I’m Kia Williams. I am a consultant who helps leaders thread racial equity and philanthropy into the fabric of their organization. I am originally from the Washington, DC area and have lived in many places, but recently settled in the Philadelphia area to be closer to my parents and in-laws now that we have a family. I became a mom 18 months ago to a beautiful boy, Kyle Alexander. Looking back, I had very clear indications for years that should have flagged to my healthcare providers that I had PCOS. However, I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-thirties after multiple miscarriages and years of painful symptoms.
What was your birthing experience(s) like?
I found out that I was pregnant at the very beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Before that time, I would have sworn that I wanted a hospital birth/epidural! But the Coronavirus was so new, and they knew very little about it, so at that time there was some debate about whether partners would be allowed in the room during birth. I immediately found a midwife and doula and decided to give birth in a birthing center. I couldn’t imagine giving birth without my husband being present. That opened a whole new world. I started to do so much research on unmedicated/out of hospital births. My first experience with an OBGYN was at 12 years old when I was put on birth control for such heavy, painful periods. For over 20 years, I felt like I never got real answers from healthcare providers. Even with Black providers, I felt like the symptoms I described were downplayed and their responses were never solutions focused. I was told things like, “We’ll do more tests when you’re ready to start a family.” I didn’t want a healthy life to be predicated on motherhood. I wanted to feel like my best self whether I was a mother or not.
Through my midwife (Meredith Braudaway - Arlington Birth Center) I was introduced to so many other amazing practitioners. For the first time, I felt totally seen. I wasn’t a 15-minute stop in a long line of patients they had to squeeze in. They took time to talk to me, listen to me, and provide meaningful solutions. I had started seeing a PCOS coach (PCOS Nutrition Center) because I just wanted to be healthy before I even conceived and did a practice called Havening with a master-midwife, Kim Sunn (Heart Science Midwifery). I was also under the chiropractic care of Dr. Becky Tibbits (Max Living Chiropractic Cedar Hill) to begin my fertility journey and correct some known issues with my spine and hips. Then once I became pregnant, I was under the care of Dr. Michelle Jefferson (The House Call Doc) who is certified in the Webster Technique and adjusted me weekly either at the birth center or at our home, which was super convenient. My pelvic floor specialist (Dr. Yeni Abraham - Triggered Pelvic Floor Therapy) provided so much pelvic support and even pain relief through acupuncture. For prenatal massage therapy, Lindsey Wood (Massage in Motion) provided deep tissue massages, myofascial release therapy and cupping. With PCOS, inflammation during pregnancy can be incredibly painful so I cannot imagine being pregnant without such amazing care from these incredibly brilliant women.
These methods were never presented to me before. For the first time, it wasn’t suggested that I take a bunch of drugs with scary side-effects. I was allowed to actually help my body heal and return to its intended, optimal function. Even with having gestational diabetes, I was able to control it with a strict diet and supplements instead of having to take insulin. This, for me, was worth the out-of-pocket expense for all of the services that kept me and Kyle healthy throughout my pregnancy.
My doula (Contessa Fowler- Nourishing Birth) threw a birth circle celebration for me. It was a time for other mothers to pray, encourage, and surround me with love. They were not allowed to share any horror stories or painful moments. Not to fill me with ideas of grandeur, but to remind me that my body was made for this, and I am fully capable of doing hard things. We are surrounded with narratives of how hard and painful birth is, so this helped fuel me with the faith I needed to endure a long, unmedicated birth.
My team was beyond amazing. But I did have a long and difficult journey. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t left me with some disappointment and complex feelings that I’m working through. My birthing environment was calm and full of love and support. I was so faith-filled and determined that when it took 19 hours (2.5 hours of pushing) I was caught off guard. I went into labor without fear, so I was surprised that it was still such a long, hard road. But I still would not change a thing! Dr. Michelle was also present with my midwife and doula during the birth. She adjusted Kyle shortly after he was born. We often forget that babies endure quite a lot on the day of birth, along with the mother.
As soon as Kyle was born my midwives (Meredith and Leslie) made sure he was okay and laid him on my chest while the blood drainedrom the umbilical cord before we cut it. That skin-to-skin time where his body was also allowed to transition from his birth journey was so important. His first touch was love on my chest instead of him being whisked away by a team of doctors and bathed before we could even bond. We had that important time as a family for him to lay on me while my husband cradled us both. Those are magical moments we would not have shared in a hospital setting and will cherish forever. My doula, Contessa helped me eat and bathe before we prepared to leave the birth center. It was just such a time of love and compassionate care being lavished on me! So for the good and the challenging, I am very grateful and would choose a midwife again and again!
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had as a mom? Do you think some of them, or all of them, could have been avoided or lessened if we had a more supportive maternal culture in America?
Motherhood has opened a capacity to love that I couldn't comprehend before. It has provided a beautiful perspective and a new level of gratitude for my own relationship with my parents. I can now respect their struggles and victories as people who were also just trying to figure it out while raising me. I didn’t have an appreciation for their experience before I became a mom. Motherhood has deepened my desire to create a meaningful legacy. Motherhood is sobering. My decisions will shape my son in ways that I take very seriously. Being a mom is hard work. Yet it is the most sacred responsibility ever entrusted to me and I cherish it.
