Over the years, it has been thoroughly documented that the health care system in the United States almost totally ignores indigenous and ancestral practices that fall outside of mainstream medicine but that have worked for different cultures for centuries. Time and time again, the health care system in this country has failed Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ communities, and women.
During my two pregnancies, I have seen and felt examples of this. When I was pregnant with my second child, I developed placenta previa, which occurs when a baby’s placenta covers the mother’s cervix. I was being seen by Midwives (as I had been throughout my first pregnancy), and while they were monitoring my placenta’s placement, they told me I had a strong possibility of having a Caesarean section (C-Section) if the placenta did not move. For this reason, I was switched to a team of gynecologists. The new doctors at the hospital were all men, and in my initial meetings, I lost the warmth, compassion, and time I was getting from the Midwives.
A few weeks from my due date, I was cleared to deliver the baby naturally, as the placenta had moved enough out of the way! I was ecstatic, but my gynecologist still scheduled me for a C-section, telling me that it was too risky to try to have my baby naturally. I left the office in so much emotional pain and confusion, feeling betrayed and dismissed. I went to the Midwives and sincerely asked them to take me back, and by the grace of the universe, they did. With them, I was able to deliver my baby naturally and safely.
After I had my second child, I experienced postpartum depression. I felt my body and mind were unbalanced, and my hormones were out of control. I made an appointment with my primary care physician, and after meeting with her, she recommended joining Weight Watchers and to prescribe me anti-depressants. I left her office feeling worse than when I had come in.
These experiences (on top of many others in the past) led me to seek alternative medical care at a local institution, the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS). At NUHS, students in their last year offer clinical hours (under the supervision of an attending doctor) and work with clients to reach the root cause of the ailment, work on solutions together, and try traditional and alternative forms of medicine.
With them, I was able to focus on nutrition and food as medicine, stress management, referrals for therapy, and a support system that looked beyond the ailments I was facing. This approach to health care was transformative for me. My family has been thriving with the new lifestyle changes we’ve been able to implement under the care of NUHS. We began paying attention to our nutrition, focusing on whole and organic foods, and relying less on processed foods. We are teaching our children how to read food labels, especially paying attention to sugar content. We adopted an active lifestyle by taking our children on nature hikes to parks and forests, especially those that have mountains and bodies of water to explore. I am teaching them the connection between nature and ourselves and the interconnection of all that exists in our universe. We bike together and limit screen time, as well as make conscious decisions on the type of media content we consume. We have incorporated meditation practices and are engaging in gentle parenting as much as we can. We know that “while not one of these practices could alone directly treat disease, they provide a healthy environment for the body to cure itself.”
It is important to acknowledge my family’s privilege in accessing this approach to wellness. For instance, we have a health insurance PPO plan, and we can afford to set money aside from our paychecks to build our Health Savings Account. We have the financial means and access to buy organic and whole food, and we can afford to live in a safe neighborhood with plenty of outdoor space. We have flexible jobs that allow us to take time off and take our children to explore different places, and we do not have to worry about the color of our skin when traveling. We have reliable transportation to take us places for outdoor fun and exploration, especially in lieu of traveling by plane or public transportation during a global pandemic.
I have not been to a general practitioner doctor since 2018, but I do still seek care through more culturally responsive providers. While an alternative, more culturally responsive approach to health care has been best for my family, I understand this choice might not work for all. Many people take a standard approach to wellness, but often, the same privilege my family has, is required for a standard approach as well. We must improve access to quality preventive care and screenings by working to transform primary care and make it more available and equitable to all, no matter the approach a family chooses to take.
Further, we must make space alongside standard health care for alternative medicine and indigenous practices, and we must make that space easy to access. Privilege should not be required to have access to a healthy lifestyle or equitable health care that honors culturally relevant approaches to wellness. Everyone should have access to healthy and organic food, safe green spaces, peace of mind when being in new places, and economic justice so that people do not have to choose between a healthy meal and paying bills. Everyone should be able to seek the type of health care that is right for their family. Folks deserve to feel heard and supported by the physicians that serve them. We have to address the social determinants of health and acknowledge the racial inequities that prevent folks from having the privileges my family now enjoys.