NATAL, Episode 5: “Marilyn and Yvonne’s Stories”
Marilyn and Yvonne are two parents determined to grow their families. When pregnancy loss disrupts their plans, they turn to their faith. Please note, this episode contains graphic details about miscarriage and stillbirth.
In this episode we mention:
- Stillbirth and Sleeping Babies
- Black Millennial Marriage Podcast
- For resources for coping with pregnancy loss, visit:
Follow NATAL on social media: @natalstories
Join our Facebook Community to connect with other parents, birth workers, and advocates.
NATAL is produced by You Had Me at Black and The Woodshaw. Listen to You Had Me at Black wherever you get your podcasts.
Martina Abrahams Ilunga: Hey NATAL fam, I’m cohost, Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Before I dive in, just a heads up that this episode deals with the trauma of pregnancy loss. In the NATAL prelude, I alluded to the challenges my mother faced with me and each one of my siblings. This episode, I’m going to share one of her stories and the story of another woman, Yvonne McCombs. Their experiences reflect the joy of becoming pregnant, and also the complications that can accompany childbearing, and result in pregnancy loss. The sorrow of losing a baby during pregnancy is something that many don’t talk about. In this episode, we honor those experiences and highlight the resiliency and faith of Black birthing parents who will to bring new life into the world.
You’re listening to NATAL, a podcast about having a baby while Black
Martina: My mom’s name is Marilyn, and she is a fierce Caribbean mother. She’s strict, you know, the type who’s always got her eye on you. Needs to know where you’re going and when you’re coming back or maybe won’t let you leave home at all. But she’s also incredibly supportive. She’ll tell you to dream big, the sky’s the limit, put your faith in God and you can do anything.
She gave birth to me then my two sisters, Britney and Brianna, and finally my brother Joshua, but she only went on to raise three of us. We all know our birth stories because each year on the day or so leading up to our individual birthdays, she calls to tell us exactly what she was doing at that exact moment she could feel us arriving,
Marilyn Abrahams: Martina this is your mom calling. I’m sitting here reminiscing on 30 years ago today. I was getting ready to welcome you into the world. I was so excited. I vacuumed because I was getting the house ready. I was folding your clothes. I just made sure the house looked perfect cause my mom was gonna come. Everything was beautiful and waiting for you. I was so excited. I never thought you’d be on time. I was hoping you’d be on time. But you were on time, you came on a new due date. That morning when I woke up and I started feeling crampy, I called the doctor, and they said for me to come in. By the time we got to the hospital, that’s when the contractions really came strong. I was ready in my mind for what I was about to undergo. Contractions were heavy, contractions were hard. Martina, I couldn’t wait to see you. And when you did finally come out you were the cutest thing, you were beautiful Martina. You were chocolate, head full of hair. It was literally one of the very best days of my life. Anyway, sweet pea. I love you. Bye.
Martina: My mom’s an open book. She doesn’t sugar coat, anything. As much as I’ve heard the happy parts of our birthing stories, I’ve also heard about the things that went wrong, and many things did.
We already know that for Black parents, pregnancy and birthing outcomes are hugely influenced by genetics and preexisting conditions, the perinatal care parents receive, and the stress that they endure just living as a Black person in America.
For a long time. I thought my mom’s experiences were just a series of unfortunate events. Truly, I thought she was just unlucky. It turns out she’s actually part of a bigger trend of Black women who experience pregnancy loss at higher rates than white women.
Marilyn Abrahams: Hello, my name is Marilyn Abrahams. I’m Martina’s mom, and this is my NATAL story.
Well, um, I’m a planner and I had Martina, and Martina was two years old at the time. And I wanted to space each baby out. I wanted three children and I wanted them two years apart. And that’s how I wanted my life to be.
Martina: My mom leaves nothing to chance me and all my siblings were a part of her plan. To her, three was the perfect number. In 1992, at 29 years old, she and my dad tried for baby number two, but she had a miscarriage in the first trimester.
Marilyn: So I turned to my doctor and I said, “How long do I have to wait to try again?” And the doctor says, you have to, you should give yourself at least three months.