The hardest part for me has been balancing motherhood with the lifestyle I used to lead. Kyle was born a couple weeks before my 38th birthday, so I had almost 40 years of only having to worry about myself. As a business owner and avid traveler, I could hop on the plane for any adventure I wanted. Not being able to just go on a whim was something I knew would change, but it was still hard to process once motherhood began. I am so incredibly blessed with a partner, my amazing husband Keith, who is incredibly supportive of my career and is a very hands-on, nurturing father. My mother has also been Kyle’s full-time caregiver while we work and my father is also active in helping whenever we need. My in-laws are very involved and helpful as well. Without that support system, I literally cannot fathom what I would do.
I think people try to pit moms who work full time against mothers who are at home full time. Both are hard jobs. I think staying at home is a calling. It is not my calling, so I feel comfortable knowing my son is getting the stimulation and engagement he needs throughout the day from people who are energized by that work. I believe that my work outside of the home is my calling. So, while nothing is more important than building him to be the best human he can be to fully realize his God-given potential, I don’t think that has to come at the sacrifice of my career. Are there some major differences and sacrifices that I must make now as a mom? Certainly! There are ways I have to/want to prioritize him before my work that I didn’t have to consider before, but my work doesn’t end because I’m a mom. I am trying to navigate a world where I can do both well. I don’t know if this would be solved by a more supportive maternal culture in America. I think this would be solved by a better work culture in America. We glorify the constant grind and minimize the power of rest and time to enjoy the fruit of our labor. I think shifting that overall perspective as a country would allow both moms and dads to be more present in their children’s lives without the burden of having to work so hard to thrive.
In your opinion, how do we evoke and incite a sisterhood in motherhood?
I am blessed to have found that organically. Moms, even if we didn't know each other well before I became a mom, just stepped up. They offered support and advice when I needed it. They were not at all stingy with best practices and reminded me to extend grace to myself. It was like a tribe that existed all along that I just wasn’t a part of yet. Women have been so open and kind. I have definitely deepened my bond with my friends who are mothers because I understand them now in a way that I couldn’t before I was a mom. It is something that can’t be explained to people who aren’t parents, not because of exclusivity but because it is something your heart can’t fully understand until you experience it. You just sort of, by default, get initiated into this amazing circle of women. I love and appreciate the bond I’ve experienced with other women since becoming a mom. And that is saying a lot because I have always had very rich, deep connections with other women. The most helpful has been finding women with similar careers as mine. We have an even deeper connection based on how we’re wired and how we must navigate being fully present mothers while also running and building thriving businesses.
We know that deep inequality exists among moms in America. How do you think we help amplify all mom’s voices?
It was a privilege to have the ability to pay for all of the holistic and alternative methods that helped me get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy and birth experience. We paid several thousands of dollars out of pocket because, in this country, insurance does not cover much of those expenses. I am so grateful that we were in a position to do so, but am also deeply saddened by the reality that this is not available to everyone. I think it is disgusting that money dictates whether people can access this type of care and agency in their birth. We amplify all mom’s voices by respecting their choice about how they want to bring their child into this world and parent them once they arrive. But we must present the choice.
For instance, a friend of mine gave birth last week. She was so worried about naturally going into labor by 39 weeks because her doctor scheduled an induction for the following week. She had a totally healthy pregnancy. There was no medical reason to induce her by 40 weeks other than for her doctor’s own convenience. She didn’t realize she could say no to being induced. She shared her concerns and didn’t have anyone to advocate on her behalf that she would not be induced unless there was a need to protect her and her baby. This is just one example of thousands that demonstrates how our current medical system does not empower the mom with agency/choice and goes with convenience instead of the body’s divine design.
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?
As a Black woman, the reality is that I am more likely to die in the birthing process, regardless of income or education level, than any other birthing group is incredulous. That isn’t because Black women just happen to be sickly or more prone to danger in birth. It is because of bias baked into our medical system from how we educate practitioners to the research that doesn’t include Black experience, to just not believing us when we say something is off. I saw a Black maternity nurse post online last week that her white colleague ordered a psychiatric evaluation for a Black mom. When the Black nurse asked why, she said it was because the mom kept hitting herself in the head. The Black nurse mimicked the moment and inquired, “Was she hitting her head like this?” The white nurse affirmed that what the Black nurse mimicked mirrored the Black mother’s moments. The Black nurse had to explain that if a Black woman is wearing a weave or wig and can’t scratch her scalp, she pats her head to stop the itching. It may sound comical or ludicrous, but this is what I mean by gross cultural incompetence. A mom with an itchy scalp would have had to fight for the right to remain in custody of her newborn child and prove her sanity all because this nurse didn’t even bother to inquire about why she was patting her head. No white woman has to worry about this. Whether you’re a Black woman or not, that should be alarming. I hope racial and socioeconomic equity for quality, culturally competent care becomes something that every mother would throw her weight (passion, money, vote) behind.
If you could create a new maternal culture tomorrow, what would it look like?
Coverage for out of hospital births and holistic practices. You shouldn’t only have options because you can pay for them. I would also want the Western medical world to respect other cultures beyond Euro-centric practices. African, Asian, and many other Native and Indigenous cultures have practices that stand the test of time and have supported their women through pregnancy and childbirth. To diminish these practices because a White man didn’t create them is very shortsighted and eliminates so many beautiful (and also incredibly effective) practices from ever being known or accessible to many women who could benefit from them.
We talk about how you can’t put the maternal social policy cart before the maternal connection and equality horse. Do you agree with that?
I agree. In order to enact policy, you need to know what the women whose lives are at the other end of the policy are saying. To create policy in a vacuum, without the consideration and input of the ones, from all walks of life, who experience them is arrogant and ineffective.