness and shaping the narrative that made sense to me—truly moving away from societal expectations.

When my husband and I decided to have children, the planners in us believed conception would happen shortly after we finished our doctorates. Of course, our timing was imperfect. We toiled through the exhausting process of rethinking our busy schedules, recentering our thoughts on parenthood, and engaging in the fertility process. What I did not realize is the amount of poking and dissecting of my body—test after test after test.

One day, my mom shared with me a documentary she had heard about while watching
“Good Morning, America.” The documentary, “Aftershock” (2022), explored the stories of Black women who died during childbirth and the activism Black women endeavored for peaceful, healthy birthing experiences. 

If the film were a book, I would have underlined, highlighted, and “eared” all the pages that resonated with my thoughts while trying to understand my own journey. I cried uncontrollably after watching the film. When I shared my reaction to the film with my mom, she immediately cried out and shared, “I didn’t want to upset you.” I explained to her that I was not upset; I felt heard, and the film propelled me to speak up, ask questions, and get guidance on how to proceed. 

Through our conversations it was clearer to my mom that the unknowns she had during her motherhood experience were answered in the film. And she realized how the film affirmed for me questions she has not been able to address for me. “Aftershock” highlights what Black women intuitively know while giving voice and images to the experiences that are not readily accessible in textbooks.  

My activism challenged me to seek fertility specialists who were willing to listen and engage. Of my many visits to the doctor, I would get feedback that I need to lose weight, monitor my eating, reduce stress, and then I would get pregnant. For a moment I was stymied by the feedback. I am a classically trained professional dancer with more than 30 years of experience, and my eating habits have been consistent; I maintain a balanced diet. And, subconsciously I wondered, what is reducing stress for a Black woman?

Yes, completing a doctorate degree came with its own stressors, but I wanted the degree. Yes, maintaining excellence at work is always top priority, but doing anything less was out of my character. Yes, engaging in civic organizational work was a part of the lifetime commitment I made. And yes, being an amazing wife, daughter, sister, and friend were a part of the whole me package. It was not until I met a doctor that shared with me, “Ashley, you have pretty large fibroids; in fact, one is so large you will always look like you are 13 weeks pregnant. I recommend removing them.”

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that typically grow during a woman’s childbearing years. Women experience a number of symptoms that may or may not be tied to fibroids. Additional research is needed to understand the causes of fibroids and how to reduce them without needing surgery; and often Black women have fibroid removal surgery more than once. I am grateful for the doctors that performed the myomectomy and removed three fibroids—one the size of a grapefruit. 

To this day, I have four tiny fibroids remaining and thankfully they have not grown. The element that transfixed me after my surgery was realizing I had a C-section procedure but did not produce a baby. After my healing journey, I was not interested in going through the process again of seeing any fertility specialist; I was tired. I knew motherhood would happen for me—I had to find ways to keep my spirits lifted and live. I had to untangle my thoughts that I was not ready, my body was not suitable, and I would need to explore other measures to conceive.

It took me some time to value my wellness and seek assistance as I re-journeyed to motherhood. Along my journey, I have met a few professional Black women who have had similar stories and we have exchanges of empowerment and knowledge-sharing. Today, I have an elevated sense of joy. I know I am not alone, and I have peace in preparation for my first child.

Acknowledging and celebrating Black maternal health will continually be a priority for me. Black maternal health gives us the space to speak up, ask for guidance, and advocate for peaceful birthing experiences. The power in sharing our stories, learning from one another, and ensuring we have the support we need in the spaces we receive services is paramount.

Ashley N. Campbell is chief impact officer at United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

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