Jallicia Jolly experienced some of the inequities in care she analyzes and writes about in her academic life when she gave birth to her first child, Rose, in February.
“I survived childbirth during three pandemics – COVID, racism, and the Black mother health crisis,” her column in USA Today, situates her maltreatment by an anesthesiologist in the context of maternal health care across the country.
“I am reminded of the stories of Black women who have gotten subpar care in health care systems and whose needs are deprioritized — and who did not live to share their own stories,” she adds.
Jolly is a reproductive justice campaigner and a contributing writer to The Washington Post/The Lily. She is a postdoctoral scholar and upcoming assistant professor in American Studies and Black Studies at Amherst College. Her research focuses on HIV and the health of Black women, especially the interplay of race, gender, racism, sexual health, and injustice.
Jolly discusses why she decided to write about her experience, how she got it published, and the differences between her personal and academic writing in her “How I Did It.”
As a researcher and reproductive advocate, what led you to write about your personal experience?
I wanted to write about the lived experience of medical racism and reproductive violence so other mothers would know they weren’t alone. Not everyone survives, and survivors don’t always talk about it; they have to get on with life. I wanted medical providers to reflect on the violence of the care they often give with immunity. It’s necessary for women of color and Black Women to have more wholesome experiences in so-called systems of care.
Did you always plan to write about your birthing experience?
Certainly not. I didn’t want to talk about such a private matter. However, after speaking with other women about their labor and delivery experiences, I observed a common thread of disrespect, violation, and lack of consent. Black and immigrant women, in particular, have had similar experiences, with their needs and interests being overlooked at one of their most vulnerable times. These weren’t isolated events or accidents; they were part of a network of violence and devaluation that has plagued the maternal health system for decades. And this wasn’t exactly “caring.”
‘Your quiet will not protect you,’ says Audre Lorde in one of her origin quotes. Before I picked up a pen and started writing, I needed a few weeks to analyze everything.
What’s been the reaction to your piece in USA Today?
People of color are not startled nor horrified by this. Many people have long been aware of the purposeful violence of giving birth in the United States when Black. Despite the fact that they are drained and exhausted from the onslaught of reproductive violence and medical racism, they continue to demand accountability and action. They are dissatisfied and disappointed, yet they mobilize and establish movements in order to break the vicious cycle.
How did you get published in USA Today?
This has been on my mind since February. I finished the piece in April, just in time for Black Maternal Health Week. I had a lot of ideas and feelings regarding the experience, and I just wanted to write them down. I contacted the communications office, and they linked me with a USA Today editor.
Do you use different techniques when writing personal essays, reported pieces and research?
When I create a piece like this, I try to bring the personal voices of the people I’m talking to in real time to the foreground. What do their human experiences have to offer? What are the links I perceive between the broader themes, rather than starting with a fully developed worldview or theory? Writing personal pieces and reporting items like this is a lot more pleasurable because of my ethnographic voice in my academic study.
The most profound approach to feel connected to other people is to consider how our lives are intertwined. I make a point of putting human life, not statistics, figures, or abstract concepts, at the core of my work.
Do you get that pushback to your research documenting these kinds of disparities and, if so, how do you deal with that?
You will be bombarded with some of that if you publish in the public sphere. I’m less bothered about the individual who asks why I’m so concerned about race. I’m extremely aware that not everything comes from a moral or ethical place. So I’m less invested in that type of pushback, but I try to think about what kind of pushback is important, how I can utilize it to improve my craft, and how I can make sure it’s always in the best interests of the people I’ve invested in advocating for.