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Kareema Coombs: My birth story

About to give birth, there was one alarming statistic Kareema couldn’t get out of her mind

Author Kareema Coombs
Categories   Birth Stories

The Edit

[TW: This article discusses maternal mortality and may be triggering for some readers.]

Four times more likely. This is the statistic for death amongst black women in childbirth.


This statistic was never too far from my thoughts during my pregnancy, it was amplified by the fact that there was a pandemic going on and in the earliest stages of my pregnancy during lockdown, all I could do was think and often research. I would find anything to distract myself from my malignant thoughts, often turning to social media for distraction. It did not help that a popular black influencer died in childbirth at the time, so this was the main conversation in the social media-sphere. I had nowhere to hide from this statistic.

It was the morning of my induction (3rd February) and it was tinged with excitement. My pregnancy was already ten days overdue and in my mind it was obvious something was wrong. I checked in to the hospital and by this time my mucus plug had gone and I started having contractions. This made me so excited that I called my partner to have a look – finally, I thought, maybe there is nothing wrong.

I had been booked in for an induction but because the birthing process already started, I was told by the midwife that they would wait and see as I was in early labour. This gave me a little relief – the statistic that had been haunting me throughout my pregnancy felt like it was finally being exorcised.

The waiting process persisted for hours and hours, but I was still not dilated enough and was still in early labour. The intensity of the contractions were increasing to the point that the midwife started monitoring me and my baby’s heart rate.

This part of my pregnancy was scary as through every contraction I had, the baby’s heart rate would increase. Even though the midwife said this was nothing to worry about, they had to wait until the baby’s heart rate stabilised before they could start the induction process.

At this stage I started getting a little upset because the visiting period was about to end and if I was not in active labour my partner, who was my only support at this time, would have to leave as per Covid rules. The pain had gotten so bad that I could hardly stay awake and this is where the ghost of that statistic was rising again. I remember my partner telling me “I’ve got you and you are going to be fine,” but at this point I could barely see due to the intensity of the pain. I was convinced again that something was wrong.

I was subsequently moved to a private room, still hooked up to the monitors. The contractions were causing the heart rate of the baby to disappear - this was signified by the monitor beeping just like in the movies. My sight would drift in and out of darkness, the uncertainty of which matched the situation. The only certainty in my mind was that it was only a matter of time before I became part of that statistic, another black mother not able to watch their child grow.

Just as this thought ran through my mind, I had a massive contraction and my sight (previously clothed in and out of darkness) was now blurry and bright. As I tried catching my breath, all I could hear was the beep of the monitor - this time it felt like the beep was endless. It was then followed and joined by disorganised and desperate sounding footsteps.

At this point I was so tired and my sight was uncertain again, rendered down to just irregular flashes of images. My first and lasting image was my partner, standing with his hands on his head and I could still hear the beep. It took me a while, but I worked out they couldn’t hear my baby’s heart. Honestly, at this point, I was OK being a statistic as long as my baby survived.

I heard, “prepare for theatre” and jumbled up words saying the umbilical cord could be around my baby’s neck and they need consent. I agreed because I needed to save my baby. I then remembered being in this cold room with a masked man telling me about an epidural, which I refused, and was given another injection in my back. A couple of moments later, my partner appeared, speaking to me, saying how proud he was and then suddenly, surprisingly even, I heard the cry of my little baby girl.

I couldn’t see her - I only wanted a glimpse just in case I didn’t make it and I was indeed a part of that statistic. After what felt like an eternity, I was finally able to see my baby girl briefly. My partner was then asked to stay with the baby whilst my wound was sealed.

After this I was reunited with my baby, my partner – my family. I was so emotional that I was finally able to hold my daughter Ariyah-Rouge. My partner was then told he needed to leave and visit again in the morning. That night it was my baby and I. I was so happy I forgot about the statistic and saw only my baby.

I spent a few more days in the hospital because of blood loss but my baby and I survived, we beat the 4:1 odds.

Author Kareema Coombs

First-time mum Kareema recounts her experiences of pregnancy and labour, supporting others on their own journeys and raising awareness of the alarming differences in maternal mortality between black and white women in the UK.

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