Minnesotans Need Reproductive Freedom

Author Megan and her daughter, Imogene, on one of their many pre-pandemic trips to lobby at the Capitol with TakeAction Minnesota

Megan (she/her) is a mother, a caregiver, and a part of TakeAction’s Leadership Assembly. She wants to build a world that includes everyone. She knows that no one person knows what we all need, so we need seats at the table for everyone.

Megan recently shared this story at a legislative hearing on House File 660, the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which aims to decrease racism and implicit bias in reproductive healthcare and improve maternal health among women of color.

Today, my family is facing $10,000 in medical debt that we can’t afford. We have been banned from the medical provider that I have used my entire life because we weren’t paying our debt to them down fast enough. This happened as a result of the pre and postnatal care that I required 6 years ago. I have a chronic medical condition and when I became pregnant, I did not realize how much extra care I would require to make sure that my baby and I were safe and healthy. I had extra appointments and tests to manage my health and pregnancy.

When I got to the 39th week of my pregnancy, I was informed that it was dangerous for someone with my medical condition to carry past 40 weeks and that I needed to be induced on the first day of my 40th week so that my baby would arrive safely. I felt really hesitant about this because I didn’t feel like my body was ready to give birth, and I felt scared that if I waited until my body was ready, that it could harm my baby. I felt like I wasn’t given enough information, but also felt that I should not question my doctor because I’m not the one with the medical degree. I agreed to be induced, but my body definitely was not ready. My daughter, Imogene got stuck in the birth canal and had to be delivered via emergency C-section. Imogene was born with a scrape on one side of her head, and a big bump on the other side because of her rough entrance into the world.

Since I had been induced, I had a long hospital stay before Imogene was born, and since I had a C-section, we had a long hospital stay after Imogene was born. We spent a large amount of time in the hospital worrying over what this all was ultimately going to cost us. I had insurance, but I knew that my coverage wasn’t going to be enough.

A week after getting home from the hospital, a visiting nurse came to my home to check on me and I shared with her about some pain that I was having. She was really concerned that it could be an infection, and told me to call my doctor. I called, but since it was a couple of days before Christmas, my doctor was on vacation. I ended up having to speak to the on-call doctor, and once he found out that I wasn’t taking my prescribed pain medications, he told me that the pain that I was feeling was from having major surgery and I should take the heavy drugs that were prescribed to me. I hadn’t been taking them because my pharmacist had told me that they would leak into my breastmilk. Three days later, on Christmas Day, I was driving home from a relative’s house and I suddenly had the chills. I was so cold that when I got home, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car because I didn’t want to get even colder by walking to the house. After sitting in my car shivering for 20 minutes, I made a break for it and ran into the house and under every blanket that I could find. After a while, I was suddenly very hot. I took my temperature and found that I had a fever of 107 degrees. I took my temperature several times with several different thermometers because I thought that couldn’t be right. I told my husband that he needed to call 911. He froze. He started to question me and bring up the cost. We hadn’t even gotten our medical bills yet, and an ambulance ride would be another expense. I told him again that we needed to call 911 and that I had never felt this sick before and that my fever was dangerously high, and we needed help to get it to come down. He did call and the paramedics confirmed that it was the right thing to do. It ended up being that I had and undiagnosed infection that had started to become septic.

In each step of my story, when we should have been celebrating the beautiful new life that entered our world, my husband and I could almost hear a cash register ringing with every single procedure or medication. The medical debt that we felt ourselves falling into stole a lot of our joy. I am now scared to seek out medical attention because I know that we can’t afford it. I am scared by the recent news from Kansas about medical debtors being jailed. I should not be this afraid to take care of myself and my family. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth can happen to anyone, but they happen disproportionately to people of color, sometimes with devastating consequences. I’m glad I got treatment in time, but I’m left to wonder if my pain, and my desire to labor without induction, were dismissed more easily due to the color of my skin.

Equitable access to maternal healthcare is a crucial part of the reproductive justice framework, defined by Sister Song as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” Black women, women of color, and other marginalized women and trans* people are more likely to lack (or, like Megan, be deprived of) access to the reproductive healthcare they need. From maternal care to abortions, the biases and policies that made it harder for Megan to get the care she needed are the same – some people in power don’t trust women to know what’s best for their bodies and families.

Tomorrow, UnRestrict Minnesota is leading a virtual Reproductive Freedom Lobby Day. Register here to join us and let our politicians know: we won’t let them play with our reproductive care any longer.

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