WRITEN BY DEBBIE ALLEN LM, CPM
I have a story to tell. A story that will help you understand what can happen when you’re a black midwife transporting folks who look like you. How a family was treated while they mourned the lost of their son. Although I am EXTREMELY protective of this family and their experience but THEY want me to tell THEIR story. This week I'm going to share it with you.
In August of 2016 I received a call from a woman who said “I’m newly pregnant and I want to have a home birth”. I said “Great let’s set up an interview” She responded “I don’t need an interview I already know I want you! I’m ready to get started” We made our first appointment and got started. When we met they stressed the importance of having a black midwife, a conversation that I hear often and understand fully. My care with Rasheedah, her husband Mustafaa, and their 2 year old Alima was beautiful. It felt familiar, like we were connected in a way that really had no explanation. Rasheedah’s pregnancy was for the most part uneventful. She measured a little small for her dates but her daughter Alima was small at birth and her ultrasounds in this pregnancy didn’t indicate anything abnormal. At 35 weeks Rasheedah called stating she was having some mild spotting without contractions. I advised her that I wanted her to go to labor and delivery (L&D) for a full assessment. Rasheedah went to L&D and was there for 4 -5 hours, the spotting stopped, the assessment and the ultrasound report stated all was well with her and her baby. That was the only incident that was abnormal during her pregnancy. We continued her care without incident.
4/18/17 at 10:37p Rasheedah called w/contractions every 15min lasting 30secs, normal fetal movement. I azd her to rest & call with any change to her pattern. Odd thing happened when I heard her voice, my body became freezing cold, my teeth were chattering. When we hung up I wrapped up in an electric blanket, but I couldn’t stop shivering & I couldn’t get warm 4/19/17 at 1:48am Rasheedah called her ctx were 10 mins apart. She was coping well. I called my assistant Julia Underwood and asked her to head to my house because Rasheedah would need us soon & she was 50m away. At 2:17 Rasheedah called saying her ctxs were stronger. Julia arrived & we headed out. I asked Julia if she was freezing, she said it wasn’t cold maybe I was getting sick. at 3:40am we arrived to Mustafaa & Rasheedah’s house. Mustafaa met me at the door full of joy & anticipation. As I walked in the room where Rasheedah was laboring on the floor, she said “I can feel his head, he’s right there”. I immediately gloved and checked her while Julia handed me the Doppler. She was 10cms and baby's head was indeed right there. Mustafaa was so proud that Rasheedah had labored so well & that he was about to meet his son. At 3:45 I tried to listen for heart tones as Rasheedah pushed, but could not get them. AT 3:50am Rasheedah pushed out her son and his skin slid off in my hands. I uttered, really to myself, not realizing I was speaking out loud ‘He’s gone” Mustafaa repeated as a question “He’s gone?” When I looked at him and said “Yes, he’s gone and it looks like it happened days ago” I’ll never forget the expression on his face because it broke my heart. I asked Rasheedah if she wanted to hold her baby and she just couldn’t in that moment. At 3:52am Julia called 911 as I attempted to deliver the placenta. The placenta retained w/o any bleeding but needed to be delivered in the hospital. Rasheedah was very calm (shock) as we helped her dress while Mustafaa arranged for care of their sleeping daughter. I called predetermined hospital 2 notify we were coming & why, they said “go somewhere else” I said “you’re closest” they hung up.
4/19/17 at 4:00A EMT arrives. I reiterated the reasosns we were transporting. One of the Paramedics insisted on listening to make sure there was no heartbeat even though I assured him there was not. At this point, I felt extremely protective of this blck boy's body that his parents had not had the opportunity to hold yet. He persisted, so I unwrapped the blanket and let him. He listened and then stated there was indeed no heartbeat. The EMT's then helped Rasheedah to the gurney and proceeded to take her to the ambulance waiting outside.
Before I walked out the door, Mustafa stopped me to say a prayer over his son. Outside the EMT's were discussing where to take Rasheedah. I mentioned my conversation with the hospital and it prompted them to call a supervisor. Their supervisor told them that we would indeed need to transport to the hospital I spoke with because they were closest. We left for the hjospital at 4:17am.
