International Women’s Day 2021: Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley on How Personal Experience Shapes Her Work
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, and it encourages all to challenge biases, misconceptions, and stereotypes in order to create a more inclusive and equal world. In her nearly two decades of experience as a health care provider, Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, our CEO, has been challenged by her own mentors while also challenging herself and those to whom she is a mentor to keep learning while also teaching those around them how to grow.
In the second in this two-part interview, she answers two questions about her experiences as a Black, female health care provider and gives advice to others in the world of reproductive health.
Have your experiences as a woman in health care changed the way you approach your work?
My experiences navigating the world as a woman, and as a Black woman specifically, have completely informed the way I work. I carry these experiences with me and apply them to all that I do. For example, in my first year of OBGYN residency training, I was chastised by one of my attending physicians for being pregnant. I will never forget that moment. We were in the middle of a major surgery in the operating room, and he leaned over and said, “Congratulations, but we wish you had waited until later in your training before getting pregnant.” Women of color and women with low incomes are often vilified for their reproductive health decisions. They are often treated as irresponsible for having children when it is deemed inconvenient for society and similarly vilified when they make a decision to end a pregnancy.
My awareness of society’s propensity to control and vilify the reproductive decisions of women of color and women who navigate the world with low incomes informs my interpersonal interaction with my patients. I strive to provide compassionate, non-judgmental care and to ensure that people feel empowered and cared for in all their health care decisions. I also bring this perspective to Power to Decide’s interventions and programs. We must enter our work not assuming that we know what is best for communities and individuals but aiming to ensure that people have access to the care, information, and opportunity so that they can make their own decisions and feel supported in those decisions.
I also carry the experiences of the diverse community where I grew up with me in my work. My church community, which was the center for most of my social and cultural interactions, was full of people of all walks of life- Black, white, Latinx, immigrants, Spanish-speaking, low-income, middle class, wealthy, etc. All were welcome. It was an affirming, accepting, and colorful atmosphere, one which the world should emulate. Propelled by this community and the investments of my parents, my sisters and I were the first in my family to go to college, and I was the first to have the opportunity to go to medical school. My story is one example of what is possible when you break down barriers and limitations for young people and allow them to see what they are capable of achieving. I want others to have a community that believes and invests in them. Just imagine how amazing our society would be if we adequately invested in our young people so that every one of them could live out their full dreams and capabilities.
How can allies advocate for and help reduce disparities in Black women’s health without talking over the voices of Black people? What is one thing you wish everyone knew – and would do—to lend support?
Disparities in Black women’s health are pervasive and troubling. One of the most relevant and egregious disparities is the rate of maternal mortality for Black women. Maternal mortality among Black birthing people is an issue that is especially important to me as four years ago I lost a very dear friend, Dr. Shalon Irving, who died three weeks after giving birth to her first child. Shalon was a brilliant Black woman, a PhD holder, and an epidemiologist who worked at the CDC. Yet, none of that was enough to save her and shield her from her untimely death.
However, there are amazing, Black-women-led organizations such as the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, Black Women for Wellness, Dr. Shalon’s Maternal Action Project, and many more who are working to improve the health and lives of Black families and communities every day. I encourage allies to acknowledge and lift up the important work that these organizations are doing. Funders should invest in organizations and models of care such as, Mamatoto Village and Commonsense Childbirth Inc. that have proven solutions so they can expand and scale up their work to maximize impact.
Allies must also acknowledge that a history of reproductive coercion and bias in reproductive health exists and that programs today are influenced by these concepts. All of us must constantly work to be anti-racist, anti-classist, and anti-ableist. We also have to ensure that our work is more person- and community-centered. We cannot assume that we know what is best for a community or a person, and instead must talk to people as individuals to find out what’s important to them and then work to provide the information that they need to make an informed and supported decision.
As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
We should all know better now, and it’s crucial to make a conscious effort to listen to and respect all people, regardless of background, income, or language and provide culturally competent care and programming that meets people where they are and recognizes the unique barriers faced by many.