So when my husband and I get in the car in the parking lot, I turned to him, I said, I am not waiting three months. We are going to conceive immediately, because I felt that all I wanted to do is just try again and stay the course, and that wasn’t going to change. The miscarriage wasn’t going to change my mind.
So I just kept it moving. I think every woman is different and you go through your own feelings and emotions. But for me, it was let’s do this again.
Martina: I’ll come back to my mom’s story. Let’s get into Yvonne’s now. Yvonne McCombs is the other parent I mentioned at the top of the episode, she is also a planner. Her story takes place in California.
Yvonne McCombs: I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a sister. I’m a friend. And most of all, I am a woman of faith. Yes, I absolutely desire to have kids. I wanted to be married first, because I grew up in a Christian household. So that was the plan. I would travel the world first, get married and have children. So when I found out that I was pregnant at first, it was a shock because I was having sex outside of marriage.
Martina: At 23 years, old being pregnant out of wedlock was definitely not in the plan. But four years later she was married and ready to give her daughter a sibling. When she got pregnant again, she was thrilled.
She even invited her mom and sisters to meet the baby at one of her prenatal visits.
Yvonne: I used to work at a pregnancy resource center and they were going to give a free ultrasound. So I went to the ultrasound and they hooked me up to the machine. And then they’re trying to locate the heartbeat. And everyone’s waiting anxiously, like, because they’re excited. I’m friends with the people, everyone’s in the room with me and the baby is lifeless.
Martina: The medical staff couldn’t detect the baby’s heartbeat. With her family and toe Yvonne rushed to the emergency room. On the way there, she prayed and prayed for her baby. Once in the ER, the doctors check for the baby’s heartbeat again.
Yvonne: So they had me in a room. I’m in the room with other moms and they’re hooked up to the dopplers, and I can hear other babies’ heartbeats, and I can hear moms complaining about being pregnant. And I can hear women, just some are about to go into labor. And I’m in the same room, and they’re saying, “I’m sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.”
Martina: The doctors wanting to monitor you Von for a little while longer in case the status of the baby changed. They told her she could go home in the meantime. Yvonne agreed, thinking this was normal protocol.
Yvonne: Two weeks pass by. And that’s when I started feeling the pain in my back and stomach, but I thought it was gas.
So I get up to go use the restroom and my water breaks, which is weird because when I look everywhere, it’s like kind of green. So my mom took me to the hospital. My husband, he said he could not come because he had to work the next day. No one ever told me about the signs of miscarriage, no one ever told me what was bad to make you call your OB GYN.
I was in pain in the waiting room at the community hospital, and no one seemed to mind. No staff seem to mind, and I’m waiting and waiting, trying to get comfortable in the room. And so I tell my mom, I said, “Mommy, I need to go to the restroom. I think the baby has come out.” We go to the restroom and she helps me. And I see my baby on a pad. And I hate seeing my mom cry. And I know she tried her best not to let the tears come out of her eyes, but she seen her grandbaby on that pad.
Martina: Yvonne was experiencing a miscarriage at four months. Miscarriage, or early pregnancy loss is the spontaneous loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks. When a baby dies any time after 20 weeks in the womb, it’s classified as a stillborn, aka a sleeping baby.
Okay, this is going to be a lot, but stay with me. According to the national institutes for health or NIH, 10 to 15% of pregnancies end in early pregnancy loss.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much research or data on the impact racial disparities have on miscarriages. Still, the NIH estimates that black women are up to two times as likely to suffer miscarriages and early pregnancy loss than women of any other race.
How a birthing parent experiences miscarriage also varies. some parents miscarry without any symptoms.They don’t even realize its happened until it happens.
For others, it’s easy to mistake in early pregnancy loss for a heavy period. Symptoms might include fatigue, cramps, or pain in the back, tummy, or pelvis areas. This is a bit graphic. But a parent closer to the 20-week Mark might even pass certain fluids, blood clot, tissue that looks like a fetus, or in some cases, even a fully formed baby.
The factors that cause pregnancy loss vary. There could be chromosomal issues; complications with the birthing parent’s, cervix or uterus like fibroids; or infections such as STIs.
Yvonne didn’t know why she was miscarrying. And the staff at the hospital did nothing to console her.