We arrived and we were put in a room. I provided a copy of Rasheedah's prenatal care, labs and ultrasounds. I gave a report on her care as well as their birth.
At this time, about 40 mins after our arrival, I was still holding the baby so I asked if they could bring a bassinet or warmer for him. The nurse asked to see him, and I unwrapped him, she looked at him and without saying a word, walked away. After asking several other nurses if they would bring a bassinet for him, a warmer was brought in the room and I laid him there. While we were waiting for an OB to come in, the charge nurse and another nurse came in and stood over the baby whispering to each other. I went to really try to figure out what they were saying. They had many questions. Did Rasheedah not know the baby wasn't moving? Did I ever hear fetal heart tones (FHT)?
I explained that though the baby had passed away the movement of his body in utero understandably felt like fetal movements andof course I heard normal fetal heart tones throughout her care. The OB finally came in the room. I wouldn't describe him as unkind, but more indifferent. We, for the first time, heard someone say "i'm so sorry for your loss" to Rasheedah and Mustafaa. He assessed and tried to assist the delivery of the placenta. It was determined that it would need to be removed manually. Rasheedah was given medication for pain relief and the placenta was manually removed. This was of course extremely painful for Rasheedah even with pain medication. After the OB was done, he gave some general postpartum instructions and left. We never saw him again.
A nurse came in the room and stated that the Coroner was on the phone and asked if I would be willing to speak with them. On the phone, the coroner asked all the questions asked before, with tthe exception of two: "Did I notice anything out of the ordinary at Rasheedah's home?" and "Did I notice anything odd about Rasheedah and Mustafaa's relationship?" I assured her that they were a wonderful, loving family and there was absolutely nothing odd or out of the ordinary about their home and relationship. She seemed satisfied with that answer and hung up. When I came back in the room the charge nurse immediately got up and left. Rasheedah then told me that they were asking lots of questions about me. "Where did they find me?" "Am I licensed?" "Didi they ever actually hear me get FHT?" She asked why did I think they were asking these questions and in that moment, I didn't have an answer for her.
Maybe 30-40 mins went by and a woman came in who introduced herself as the coroner. She asked us all the same questions everyone else had asked. She then stated that this case was going to be investigated as a crime. This statement took us all by surprise. I said to her "So this woman has prenantal care throughout her pregnancy, had an ultrasound at THIS hospital, clearly her baby died in utero, how could this possibly be a criminal investigation???"
She stated "A baby does not have anyone to speak for them so until they rule out foulplay, the coroner has to be the voice of the baby." She also stated that because this was being investigated as a crime, there would be a mandatory autopsy. Mustafaa immediately stated that he did not want an autopsy, and that an autopsy on his son's body was against his personal and religious beliefs. The coroner reiterated that because this being investigated as a crime the family did not have a choice in what happened to the body of their son.
The coroner then said that she was going to need to take the baby soon. I explained that they had not spent any time alone with him. She asked if 10 mins was enough time. Both Mustafaa and Rasheedah explained that they did not want to be rushed in spending time with their son. The coroner stated that 30 mins was the most time she could allow. We all voiced our disappointment with this time constraint and stressed the point that this was the last time they would ever see him. The coroner said she could not allow more time than 30 mins. We all left the room so that Rasheedah and Mustafaa could spend time with their son. Outside I spoke with the coroner about respectful ways to remove the baby from the room. She honored these requests.
After the allowed time had passed, and the coroner had taken the baby, a man came into the room introducing himself as the lead detective investigating this case. He again asked asked the same questions to all of us. He asked Rasheedah to submit to a drug test, and she did. He then asked Mustafaa, the father who JUST lost his son, if he would take him to where the birth happened. He wanted to search the house and take pictures. I was offended for them and asked how could the place she gave birth be considered a crime scene. The officer stated that the only way to rule this out was to search the home and take pictures. Mustafaa stated he had nothing to hide and agreed to a search of his home. I stayed with Rasheedah while her husband left with the investigator to search his house.
4 hours later, Mustafaa returned visibly shaken. He recounted to Rasheedah and I that he was locked out of his home with his 2-year-old daughter and his mother-in-law, standing in 103-degree weather, while his house was searched from top to bottom. They were not allowed to go in to use the restroom of HIS home while this investigation took place. A man who just lost his son was made to leave his wife and to stand outside of his own home while it was being searched and investigated as a crime scene.
