Former Democratic Virginia delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy almost didn’t live to become a gubernatorial candidate. As she shared with Elle on Monday, she almost died giving birth to her twin boys three years ago, “because, as is the case for many Black women, white doctors and nurses downplayed and dismissed her excruciating postpartum pain.”
The pregnancy had already been difficult. Compelled by the election of Donald Trump to run for office, Carroll Foy was campaigning for the Virginia House of Delegates when she discovered she was carrying twins, about which she now recalls: “No one talks about how scary it is to be pregnant and to give birth,” she said. “They only talk about the wonderful things.” Elle continues:
It was a very rough and painful pregnancy. The twins tried to come out in the second trimester, before they would’ve survived. This was just days before the June 5 primary, which went to a runoff after she won by 10 votes. The doctors put Carroll Foy on bedrest in the hospital, where she found herself making campaign calls and managing a runoff election while hanging upside down to keep from going into labor...About four weeks later, she gave birth to the twins, Alex and Xander, via c-section at 22 weeks. They were one-and-a-half pounds each and barely survived.
After the birth, rather than recovering, her physical pain started to intensify. “Even after I came home, I was in disabling pain. I was in the fetal position. It was so bad it would bring tears to my eyes. I didn’t think this was normal,” she says. “But I was constantly told by the nurses, ‘It’s common, this is fine.’ It was swept under the rug, a little dismissed.”
Despite those dismissals, Carroll Foy’s husband rushed her to the emergency room, where “a potentially fatal postpartum complication” was discovered by the attending physicians.
“I had a serious medical condition that would have cost me my life had I stayed home and untreated a few more days,” Carroll Foy told Elle, which reported:
Carroll Foy feels strongly that her pain was dismissed because she’s a Black woman. It’s a well-documented phenomenon: doctors dismissing the pain of Black patients in general due to racial biases. But this is especially true for pregnant and postpartum Black women, who are 243 percent more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related conditions than white women. And it cuts across the socioeconomic spectrum; even wealthy and famous Black women, like Serena Williams, have harrowing stories of being ignored and dismissed by medical providers.
Serena’s story was terrifyingly familiar to the former public defender, who explained, “Some people think it’s just less educated women who don’t know how to advocate for themselves, or a money thing, and that’s not true.”
“Black women in Virginia are four times more likely to die during childbirth and postpartum because we are not seen, because we are not heard, and we are not believed,” she continued. “It’s costing Black and brown women our lives.”
The near-death experience, “combined with her experience growing up poor and without health care in rural Virginia,” inspired Carroll Foy’s run for governor. If elected, she will become the first female governor of the state and the first Black woman elected governor in United States history. Outlining her healthcare plan this week—which includes Medicaid expansion, creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, proposing a Virginia Reinsurance Program to lower premiums, the creation mobile health clinics and “boosting broadband coverage to bring telehealth visits to more Virginians”—Carroll Foy told Elle:
“When people say identity politics don’t matter, what they’re also saying is that other people’s lived experiences don’t matter,” she said, later adding: ‘Those are the types of things that are pushed and passed when you have Black women in the room...We can’t just have bills and budgets written for them, we have to have bills and budgets written by them, because we bring that lived experience and understanding of collateral consequences.”
As for her own harrowing wake-up call to the fragility of Black maternal health, she believes they make her a better candidate—and hopefully, a better choice for governor. (Carroll Foy, who has been endorsed by Democracy for America and several labor unions, is running against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, among others).
“Those experiences have broadened my shoulders and stiffened my back to be able to carry the weight of the Commonwealth. I am battle-tested,” she told Elle.