Yvonne: So I went and I told them, my baby just came out. They said, “Oh, just put it in a specimen cup.” And I’m like, are you serious? Like that’s all? I’m starting to feel lightheaded now because I’m losing blood. And they tell me, “Oh, just sit here in the hallway.” So I said, “Well, I’m feeling light headed.” By this time, my mom was getting mad, because she’s like, how dare you guys just dismiss her?
She just lost her baby, and then you guys tell her to put the baby in a cup. Now she’s getting light headed. And I believe I black out because I don’t remember anything else, like me getting moved to a different room. Later on, I’m in a different room, I have to put on the gown and everything. I stand up, and my placenta plopped down on the floor. So I’m like, oh, okay. This is not the best night
Martina: for me. The placenta, the organ attached to the lining of the uterus regulates blood supply between baby and parent during pregnancy. It also has to be delivered too.
Yvonne: I guess in that moment, I just was like, God, I still believe, I don’t know what you’re doing God, but I have to hold on and believe that you’re working it out for my good, as crazy as that may sound.
Martina: After all that the ER, doctor cleared Yvonne to go home. They instructed her to follow up with her OB GYN at his office as soon as possible.
Yvonne: Um, my mom takes me to the doctor and she has my daughter at this time, she’s three. So she can’t come with me inside the exam room.
So then my doctor says, “Oh, you have some fetal tissue still in you, so I have to pull it out.” By the time he’s pulling, I’m like this is hurting me. And he’s pulling and tugging. He’s like,I have to get it out, cause if we don’t get it out, it’s going to be an infection. And his wife works with them, so she’s holding my hand. I said, make him stop. Like this hurts. And he was, he was very, very rude. Like well, you can get sick, so let me get it out.
Martina: When fetal tissue lingers inside of the uterus, it may lead to an infection or heavy bleeding. The procedure of parents like Yvonne have to undergo to remove the tissue is a one that the NIH describes as highly invasive.
They recommend doctors administer anesthesia to the patient in advance. Yvonne’s doctor did not. Once the procedure was done, Yvonne was advised to take medicine for her pain and told she could go home. She later filed a grievance on him, but she moved and never followed up. In addition to offering Yvonne anesthesia from the very beginning, her doctor should have been more responsive to her pain.
He should have explained to her what he was about to do before he did it. He should have explained why he was going to do what he was going to do in the first place. And when she complained about the pain and begged him to stop, he should have stopped and given her anesthesia.
It may be hard to believe, but despite all the humiliation pain and trauma, she stomached, Yvonne was in for more bad news. A week later, her OB GYN called and told her she tested positive for an STI. Her husband had been unfaithful, caught gonorrhea, and unbeknownst to Yvonne, passed it on to her. The STI caused her to miscarry. That explains the green fluid that caught her by surprise.
Still, Yvonne knew this miscarriage wasn’t the end of her pregnancy journey. She knew she would eventually try again. After all that second baby was part of her plan.
[Black Millennial Marriage Promotion]
Throughout the season, we’re highlighting different podcasts that explore various facets of the Black birthing experience.
In the Black Millennial Marriage Podcast, parents Mikey and Randie Chapman give you an uncensored look into their 10 plus years of relationship experience.
The couple dishes on the grimy, raunchy, good, bad, ugly, and joyful parts of relationships. This podcast was created out of their desire to have representation, to meet other couples, and to provide a space to talk about all that they’re learning, unlearning, and loving about marriage. Subscribe to the Black Millennial Marriage podcast, on the Domino Sound network, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Martina: For people looking to conceive again after having a miscarriage, there is hope. It’s really up to the parent and their doctor to determine when it’s safe to try again. The Mayo Clinic is a national nonprofit and medical research center. According to them, generally speaking, you can get pregnant again, as early as two weeks after early pregnancy loss. In a study conducted in 2016, the NIH found that parents who tried to conceive within three months of miscarrying were just as likely, and in some cases, more likely to successfully get pregnant than those who waited three months or more.
My mom was one of those parents who conceived quickly after miscarrying.
