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    Things I Thought I Knew

    My parents have always led by example: when I was growing up, my mom was a medical attorney and my dad managed pension funds; they worked incredibly hard and made sacrifices to give me every opportunity I received. “To whom much is given, much is required,” they would say, and in many ways, the first part of my life was about meeting those requirements. I’ve gone to all the best schools and had all the best jobs and none of that has shielded me from what I have continued to learn firsthand—that it can be hard to thrive in systems that are not built for us.

    Two years ago, at 36, I had my first baby. It was a difficult pregnancy. My care was mismanaged at various stages, information about my health was not communicated to me in a timely fashion, and I was in stages of physical pain that required frequent trips to the emergency room, where I was often met with more skepticism than empathy. For Black women in America, this is an all too familiar story.

    I thought that even in this unbalanced world, my education and my income would somehow shield me from the stats I had heard—that Black women in the United States are three to five times more likely to die from pregnancy or postpartum issues than white women. And that these negative outcomes are not correlated to any of these other factors: the commonality is race.

    I had become a statistic.

    Safe and seen
    I first met my dear friend Leseliey Welch, co-founder of Birth Detroit and Birth Center Equity, nearly six years ago and have since joined the board of her organization (which will open Detroit’s first freestanding birth center later this year). She encouraged me and inspired me to deepen my understanding. She educates us that, “The narrative of a ‘Black maternal health crisis’ ties the crisis to one racial group and ignores the fact that the system is not working particularly well for anyone—and that because of structural racism, the system bears down inequitably on Black birthing bodies.”

    The mom in me will tell you that the four fibroids, two shots per day, three hospitalizations, one blood clot, one cancer scare and 13.5 hours of labor were completely worth the safe arrival of my son, August. And the realist in me will tell you I survived despite these circumstances because of a favor; a call that was made to a family friend to transfer my high-risk care to an environment where I would be safe and seen. I am uniquely aware of my privilege in this world: “To whom much is given, much is required.” In my day job as a venture capitalist, it is also my privilege to use what I’ve learned—what I now know—to invest in founders and companies that I believe can make our systems better, like Melissa Hanna, who founded Mahmee, an integrated care delivery platform for maternal and infant health. She shares that, “Black and Indigenous birthing individuals are represented in Mahmee’s population at three times the rate of the U.S. birth census, and yet Mahmee’s birth outcomes are much better than the national average, which demonstrates that the country’s maternal healthcare disparities are solvable.”

    Along my journey I’ve had to reevaluate the Things I Thought I Knew. And what I now know for sure, is what Alice Walker told us along: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

    Nia Linder Batts is a General Partner at Union Heritage Venture Partners, the only majority African American and women-owned venture capital firm in Michigan. She also serves as a senior advisor to the First Women’s Bank.

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