The statistics are staggering. After decades of medical advances, Black women in the U.S. are still three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A shocking 80% of U.S. pregnancy deaths are preventable, the CDC maintains.

Amirah McCree, a paralegal and mom in Charlotte, understands those statistics better than most. Here, she describes* how Novant Health Ballantyne Medical Center helped her change the narrative of childbirth in her family for generations to come.

In the days before my son Noah’s birth in July 2023, I was starting to get nervous. It wasn’t that I worried about my health care providers. My certified nurse midwife really advocated for me. I had trouble maintaining my appetite throughout my pregnancy. Swiyyah thought I needed an ultrasound around 37 weeks to check on a growth concern. The appointments were booked up, but Swiyyah insisted and got me an appointment.

I was anxious because this would be my third child. My grandmother died in childbirth while delivering her third child - my mother, Petrina. My mother almost died from complications delivering me, following an emergency C-section. I was her third child. That family history was really frightening.

As my due date approached, I was afraid there could be severe complications. I also had to be induced. During my last birth at another hospital that isn’t part of Novant Health, I had an induction which I didn’t want. I also didn’t like how many times the other hospital tried to use interventions to speed my labor.

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When I got to Ballantyne Medical Center, my anxiety washed away. I walked into the most amazing environment. The nurse I spoke to on the phone earlier that day was the same nurse who helped me that night. She was so heartfelt and warm and welcoming. It's like I knew her on a first name basis, but I didn't at all. She just reassured me: “Everything's gonna be OK.”

Once I settled in, they didn’t want to jump right to medicine to encourage contractions and used a balloon instead. It’s called a Foley bulb induction. They put a special type of balloon into your cervix and expand it to make the cervix start to open. I was able to rest during the night.

A worried grandma; a momentous date

At 8 a.m., my certified nurse midwife let me know she was there and would check on me throughout the day. Once my labor picked up, she would be by my side.

They gave me a drug called Cytotec. I had already started contractions and my cervix had opened past four centimeters, so normally Cytotec’s not going to do much. But they listened to my request not to go to another drug, Pitocin, first. Soon after I started going into active labor.

Novant Amirah 3
Photo by Ceren Miedema.

The baby was pushing against my back and it was really painful. I didn't have any pain meds because I wanted a natural birth. My mother and nurse Dani Leao were my team, doing the best they could to counteract the pressure. My mom would push on my back. I used a birthing ball and Dani kept offering other things to try to get me comfortable.

I had planned to give birth with a doula, but she was out of the country. Dani spoke with the doula and reassured her that she was completely on my side and going to listen to any of my wishes. It was just awesome. I felt like I was at the center of their attention. I knew they were there for me, not just to have the baby, be done, and move on to the next patient.

Once my body realizes it’s in labor, it moves really fast. My husband, Chris, had gone on a food run for everyone. My mom had to call him and say, “I think you should get back here.” My body just picked up and said, “This baby is coming now!” Chris got back in time to help me push. Though my mom kept me calm the whole time, inside she was very fearful. She never let on to me but I think Dani and Chris noticed it.

We were overjoyed when Noah was born at noon that day, July 21. When he arrived safely, my husband and my mom cried with each other in a corner. I was oblivious to it until they told me afterward. My mom was almost more grateful to the hospital than me because of how well they handled the delivery. She had been worried for months because of our family history. The same date my son was born, July 21, is also the date my grandmother was born. It was like the healing came full circle on their birthday.

People say Noah looks like my dad, but I think he’s starting to favor my husband. Our other kids, Caleb and Yara, tell me all the time they love being a big brother and sister, and they can't wait for Noah to get bigger. He’s crawling now. We're all excited watching him grow.

‘My voice was heard and respected’

Photo by Ceren Miedema.

I get a little emotional when I talk about Black maternal health. There are histories of women who look like me not being listened to and almost dying or dying in medical facilities. It can be very scary. It caused me to look at my history with my mother and my grandmother and wonder, “Is this a generational curse or was it just the byproduct of Black women not being heard?”

You can think, “Because this doctor or nurse is a person of color, they’ll listen to me.” But that’s not always true. These institutions were sometimes built on discriminatory beliefs about women of color, like supposedly having a higher pain tolerance.

As a pregnant mom who's experienced a good birth and one that was not pleasurable, you know what that feels like and how vulnerable you feel. Most women deliver in a hospital, so they have to trust the hospital will listen to them no matter what they look like or where they come from.

Ballantyne Medical Center was completely welcoming from the time I walked in. They treated me like a person. My voice was heard and respected. There are almost no words for the ease that you feel when you know you're safe.

*As told to Andrea Cooper