Marilyn: Conceiving Britney was a surprise. We were in the process of moving, there was a lot going on. So it all happened so fast. I felt blessed to be pregnant again. This pregnancy was just a little different than my first pregnancy. And I say that to say I was gaining weight rapidly.
When I went to the doctor and the doctor says, okay, everything’s good, but you know, you, you gained 10 pounds in one month. So, you know, you want to slow down. So every single month I would go to the doctor and the doctor says, you gained another 10 pounds. This is not good. You know, you still have many more months to go. And I’m saying, okay. I’m thinking to myself, I’m not, I can’t change anything. If I’m hungry, I’m hungry. I was like a bottomless pit, always hungry.
So now fast forward to September, and the doctor wanted to have an ultrasound because I was gaining so much weight. So here we are. And they’re doing the ultrasound. The technician says, “Oh, I see Baby A and I see Baby B.” I was really surprised. That was one of the happiest days of my life.
Martina: Yeah, my mom was so excited she was having twins.
Marilyn: Suffering a miscarriage and now being told that you’re carrying twins is a gift from God. You feel like God has given me the baby that I lost. So I was elated. It was a gift. I felt so much joy. But as I felt this joy, my husband was devastated.
He’s like twins, whoa, what are we going to do with twins? He did not share in my joy and my enthusiastic feeling. I remember I couldn’t tell my mom on the phone. So I drove an hour and a half to her job just to tell her in person, it was very exciting. My mom was elated. We were so happy.
And I continued gaining 10 pounds every single month. I didn’t change. And now the doctor felt like now I had an excuse. So I was no longer, you know, that patient that’s in his mind overeating.
I had another ultrasound scheduled for November right after Thanksgiving. And so that’s when they noticed that one of the babies had fluid in the belly. So that was Baby B.
Because I was pregnant with twins, they sent me to a high risk facility. And so when I went to the high risk facility, they attached me to all the machines and they’re doing another ultrasound. And they realized both babies were sick. Now I was told that Baby A had a heart condition, the right ventricle never developed. And Baby B has fluid in the belly.
Martina: after the shattering miscarriage, I know my mom was scared about the possibility of losing one or both babies. The issue with Baby B’s belly, with a symptom of Hydrops Fetalis, a rare condition where fluid builds up in the lungs, heart, stomach, or abdomen. Research by the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests unborn babies who suffer from Hydrops Fatalis have a 50/50 chance of surviving pregnancy.
As for Baby A, the doctor said she would need heart surgery right after birth.
Marilyn: Once we found out that both babies were sick, they didn’t let me go home. I was admitted into the hospital right then and there.
So now we’re in December, the twins due date was February 17th. Um, they knew I was gonna give birth sooner than I was supposed to. We don’t know, you know, when I’m going to give birth, and just, just to be on the safe side, they kept me.
Martina: My dad worked 80 hours a week in New York city, 45 minutes away from the hospital in Valhalla, New York. Because of the logistics. You could only visit my mom on weekends. She spent most of the time alone.
Marilyn: I believe in God. And I just kept praying. I just relied on my faith. I just prayed. That even if the babies are sick, but there’ll be something that they can do for them. The cardiac specialist, that was our doctor, he was so amazing. He was warm, he was friendly. He was educational. He, he really gave us a lot of tools, things to hold onto and hope that Baby A was going to be okay. So I’m thinking to myself, this is a blessing from God that this is happening now when there’s, you know, medicine is where it is and there’s a cure. Everybody was always hopeful. There was never any doubters.
The support that I had, I felt good with. I felt love around me and support, and we were always hopeful. So I held on to that hope and that faith. And that’s what carried me through.
Martina: The first few days in the hospital were uneventful. Her medical team established a routine of daily monitoring, ultrasounds, and steroid shots to strengthen Baby A’s heart. On the sixth day, a nurse spotted an issue in her ultrasound.
Marilyn: So, um, I’m laying there and the technician is doing my daily ultrasound just to make sure babies are doing okay. Nothing’s changed from the day before. And the technician runs out of the room. At some point, she comes back and I said to her, “What’s the matter?”
