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Tamika M. Atlanta, Georgia

Tamika’s Story

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I had a conventional middle class upbringing in an unconventional community.  Descending from Gullah/Geechees, I grew up surrounded by multiple generations of family on rural St. Helena Island, SC.  At an early age, I grew to love my skin, my culture, my heritage and my community.  That love has informed all the decisions I have ever made.  In the third grade, after seeing loved ones struggle with childbearing, I resolved that I would one day open a free clinic to serve mothers who lacked resources and needed access to maternal health care.

After Hurricane Katrina, I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta where I was a full-time graduate student, working part-time with no health insurance. I found myself in severe pain in the middle of the night and went to the public hospital near my school, knowing that I could get treated.  After waiting in the lobby for eight hours, I was finally taken into triage and placed in a bed in the hallway.  A couple hours later, I was informed that I was pregnant and would be moved to the Women’s Urgent Care center.

Before I could be transferred, I was sent to a billing area.  I had assumed that, being uninsured and having reported to the emergency room, I would be billed and have an opportunity to pay at a later date.  On the contrary, I was told that I would need to pay several hundred dollars before being sent to the next area.  Additionally, I was told that I would not be allowed to use a credit card to make my payment.  I had to call my partner and both of my parents in order to figure out a way to pay so that I could be seen.  My mom agreed to put money in my bank account, and I wrote a check praying that it wouldn’t bounce.

I finally left the hospital after 17 hours, three x-rays, and multiple vaginal exams.  I was completely traumatized not only by the financial stress of the experience, but from the treatment I received rooted in assumptions that I was a young, poor, single mother.  Though I did not want to return to that hospital for further treatment, I was unable to find quality care, even after I had applied and received Medicaid.  A friend introduced me to a home birth midwife, and my life was changed.

My experience in my first pregnancy reaffirmed my commitment to providing care for women who are from under-resourced communities.  Since then, I have become a doula and a student midwife.  In the movement to improve care for women, the voices of women of color and others who have the least access, worst outcomes and are the most marginalized. Telling these stories brought me back to my love of writing.  The desire to amplify the voices of these women and their communities brought me to the Center for Community Change where I work as a Writing Fellow, helping people struggling to get by in this economy to tell their stories and build power.