I'm a Bangladeshi American, feminist writer and policy analyst and now author. I was actually born and raised in Bangladesh, even though now I've been in the states now for 25 years. I always like to stress that because my family still lives there and that's where I grew up. But I'm kind of living the intersectional feminist life. Yeah. When you're a woman, I mean, so many women have to deal with sexism as we know everyday sexism, but for women of color, the intersection of gender and race, people are so dismissive about it, but it it's literally, it defines everything we do, especially in America.
When I was growing up in Bangladesh in the 1980s, I mean, America introduced the concept of public health right to Bangladesh. Well, we had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. They helped us slash that with women's empowerment and girl’s education. And now we're like this big development star and America has the highest maternal mortality rate amongst nations. And it's increasing, it's crazy. It has gone up. It went up this year, went up last year.
Anyhow, so that was kind of what started me on this journey. What put me on this journey to write The Pain Gap. And it's so funny. I'll tell you even now that I've written the book, people still say to me, they're like, really? Yeah, it isn't that bad. Are you exaggerating? Maybe it was just a one off. I mean, for a really long time, I was like, I don't understand why this isn't like the biggest scandal. The richest country in the world, it's not for a lack of resources. It's not for a lack of knowledge, medical expertise, money, nothing.
Are women's lives a priority? Is women's health a priority? No, that's a really big problem. And you know, I always emphasize and focus in on maternal mortality and maternal health. Not because it only tells us the number of women dying in childbirth. Of course it tells us that, but it tells us the women's overall position in the society. How well a healthcare system is functioning because in the year 2022, there's no reason any woman should be dying giving birth in America, in a hospital. And we know when to intervene, we, have all the tools, we know how to save women's lives, right.
How did your motherhood journey start?
My motherhood journey started as soon as I got pregnant. And I was somebody who never wanted to have kids. I mean, even though it was planned, it wasn't an accident, I was just so terrified of it. It's an incredible think though that I can just talk about motherhood now forever.
When I became a mom, I didn’t realize how postpartum is forever. But as you know, and most people don't speak about is the postpartum period. Right. We're so negligent. It happened to me. I'm sure it happened to you that, you know, the baby's born, right. Nobody even asks about you anymore. No, you have that six-week appointment where they can decide if you can have sex again. That's really what it's for. And then you're good to go. This whole thing about postpartum is forever. I'm obsessed with women's stories, women's birth stories, the trauma, what women don't speak about, what we teach to ourselves.
What was your birthing experience like?
Two girls, one 10 and one, four. It was, you know, motherhood has been really amazing, but my birth story is…the second one is much better. The first one was terrible. It was traumatic. I'm still processing that trauma. Yeah. Even though I've written a book about it, every time I talk to women or do one of these conversations, I'm like telling my story and then I'm like, wait, was it that bad? Did that really happen?
I think about that doctor every day. First of all, I did not want to have a C-section. I was in labor for over 33 hours and I had really excruciating pain and I was already hooked up to the epidural and I kept telling them that I could feel everything. I knew something was wrong. And they were telling me I was above the legal limit. They couldn't give me anymore. I was like, but something's wrong. Like, I just feel everything. No, one's listening to me. I get like a 104-degree fever. I'm shaking from the pain. They finally call the anesthesiologist. It turns out my needle slipped out. I wasn't hooked up to the epidural at all. And by then they're like emergency C-section. They get me into the OR and then the doctor at the OR I had never seen before. That was another thing. People don't know that you usually don't end up delivering with your doctor. Shocking. And they had asked for this birth plan of mine I nobody read. It was like, it was on a piece of paper. And you know, now I know so much more, so I have so many questions. But at the time also, I mean, I was working at the feminist majority foundation. I was a feminist policy analyst. Like my portfolio was largely global health legislation and I still was so uninformed and unaware.
I think that I understand very well now that hospitals aren't a safe space. It's a business, right. It's a business and their big thing is no lawsuits. And why would they want a woman to be in 30, 40 hours of labor, $5,000 from a natural birth taking so many resources and C-section is $50,000 and you're done, but then you're sending that woman home. I mean, nobody told me that it was a major surgery. Nobody articulated that to me. So I thought that I was supposed to just bounce back, but I get to the OR and this doctor doesn't believe that I'm in pain. So he wants, and I can't move. Okay. I can't move. I'm like lying flat on my back. I've been in labor for over 24 hours. I'm like shaking with a fever. And he wanted me to walk onto the operating table on my own. And so I said, I told him that I couldn't. And he wasn't believing me. And then finally he said, okay, fine. You've convinced me. And he got some help. And the thing is, oh God, I think the punch is like, why didn't I sue this man? I could have done so much.
You forget that you just have a baby, you had this major surgery. I had a lot of health complications afterwards. My thyroid levels went through the roof. My left eye started recruiting. I mean, plus you have the baby. You have this baby that needs you for everything. I just think like, what we do to women in America is, is so cruel. I was born and raised in Bangladesh. We have a lot of problems, a lot of violence against women, you name it. But a mom is never isolated like this, especially like a new mom. In a way we almost punish mothers in America. It's so interesting to me, because it's so cruel and every woman is really, you're in it for yourself. Think there's no systemic anything that will like help you. There's no policies.
In your opinion, how do we evoke and incite a sisterhood in motherhood?
I think the most important thing, and it's so powerful, and it sounds simple, is sharing our stories. Talking just like you and I are now about women's stories. We're not encouraged to tell our birth stories. Even to each other, even to our best friends. I come from such a female dominated family. I have four sisters. I have so many girlfriends. Nobody told me what, the first birth that you're bleeding for like three weeks.