And she says, “Baby B is in trouble.” This is the baby with the fluid in the belly. So now I’m looking at the monitor and she goes, “You’re going to have to make a decision because you’re going to have to give birth right away.” And I said to her, “Make a decision for what?” She says, “Baby B is in trouble, and we’re going to need to know what your plans are.”
I said, “I can’t make that decision. My husband is not here.” If I give birth now, I’m saving Baby B, but Baby A won’t live because she’s still too young to withstand the surgery she’ll need. So now I’m laying there crying, telling her, “How can I make that decision? How can I choose from one baby to another baby?”
And I’m looking at the monitor and she says, “I think God is making this decision for you.” And I’m watching Baby B take her last breath. You can see that her heart is just slowing down minute by minute by minute, until she’s not, no more heartbeat. So, you know, the woman says to me, “I’m really sorry, but you know, you lost Baby B.”
That was a sad day. That was difficult. But you know, my faith kicked in and I figured, you know what? This is science. There is a higher God. And so they might be wrong. This baby might be okay. I know what I saw on the screen, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t process that. I couldn’t allow that to sit in me, you know, that, that reality to live in me.
So I just said, you know, I’m just going to focus on my prayer. And I’m going to believe that God is going to fix this.
Martina: Faith, it’s something else. It’s carried our people through centuries of trials and tribulation. It’s carried my mom through her own peaks and valleys. And for Yvonne, it was the core of her determination.
Yvonne: 2011 comes, I’m pregnant and I’m excited. Everyone’s rejoicing with me. Because they’re like, yeah, God’s going to bless you because the first miscarriage you weren’t supposed to have, because your ex husband was cheating on you. So God is not going to bless any mess. So we’re all excited. We’re getting names together and then I’m starting to bleed.
So I rushed to the hospital. I called the hospital along the way and they say, “Oh yeah, just put your feet up. But definitely come in to get checked out, to make sure everything is okay.” And then I’m on the exam table. And she says, “I’m trying to locate the heartbeat.” And I said, “Oh, well go to the left. Cause usually the baby likes to be on the left side.”
And we all laugh, and she goes to the left and she said, let me bring in a specialist. She can definitely locate the heartbeat. She brings in a specialist and then they both look at me and I say, “You don’t have to tell me, I already know.” And the baby was dead again. And they said, “I’m sorry, but we can’t locate the heartbeat.”
And I looked at my then husband and my daughter and my daughter gasped and holds her chest, and she just started crying. That broke me because she was the only child and I know she really wanted a sibling. And at that time I could not give her that. And so I cried and cried and cried. And so they had asked me, what did I want to do?
They said that I want to go home or give birth, but by then, my body had already started to go into active labor. So I had to deliver a dead baby and although the nurses and staff were very supportive to deliver a dead baby’s so much harder to do than delivering a live baby, because you can’t take that baby home.
You can’t go look at the baby in the nursery. It’s just lifeless. And so I went through the labor and the baby was out and they asked me, did I want to dress it up? And I’m like, no, cause at this point I’m like, God, I’m mad because this is the second miscarriage that I have. You gave us the command to be fruitful and multiply in Genesis from the beginning. And here I am giving birth to death.
Martina: Yvonne’s pregnancy had made it to five months. The hospital provided her a social worker who asked if she wanted to give the baby a Memorial. She did not want to. But her husband and his family were adamant.
Yvonne: I was just angry. I didn’t want to do anything. And so they forced me into doing it. They got a Build A Bear, it was a blue Build A Bear, and they had cremated the baby and puts the remains in the bear. And to me, and that’s just my opinion it was just so weird. Like, what am I going to do with this Build a Bear? It’s not my baby, so why do you guys want me to carry this bear?
Martina: Leaning into her faith, she tried again, once more, another loss followed. And then another, and then another. Over a seven year period, Yvonne experienced seven consecutive miscarriages.
Each one was a new emotional scar. Each one created new grief. Each one, she mourned.
Yvonne: And by 2014, I actually had started to get testing because after three miscarriages, I learned that they automatically start testing to see what is the cause of miscarriage.
Martina: One of Yvonne’s doctors told her, “It’s not you, it’s your husband.” Yvonne thought the doctor was joking.
