After Nearly Dying in Childbirth, I Wanted to Understand: Why Didn’t I Speak Up?

In her new book ‘The Pain Gap,’ Anushay Hossain explores her own healthcare trauma and the issue of medical misogyny, urging a revolution in women’s health.

When I became pregnant in the United States, I was so relieved. Having grown up in Bangladesh in the 1980s, where the concept of women’s health hardly existed and dying in childbirth was a common occurrence, I knew how lucky I was to be able to access the best healthcare in the world. I trusted the doctors and nurses implicitly with my health and my baby’s life. I could not have been more mistaken.

Things went awry from the minute I got to the hospital, and after thirty hours of labor, three of which I spent pushing, my epidural slipped. My pain was so severe that I ran a fever of 104 degrees, and as I shook and trembled uncontrollably, the doctors finally performed an emergency C-section.

While all the commotion, fear, and pain took me by surprise, I kept telling myself over and over, “I am in America. I will be fine. I know I am not going to die in childbirth in Washington, DC!” But it wasn’t until later that I realized how naive I had been. That day, I came dangerously close to losing both my life and my baby’s.

The experience was traumatic and left me with severe hyperthyroidism. I developed a condition called Graves’ disease, where my thyroid levels were through the roof and my left eye began to protrude. The struggle women go through every day to give birth safely suddenly became a tangible reality for me.

Despite my years as a feminist policy analyst on Capitol Hill, working on global health legislation, it took almost dying on the delivery room table for me to see that pregnancy-related deaths are not merely casualties of the so-called developing world.

But what plagues me most is why I stayed so uncharacteristically quiet through it all. Why, when I insisted the painkillers weren’t working and everyone was ignoring me, did I not once raise my voice? Why, after I was in surgery, was I so polite to the doctor who demanded I “prove” my pain by walking to the operating table on my own? Where was my voice—the “hysteria” I had used selectively and to my advantage in the past? Having spent my entire career as a women’s rights advocate, why didn’t I stand up for myself?

This story originally appeared on: Vogue - Author:Anushay Hossain