In their words: Preparing for a first child

How this Chatham couple is battling stigma and staying informed

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Camille Powell/City Bureau

Danielle Mitchell and Royce Lowry of Chatham are expecting their first child. They sat down with Camille Powell of City Bureau to speak candidly about their pregnancy journey, difficulties pursuing their ideal natural birth, the importance of mental and emotional health and the importance of partner support, especially after trauma.

What has your pregnancy journey been like so far?

Danielle: I found out I was pregnant when I was six weeks in. Mentally, just accepting what that looks and feels like. Physically, the journey's been, well, I haven't had any morning sickness or anything like that throughout. I'm 33 weeks now, so it's just been a growing experience.

Royce :It's been surreal for me. I'm just trying to be a support system that I've never seen, to be a present father. I don't know what that looks like. You know, all my elders have gone through multiple marriages and I've just seen my family structure really deteriorate over the last 20 years. I'm having some real mental, emotional, psychological conflicts. I'm just trying to figure out what kind of father I want to be. I kind of feel like I'm just guessing. I'm just trying to stay ready and prepared. Water can flow or crash. Life works out for people who don't quit.

What kinds of things have you been doing to prepare?

Danielle: Lots of reading and research. We use YouTube for everything. I send him links about different childbirth options, hypnobirthing options, 'cause I want to have a natural birth. We have been doing a lot of meditation together. Instagram has been a good visual learning place. I send him videos of childbirth all the time. We went to a class at Northwestern about understanding childbirth—just learning as much as we can. This is a first child for both of us.

Royce: Just seeking out the wisdom, getting really good advice. The greatest prep of all is just working on that open door of communication so that no matter what comes up, no matter how uncomfortable it is, we can talk about it. I think that's where it really starts, is having a good understanding of your partner. I feel like any child can flourish, if you have two parents who are doing well. I think as long as she's happy and supported and feels secure, that's just the first step, you know?

Is there any information that you have gained so far that you wish you had sooner?

Royce: I wish I had more doula information. I don't think there's a lot of support, for real [for having a natural birth]. I've seen a lot of pushback just because she doesn't want to have the baby in the hospital. How do I help her get where she's trying to go when it seems like the rest of the world keeps trying to push her towards another direction?

Danielle: I have an anxiety about hospitals. I don't see it getting better or solved just because I'm having a child.

Royce: These professionals do this for a living and like anybody else, they get fatigued. They have a personal feelings and biases. I just think life is dramatic enough. We don't need Phoenix's first experience with life to be traumatic.

Danielle: I want this to happen as naturally as possible and I don't see why there's so much friction behind that. I'm trying not to chalk it up as [hospital] folks just want my good insurance, but you know, it's strange.

Royce: As long as she's comfortable, even if things don't work out right, we know, OK, at least you did it how you wanted to.It just seems like everybody's trying to save me from a dead baby and it's kinda like, can she live first? Can we as the adults make educated decisions and can we get support no matter what kind of decision we make? Especially with her being low-risk, I'm shocked that there aren't more options. It just seems like no matter where you fall in the spectrum, you get put into the same box with everybody else.

What exacerbates pregnancy stress?

Royce: Mostly work stuff, which is really becoming an issue for me, as a quote unquote provider. It's the money factor because everything costs money. The stress is already there, I feel like the baby just makes it more prominent. Trying to keep my problems, my problems, without throwing them on her, has really, really been difficult. I can see why people say, when you have your kid, things just change. I'm a lot more patient, it puts things in perspective.

Danielle: Just trying to make sure that I don't let my anxieties and overall worries about how she's going to enter the world become a strenuous situation. I don't want to put unnecessary stress on her or go into preterm labor.

How has Danielle's mental and emotional state changed over the pregnancy?

Royce: She's a lot more maternal for sure.

Danielle: It was almost a year ago that I was in a relationship that ended when my past partner committed suicide. There were days I was in the bed in the middle of the day and Royce wouldn't let me stay there. I remember one particular day he convinced me to do some yoga to get my mind from within itself. I am just grateful that [Royce] is willing to make the sacrifice for me and my mental status. I want to be able to do the same for him. I still have anxieties and I am just realizing that I need to trust myself. At one point in time, he literally was like, so I want to give you your space but I need to be there for you. So how can we make that work?

Royce: I'm also grateful for Phoenix cause she really gave [Danielle] something else to live for and be positive about. I just saw that shift where we're not thinking about death because death is irrelevant right now. We're thinking about life and how we protect new life. The new life is what matters now. We don't have to get it right. We just have to do our best.

What kind of information or resources has been hard to find?

Royce: Black midwives and doulas. Natural birth support, especially for our community, is very hard to find. It's difficult to find a resource that supports intellectual black people, no matter what they're doing. It just seems like you have to go above and beyond to find them or know somebody that knows them.

Danielle: Just knowing that I can fire my doctor and that I don't have to stick with this choice just because she was my OB/GYN for a couple of years and was close to work. We have options.

Royce: Knowing her rights as a human being, dealing with medical professionals, especially, when having a baby. It just seems like mothers take a back seat to the professional when they should be the ones saying, this is how I want to do it. What about mother's rights? What about mother's options? What about father's options? People don't even talk to me. I'll be in the room at her appointment and they don't ask me shit. I just feel like I'm disregarded.

What advice would you give to partners in order to be supportive of one another?

Royce: Listen. Like really, really listen. Listen to your intuition. Listen to those vibrations, not all communication is verbal. Check in. Learn how to be diplomatic in your communications and to actually listen and try to build a foundation where y'all can both be happy. I believe in negotiating, I don't believe in compromising. I don't want you to compromise who you are, your morals, your boundaries. But we can always negotiate. Keep the queen up top where she belongs, understand that your queen is your most important piece and cherish her and make sure that you protect her as much as you can.

Danielle: Just be open to your partner's communication. Be open to the resolution no matter how that might look. Just use those words that are sometimes difficult to hear. It's not about creating a conflict. It's about just being resolution-focused.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Royce: In my first marriage, we actually lost a child. So having made it this far there was a lot of emotional burdens that I had to kind of work through and get out of my system. It was really repressed. That's why I had to be at every appointment. You know, childbearing can start off really calm and then it really quickly turns into pain. And then agony and sadness and depression is real, it can go bad really, really fast.

I still have some fears, as a partner, you know, I fear for her life in this process because I understand that's ultimately what she's putting up there. She's offering up her life to bring another one into this world. And that scares the fuck out of me. The possibility of being a single father or losing both of them. Those are things that anybody that's planning on being a father should understand, the hard realities that come with parenthood and pregnancy. There's a lot of psychological and emotional energy that goes into developing this child that she can't get back.

You know, if things go south right now, you got to understand that you might be dealing with someone who might never be the same. Everyone likes the cute baby pictures, but we don't ever talk about how difficult and stressful this is and how much it takes from you.

This story was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at www.citybureau.org.

Read all stories in our special Maternal Health Issue here.

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