Yvonne: But he’s like, “No, like go get genetic testing because you had a daughter before. There’s something not right with his genes.”
Martina: Yvonne and her husband never got that genetic test. Their marriage was already on the rocks for other reasons. The miscarriages didn’t help.
Eventually they got divorced. A year of single them later. Yvonne reconnected with a childhood friend. They eventually got married and shortly after, lo and behold, Yvonne found out she was pregnant again.
Yvonne: We got married December 2nd, 2017. And I just knew, and was so overjoyed because I’m like, God, after all the loss that I’ve been through, I know for sure this is going to be right. I will finally be able to give my daughter a sibling.
Martina: Yvonne went to the doctor for an ultrasound. She left carrying the emotional weight of an eighth miscarriage
Yvonne: This time the baby did not develop. So at around I believe six to nine weeks, they said it just stopped developing.
So at the end of the day, nature had been taking its course. I was bleeding and the baby had come out and at the hospital. I said, God, something is off. I don’t know if it’s off with me spiritually. naturally. But I said I don’t believe that you made me to birth death. I would not accept that. And people would say, well, you’re young.
You can have more, you can adopt. And I said, God, no, that’s not my purpose and plan. I couldn’t accept it. I had a dream long time ago that got you, gave me for a boy and a girl. So I’m going to keep on praying for a boy and a girl. And so I physically imagine God wrapping his arms around me and me just free falling backwards into his huge hand.
Like I imagine a really big hand catching me and I said, God, I don’t know what you’re doing. I do not believe this is my end. So God, I’m going to keep having faith and I’m going to keep pushing.
Martina: Speaking of holding onto a dream, two weeks after losing Baby B and being admitted longterm into the hospital, my mother was still holding onto her own dream that both babies would be alive.
Her doctors were focused on making sure the surviving baby advanced as long as possible through the pregnancy, despite the heart condition.
This meant my mom would have to go into labor. Naturally. It was two months before her due date. She willed Baby A to stay alive. And she willed herself to be well enough to go home, to celebrate Christmas with me and my dad.
Marilyn: Well, I pushed to go home because Martina was two years old. Martina was missing her mommy. And it was important that I’m home during that time, especially for Martina. So there was no question. So it was like, okay, I’m going to, I’m going to take that chance. I’m going to go home. Instead of being in the hospital, I felt safe.
You know, the doctors were still monitoring me, but I was home for maybe like three days. And then I went into labor. It was about three o’clock in the morning, New Year’s Eve. I go into labor, go to the hospital. And because Baby A had a heart condition, I wasn’t allowed to have an epidural or any type of pain medication. They gave me sedatives just to kind of relax me just to keep me from panicking.
It was a lot. It was, it was a lot. You don’t know what to expect. Is my baby really still alive. Is the baby really not alive? You know, it was, it was a lot of stress, just a lot of emotions. A lot of crying, a lot of hopeful tears, a lot of sad tears, a lot of, just a lot of pain.
But everyone around me was warm. The nurses were good, leading up to that. What was devastating is once I went into labor, because it was New Year’s Eve, my doctor was not there. I did not know that, they did not prepare me that because it’s holiday, you’re giving birth during a holiday, you’re going to get a doctor that you don’t know, that’s not familiar to me.
And this particular doctor was very cold. Um, just very matter of fact. I had a female doctor, my choice. This doctor that I was given that was on call was a male doctor. So that was a problem right off the bat. I was in labor for 29 hours. So, so Baby B came out first and she was dead. Baby A came out a half an hour later.
Martina: On January 1st, 1993. My mom gave birth to my twin little sisters, Britney Marie and Brianna Marie. Brianna was a sleeping baby. Because she had been in the womb for so long, her placenta had already started to disintegrate. Same as with Yvonne, some of the placenta remained inside. he doctor, let my mom know right away.
Marilyn: So he says, Baby B’s placenta didn’t come out all the way, parts of it is still inside me. And he says, “I’m going to have to manually take it out.” And I said to him, “Well, how are you going to do that?” And he says, “I’m going to have to put my hand inside you and take it out.” I said, “Well, that sounds painful. That’s going to hurt.” He says, “Yeah, it’s going to hurt.” And I said, “You know, you’re not going to give me painkillers before you do this?” And he says, “Okay, I’ll give you painkillers.”