The detective came back into the room and asked to speak to me privately. He escorted me into the lobby where a Sheriff was waiting. The detective questioned me repeatedly while the sheriff stood next to him with his hand on his gun. I was asked to go to the station with them for additional questioning. By now it was clear that I was visibly shaken by the bombardment of accusations thinly veiled as questions. The sheriff asked if I needed a minute to pull myself together. I did. I walked down the hall to the restroom followed by the sheriff who stood outside of the bathroom door. I called another Black Los Angeles midwife, Racha Lawler. We seem to support each other when the worst things happen in this profession. She immediately tried to calm me down and suggested that I let her call her friend who was a lawyer. Her friend immediatlely called me back. She advised me to stop talkng to them, absolutely DO NOT go anywhere with them. She said to tell them if they had any further questions to direct them to her. So thankful to both of these women because I am a human being and I was spiraling. The lawyer talked me off the edge and put me back into the headspace I needed to be in to support Rasheedah and Mustafaa. I went out and repeated exactly what the lawyer advised. To my surprise, they backed off. They backed off completely.
When I returned to the room, the charge nurse was informing the family that Child Protective Services would be doing a house call on them to check out the well being of their daughter. The nurse told Rasheedah that the drug test came back negative but that it was recommended she stay overnight. As soon as the nurse left the room, it was clear to each of us that this was not a safe space and we needed to get out of there. Rasheedah felt fine physically, and after signing paperwork releasing the hospital of liability, we headed home.
We arrived home. I grabbed food and settled them in. We only skimmed over the events of the past 12 hours. In the moment, all of us were too shell shocked to process any of it. During the next weeks, I helped Rasheedah bind her breast, stop her milk, and cope with the reminders her body gave that there should have been a baby in her arms. We talked about the awkward conversations with neighbors and friends, who when seeing that she was no longer pregnant, excitedly asked about the baby. Mustafaa cared for her as he worked through his own grief, restructuring his life so that he would never feel powerless again when protecting his family. Child Protective Services (CPS) did indeed come. CPS checked in several times before admitting it was absurd for them to be there, eventually closing the case. This family checked on me as much as I checked on them. Mustafaa called daily for the remains of his son to be released so they could plan a ceremony for him. We have no more clarity on the investigation than the day it happened. Eventually, the remains were released. Rasheedah and Mustafaa had an intimate ceremony at their home. During this ceremony, Mustafaa said something that was a recurring dream I never shared with anyone. He said something that I heard whispered in my ear every single day. Mustafaa said, Nadhiym’s spirit was too strong for the physical body he came through and he would be waiting to welcome his son back.
I woke up and immediately texted Rasheedah about my dream. In the dream, my car broke down and coasted down a street, coming to a stop in front of a house that I realized belonged to Rasheedah. I went to her front door and knocked. When she opened the door we hugged each other and laughed and laughed. It was clear we were celebrating something. I told Rasheedah in the dream we were SO happy. Then I asked “Are you pregnant?”
Rasheedah called immediately. She said she took a pregnancy test the night before and it was positive. She said she hadn’t even told Mustafaa yet and then we laughed. We celebrated.
The following months, Rasheedah started care with her OB. Her “due date” was April 21, one month and 3 days from her previous due date. We spoke often, checking in about all the things, including how her pregnancy was going. I wanted her to know I was there for her, however she needed me. We spoke about how important it was for her to feel safe during this pregnancy and that was not synonymous with where she gave birth. At 18 weeks, she decided she wanted care with both myself and her OB concurrently and that she would birth at the hospital. There were many anxious moments, ones only someone who has given birth to a stillborn can empathize with. I purchased a Doppler for her, so that anytime she doubted her baby was OK, she could listen to his heart. As time passed, she needed the confirmation less and less. She started to trust her body a little more. At 37 weeks of pregnancy, Rasheeda went on a scheduled hospital tour. When she returned, she said her baby told her he did not want to be born there. I encouraged her to go with what she felt in the moment and when her labor started, she could change her mind if need be.
On April 8th we welcomed Nadhiym back home. Rebecca Coursey thank you for donating your time to document Nadhiym’s return.