It's so important to hear other women's stories. Because you really realize you're not alone. You realize how common a problem it is and then you realize, oh wait, it's from my house to my friends, to my community, to national, to international. Who's connecting the dots? Women are such natural connectors. We have to do that already for the survival of our family. You have to do it.
The only other people who will help you aside from childcare is other moms. When you have straight up have white women allies, they are so powerful. I feel like white women don't know how powerful they are. I mean the most powerful people in America are white men and then white women are number two. They have access to a lot of resources. But I will say, I find, and you see it politically too, that white women, when it comes down to it, will side and vote with their race over gender versus the rest of us are kind of like, we have to go with our gender.
We're well aware that deep inequality exists among moms in America. How do you think we help amplify all mom's voices?
I say this in my book, but it's just becoming so, so clear that there is, of course there's a gender gap in everything. And yes, there's a pain gap in women's pain. It's something that is expected, but also denied, like we are expected to have a really high threshold. And there’s another thing that I found that was so interesting. There's a credibility gap. That's a really big problem. Women are not believed about our bodies. Period. And by the way, women often don't believe other women. What I ask for in my book, one of the most radical proposals I say is the default now is to not believe women immediately be suspicious. Like, is she lying? Is she crazy? What I'm asking for is why don't we just shift to the default being let's believe women, let's take them at their word. What would happen? And I always say women are so busy, especially in America where we, as you know, have no paid maternal, parental leave, paid maternity leave, it goes on and on, no affordable childcare.
Every mother counts. Yes. every woman's life counts. It really does. It can't just be like, that's a statistic and that's that. And it's, you know, we always say she's someone's mother, she's someone's sister, she's someone's daughter. She is someone!
I feel like it's a very solvable issue. I don't feel like this is like doom and gloom. I mean women's health should not be an enigma. And I lay it out in my book that there's a research problem. There's a knowledge gap. We need to do a lot more research into women's health. There's even a mice, patriarchy. I mean, we even test on more male mice. They're not the same as female mice. And then in America, legislation is so important. What is happening politically is so important. That's really how you start cultural change. And I can say that being, having worked and lived in DC for over two decades and all my work on capitol hill as a Policy Analyst and lobbying for women's health and rights that American women don't have any political power yet. We don't have anything. We don't know the equal rights amendment.
Speaking of maternal inequality, how do you think we go about encouraging moms to care about other mom's problems, even if they aren't shared problems?
This is something I've learned with all my work. You really have to spoon feed it to women unless it's affecting you personally, like you have a personal connection. Something happened to you. You have a very close friend who is black. I mean that most people are like, if it doesn't hit home for you, you don't care. Right? That's why COVID was so weird in America. Because they were like, well it’s happening far over there. It doesn't matter. Then it came over here. Like everything is down to the individual. So, in America you really have to identify your audience first. Identify what you want to do.
I feel like with this issue and we have so many advantages just because women are awesome. We are natural organizers. And we're natural communicators and we organize. We know how to get stuff done. We really do. That's another thing I want to say when people don't believe women, by the time we're at the doctor's office or in the hospital. Women are very busy. We don't have time to go to the ER and lie. I'm sure there's that one off person but in general, by the time we're at the doctor's office or the hospital, we need help. We're in a lot of pain and I just, it just infuriates me.
So, I feel like you have to identify your audience, identify what it is you want to do and build. What's the issue? What can you do? Take action and make it really actionable items. Like, go here. Click on this. Let's call your Congressman about this. Call your Senator about this bill. Ask this because another really amazing thing, even though politically, I don't know what is happening in America right now, but something really amazing about American democracy is that it's very accessible. You can go to Capitol hill and you can have a meeting with your Senator with your lawmaker and that's a big deal. They will listen to you. They listen to their constituents. This is something very shocking rest of the world. And you have 10, 15 people with you.
And white women, really, a bunch of white women together on Capitol hill will get some doors open. Seeing a group of white women angry and informed and motivated is much more, you're going to be taken seriously versus being just labeled off. It has to be that's where you can make a lot of noise. Because otherwise you're just going to be bunch of women in pink pussy hats, which I never want to dismiss that movement because that was incredible. But that's what happened. Right? We made fun of our hats. And now, nobody talks about it. It's like a joke. So we don't want that to happen either. And always be really informed on the issue because you will realize that most people do not know anything and do not do their homework. And language is so important. Easy, small sound bites. That's what Trump was so good about. Even though he was speaking crap. And what is he saying? What open borders? The wall. And that's what people understood. It's like, give it to me straight. Let me see the one liner.
What's the best way to move forward?
You know, I feel like we have really removed women from all aspects of motherhood in America. Right. In the birthing process. It's so medicalized it's so hospitalized. Remember, like back in the day, women used to just help women give birth. Right. The midwife was called. And then, you know, it was a turn of the century. And I write about this in my book where white men wanted to get in on the action. And then hospitals were presented as the safest place to give birth. The business of giving birth.
They put legislation in place because midwifery was brought to America by black and brown immigrant women, really black slave women. Yeah. And then it became about, do you want to have a dirty black woman deliver your baby at your home? Or a clean white man in the hospital? And so many things that we do to women, like making them lie down to deliver is actually more convenient for the doctor. So I feel like we need to bring back women into the process and really let women know that they have other choices. I still didn't know by the time I was giving birth for the second time that you don't have to give birth in a hospital.
*This interview was conducted as a video interview and has been transcribed and edited for time and reading purposes.