So they gave me a shot and I tell you no lie. He did not wait for the shot to take effect. They gave me the shot and this doctor went right in. I hollered. I did not scream giving birth to these two babies, but when he did that, I think the whole hospital heard me scream. I literally felt all five of his fingers in my uterus walls. I felt it. Cause it was like a scraping. It was so painful. He showed me no care. It was just about like, just getting it done
Martina: My heart rakes for my mom every time she retells this story. I get so angry at this doctor for how he handled her, especially after all the agony leading up to this point. My mom recently told me that it took years for her to physically heal, let alone mentally heal from how the doctor extracted Brianna’s placenta. After that painful ordeal, and Brittany having to spend time in NICU, my parents held Brianna then prepared to bid her farewell.
Marilyn: They kept asking me, are you ready? Are you ready? And I wasn’t ready. It took us about an hour. It was hard. You just, you know, you do what you have to do. You, you know, you have to give her up and you know where she’s going, she’s going to the morgue. And it was difficult. It’s almost like an out of body reaction, you know, you just. Your heart is so heavy. Your heart is so broken. I had lost this baby, but I was also very hopeful for Baby A. At least, God, I still had one. I didn’t lose both. So that gave me strength.
Martina: Yes, my mom was fortunate that one of her babies survived, but that’s not always the case for other parents in similar situations. Even though pregnancy and childbirth are very intimate, for many black parents, they’re communal event. Family, friends, and even coworkers, get excited to welcome a new baby once they’re born. That expectation can add to the hurt of losing a pregnancy. By 2018, Yvonne had suffered eight losses and miscarriages. Her friends and family started to doubt if she should keep trying. Some even suggested that maybe, it wasn’t in God’s plan for her to have another child.
It probably seems strange or impossible to think that there could be a silver lining in these types of experiences, but she was newly married with renewed faith. She just knew she would be blessed with another child.
Yvonne: In October, I found out I’m pregnant and in December, 2018, I get my ultrasound and my doctor, she does the doppler and she’s like, “Oh yes, it’s a good, strong heartbeat.”
She connected me to the ultrasound and she shows me one baby, one baby is very healthy kicking. And then she says, wait a minute. I see two babies. And me and my husband, like “What! What do you mean you see two?” And she said there is two heartbeats. And she showed us. And lo and behold, I was pregnant with twins.
I went immediately back to God because he was always my source. I said, God, two babies to be pregnant with two babies, you cannot, you cannot have me lose these babies. Because you have me before everyone else. I said, if I were to lose these babies, it’s not only going to mess with my faith, but now everybody’s watching my story.
God, you’re going to look like a liar and people are gonna think some type of way about you because I’m like, this is first off, it’s a blessing to have a baby, but to have twins, that’s a double blessing. So I said, God, surely. This has to be the right time after having eight miscarriages. This, this has to be right.
So I wish I can say my whole pregnancy journey was without any fear, but actually my prayer at that time had to be God, please turn my fear into faith.
Martina: This time with the stakes doubly high, Yvonne suffered intense bouts of anxiety, but the twins continue to grow. Through the first trimester, then the second, and before she knew it, she was at the end of her third trimester.
Yvonne: June 10th, 2019, I went into labor. My water broke. This time, I was just overcome with peace. I didn’t feel anything was going to go wrong. I just, at that time, needed to see the blessing.
Martina: Both of her babies were breached, meaning they were positioned in the womb with their heads facing up and their feet facing down towards the vaginal canal.
Her doctors informed her she’d have to have a C-section. On the operating table on numbed up, Yvonne felt a lot of tugging and pulling. And then finally, the moment she had been waiting for for 10 years. On June 11th, 2019, Yvonne and her husband welcomed twins, Adrianna and Jeremiah. They’re what’s called rainbow babies, or healthy babies born after pregnancy loss.
Yvonne: And so Adrianna’s crying, and then of course I’m crying and I’m like, “Thank you, Jesus.” That’s all I can say is “Thank you, Jesus.” Okay I hear her. And then Baby B he’s out and he doesn’t cry. And I was like, nope, there will be no doubt, no worry. I said, God’s not going to bring me all the way here just to let something be wrong.
