by Alexandra-Samuel Sturgess

You are pregnant, YAAAAY! I will let you have a moment to freak out in a good way!

So, now what?

Of course, making your first prenatal appointment is imperative. This can be scary for many women who do not know what to expect. You want to know what to expect in your first appointment important, and you want to feel empowered throughout the process. You have choices and rights no matter what birthing environment you choose, whether it be a hospital/clinic, birthing center, or a home birth. The best way to be empowered throughout your pregnancy and birthing experience is with education on the process and exercising your right to choose.

I will share seven tips to help you feel empowered during pregnancy and as you enter into motherhood.

Contact your insurance provider.

If you do not have insurance at the time of pregnancy, you have options. Please reach out to your local social service agency to get assistance with State Assisted Medicaid in order for you to have access to prenatal care.

If you already have health insurance, it is now time to do some research. Contact your insurance provider to find out your benefits during pregnancy, which may cover the cost of a birthing center or paying for doula support. Also, speak with your insurance company to discuss preferences for your doctor such as sex of the doctor, ethnic preference, language preference, location preference, etc. You have a right to request what you would like; do not be afraid to ask!

Prepare to meet your healthcare provider.

Now that your insurance has provided you with options and you have your first doctor’s appointment or birthing center appointment, it’s time to go for a visit. When getting ready for your first appointment prepare some questions for your doctor or midwife to help you determine if it’s going to be a good fit. The best way to do this is by having them prewritten on good old fashioned paper or on your phone.

You might wonder what to ask. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Is there a nurse line that I can call if I have questions?
  • If I experience bleeding or cramping, do I call you or the nurse?
  • What do you consider an emergency?
  • Will I need to change my habits regarding sex, exercise, nutrition?
  • When will my next prenatal visit be scheduled?
  • What type of testing do you recommend and when are they to be done? (In case you want to research the tests to decide if you want them or not.)

For more help on building your support team, read these tips from Steph.

Know your rights.

You made it to your first visit, and the receptionist gives you a clipboard to complete information and documents to sign. Be sure to read the informed consents and pay close attention to your rights as a patient. Learn what to do if you ever need to file a grievance, feel pressured by the doctor, midwife, or staff to participate in testing, or if someone refuses to explain procedures. You have a right to file a complaint with your insurance company and with your state’s medical board if the violation you experienced is egregious.

Ask for clear explanations of all procedures.

Now that you have read your informed consent and have your prepared questions for the doctor or midwife, they will call you back to your appointment. Once you go behind that closed door ask the doctor or midwife to explain what will be done during this appointment. It is important for medical professionals to explain what procedures will be done during the visit. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, please speak up! If you plan to bring a support person such as a partner, friend, or family member to this first visit, it might be helpful to think of a code word beforehand, so your support person can speak up for you if you become overwhelmed.

Don’t forget to ask the questions that you prepared. Feel free to take notes as they answer your questions. Notice how they respond to questions. Do you feel heard or is the provider rushing you? After the visit, take time to reflect on whether or not you felt comfortable with the medical doctor or midwife during your appointment. This is a huge deal because if you are not comfortable, it is going to be hard to ask questions or feel as though you are receiving quality care. If, you did not feel comfortable, it is okay to search for a different provider. You will be in the care of this individual for 9 months, so it is important to have the right team of people supporting you.

Take advantage of opportunities for education.

What empowers a woman? Education, education, education! Education allows you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family! Search online for different birth techniques and methodologies, and then find a class at your hospital, with a local organization, or even online!

Take time early in pregnancy to think about how you want your labor and delivery to go. Do research on classes that are in alignment with what you desire during the birthing process. There is something out there for whatever you want your birth to look like. Attending various classes can help you learn about different decisions you will have to make once the baby is born. Classes can help you think through decisions like knowing when you want to cut the cord, what treatments you want your baby to have right after birth, when to do baby’s first bath, and if you want to breastfeed or bottle feed. Education allows space to have conversations and ask for help where needed.

The Whole Mamas Pregnancy Program walks you through all of your decisions for labor and with newborn procedure. Click for more information and to join.

Find a community of support.

Nothing says empowerment like community. Join a local mom group in your local community or online for additional support. Find a group of expecting mothers so you can add to your support team. Every expecting mother needs support, so do not be afraid; get involved. Ask more and more questions. With community you gain support, sisterhood, and accountability. There is so much power in feeling understood by someone who has been through what you’re experiencing.

Prioritize your mental health.

Taking care of your mind is empowering. Many women focus on their physical health during pregnancy, which is important! However, do not neglect your mental health. Venturing into motherhood is wonderful and stressful all at the same time. If you are feeling overly anxious or feeling depressed, ask for help.

You may be wondering why seeking mental healthcare is empowering. Taking care of your whole body and making sure that you are safe is the whole point of empowerment. Mental health professionals can equip you with tools for how to manage your stress, learn how to better communicate with your partner, heal mother wounds, and how you can start to replace toxic thoughts with more positive ones.

Look for a trained Perinatal Mental Health Professional. A great way of doing this is Therapy for Black Girls, Postpartum Support International, Psychology Today, or simply by asking your midwife or OB for referrals. There is no shame for asking for help and gaining more support.

To learn more from Alex, listen to discussing her passion for improving Black maternal health outcomes her on our podcast.

Alexandra Samuel-Sturgess is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than 16 years of mental health experience. Alex is passionate about creating solutions to empower black women when it comes to better health care and  birth outcomes. Alex is the founder of Spirited by Truth, a private practice located in Ontario, CA, and she specializes in perinatal mental health. Alexandra creates a safe space in her practice for black women to focus on their healing. Alex is the Postpartum Support International Coordinator for San Bernardino County and is a Black Maternal Mental Health Advocate.