Tatyana Ali, who starred as Ashley Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” from 1990 to 1996, entered Harvard the next year where she double majored in government and African-American studies. In 2016, Ali and her husband, an English professor at Stanford, welcomed their first child, but only after mother and baby were roughly treated by a hospital’s obstetrics team, she testified Thursday to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“One doctor climbed up onto the side of the bed and pushed his forearm into my belly and squeezed downward — like my baby was toothpaste,” she said. “Then when my husband and I yelled no to the forceps, they used suction: a plunger. I screamed, ‘Stop!’ because they were aggressively popping it off of his head again and again, four times.” Soon after that, Ali said, she lost consciousness.
Ali’s story — the least horrible one told during the committee’s “Birthing While Black” hearing — illustrates what statistics have long shown: that in the U.S., neither a Black woman’s money, education or status serves as protection from mistreatment in labor and delivery. Financially secure Black women with Ivy League degrees have to worry just like those with less money and education if doctors or nurses will do (or not do) something that costs them their lives or their babies’ lives.
As obstetrician Veronica Gillispie-Bell, the head of women’s services at Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner, testified Thursday, “A Black woman with a college degree is twice as likely to experience a severe maternal morbidity when compared to a white woman with less than a high school diploma.” In New Orleans, that finding holds true even for Black women with graduate degrees.
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