And then right after I said that, then I heard the, I think he was the respiratory doctor. He said, “Good boy, good boy.” And then I hear my son crying and then I just think God and I’m crying. And my husband is thanking God, so we’re praising God while I’m on the operating table.
Martina: Today, Adrianna and Jeremiah are active, healthy one-year-olds. With their family complete, Yvonne has shifted her focus to helping other parents who’ve experienced pregnancy loss as an author and bereavement doula. Bereavement doulas work with families who experienced pregnancy or infant loss. They are specialized birth workers who oftentimes join medical appointments, attend deliveries, and support parents for a period after birth.
Yvonne: Life is more about serving than it is for yourself. By me experiencing loss. It has opened up so many doors to connect with beautiful people and to help them to grieve or help them just to have a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes just being present with someone is what someone needs to be able to grieve properly or to know that it’s okay.
And I love sharing my story, especially as a Black woman, to other Black moms. And by the work that I’m doing training to be a bereavement doula and being an author to help others. I feel that that is bringing glory to God.
Martina: My mom dealt with her grief alone. She definitely could have benefited from the care of a bereavement doula, or even therapy or small groups that provide support for parents who’ve lost their babies during pregnancy.
Marilyn: You know, um, it was very hard. I was angry at God. I couldn’t pray at that time. I was devastated. It was like, I was let down by God. So healing was difficult because I felt like I was, you know, my, my faith did not carry me through this the way I thought it was going to happen.
I had to ask for forgiveness. At some point I knew I was wrong for being angry at God. I knew I needed to start praying again and believing again. And that is, that really transformed my faith. I no longer have expectations because of what I went through. I pray differently. I just, I say in God’s will I live in his will.
Therapy is a thing today. Back then, no one’s telling you therapy. No doctors telling me therapy. So I never went to therapy. Having Britney in my arms, and having Martina and my faith and my prayer and my mom was extremely supportive. I got through it. And of course, you know, my belief is one day I’ll see Briana again. God wanted an angel. That’s where my healing, I think began when I was able to say to myself, you know what? My baby is an angel in heaven.
Martina: Today, Britney is a grown, healthy, 27 year-old. She’s also my best friend. My mom’s original plan was three kids, each spaced two years apart. Finding the strength to try once more for her third child took time though. Three years later in 1996, she and my dad welcomed into the world and my younger brother, Joshua.
With me, Britney Joshua and my parents in the sense our family was nearly complete. Brianna wasn’t physically there, but she was in spirit. We never celebrated her birthday with Britney, but we did talk about her. We imagined what she might’ve been like, or how she and Brittany might’ve related as twins. Even though Brianna isn’t with her, Britney still identifies as a twin, just one waiting to meet her sister again.
Whether they go on to have other children or not, many parents who encounter losing a baby, say it’s a traumatic experience. Months, even years later, the emotions may continue to linger. Well, my mom, Yvonne and other Black parents are connected through their pregnancy losses, the circumstances leading up to each of these moments are unique.
Person of faith or not, to bring life into this world, and to raise a child in it, especially a Black child is an act of faith, resistance and bravery. Support can come from anyone at any time along this journey. Perhaps you’ll be the support a Black birthing parent in your life needs some day.
You may or may not have children but, maybe you love and care about someone who is, or will be. Either way, it takes a village. Thanks for listening and being a part of NATAL’s.
Martina Abrahams Ilunga is the co-founder of You Had Me at Black, a podcast dedicated to reclaiming the Black narrative by passing a microphone to regular people to share stories and creating a multimedia archive of Black life. To date, their team has recorded almost 100 stories, 80+ of which are published on their podcast (downloaded over 500k times by listeners in 31 countries), and brought the show to life on a five-city tour. You Had Me at Black’s stories have caught the attention of For Harriet, Saint Heron, and XONecole. In a past life, Martina worked in sales and marketing at tech giants like Google and Square. She graduated from Georgetown University and is an avid lover of soca music.
Co-published with You Had Me At Black.