I want to take you back to a moment that you may have heard me mention. A moment that was traumatic for me. When I was offered and refused narcotics (opioids) for the severe pain I experienced from having stitches for third degree lacerations, after what was a beautiful and unplanned precipitous homebirth with my first son. I was in labor and gave birth in less than an hour, which is not uncommon for moms who use cannabis throughout pregnancy. Quick & easy, pain-free birth. However, I spent my first two days as a new mother in a maternity suite at the nearest hospital barely able to move, walk, or use the bathroom without pain. My pain was not from giving birth. In fact, my birth was exhilarating. I was in pain largely due to a mean ass OB who violently sutured me up and was even more violent and dismissive toward me for refusing opioids, pitocin, and IVs ( plus vaccinations and all other newborn interventions lol). Truth is, I planned for a natural water birth at the birth center that I was receiving care and when I called them to tell the midwife I was in labor, she told me to call her back because I “was a first time mom and we usually have long labors” smh. So, I had my baby 30mins later, on daddy’s couch and ended up in the maternity suite for aftercare.
Anyway, I’m particularly critical of hospitals, for reasons unbeknownst to me but I can say is probably due to generational trauma which is why I had no plan to give birth there. I’ve often come to find that the people who work in hospitals are only following orders and protocols that are largely outdated, not evidenced-based, and in complete opposition to what’s best for mama and baby, and often times rooted in racism and classism. How unfortunate for most doctors and nurses who really think they are helping people. (DISCLAIMER: I love good doctors and nurses who advocate for their patients, and who go above and beyond these hospital protocols like the good doctors at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, whose doctors are well-known recipients of the Harper Avery/Catherine Fox award for excellence in medicine...a little Grey’s Anatomy humor to lighten this up a bit? 😊)
So yesterday, I was going through some old paperwork and found my discharge papers from this hospital experience. I often like to look over my discharge papers to see if I’ve missed anything that I didn’t know or see prior. In this packet, I find listed all the medications that the nurses gave me and the medications that they use commonly in maternity suites. And what do you know, oxycodone was listed as being given to me twice, two different dosages. Strange, I thought. I know I declined, repeatedly. I made it clear that I was breastfeeding (and that I was a doula and I knew the effects of narcotics on nursing babies and mamas) so why is this listed? Did they give me oxycodone without my permission? I don’t fucking know. But I do know that moms who are on Medicaid are prescribed opioids more often and I was receiving Medicaid at the time. Did they list it just to get money from Medicaid on my behalf? I don’t fucking know. But I do know that something ain’t right. So I did more digging.
Opioids are commonly prescribed to pregnant and breastfeeding women in spite of the known negative risks, including opioid withdrawals in newborn babies, issues breastfeeding, and the list goes on. According to the FDA, severe and persistent pain that is not effectively treated during pregnancy can result in depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure in the mother. But are opioids the solution to the pain that women experience in pregnancy and postpartum? Hell fucking no, is the answer to that. We have to be real honest, our country is facing an opioid problem. This we know, but we’ve never stopped to think about about how this crisis is impacting pregnant women and babies, the most vulnerable in our communities. And the reason we haven’t done so, is because these drugs are making hospitals lots of money. There is a reason doctors are prescribing opioids. There is a high chance that once a patient fills their opioid prescription, they will continue to refill their prescription. Opioids are highly addictive. Do they work to eliminate the source of the pain? Or do they just numb the symptoms related to the pain temporarily? Big questions, that we already know the answers to.
Black mothers are dying. We need safe alternatives. Like yesterday.
*sounds trumpet* Thankfully, queen cannabis has our back. Cannabis, in its various forms of consumption, is a safer alternative to common pharmaceutical medications found on maternity suites. Yup. I told you Cannabis was used traditionally for women, right? From pain, to blood pressure, hemorrhoids, itching, cracked nipples, infection, digestion, constipation, and the list goes on. I’m supporting mothers who are no longer interested in being misinformed by care providers who have invested interested in pharmaceutical companies. For moms who are interested in natural alternatives that have no negative side effects on their babies or their breastmilk. For moms who choose cannabis, the possibility of healing all of the changes that come with motherhood—physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, cannabis is truly promising.
For more information or to learn about cannabis alternatives to common medications used during pregnancy and postpartum, contact The Cannabis Doula to schedule a consultation. I provide clients with education and research to help inform your doctors and family about the benefits of cannabis, I provide support and tips to avoid negative interactions with Child Protective Services, and importantly, I provide cannabis caregiver services to help families learn to prepare cannabis medication including topicals, tinctures, infused oils, edibles, capsules, and more that can be used to aid moms from pregnancy to postpartum and beyond.
Everything has a Black history. Like most other things, Cannabis history has been largely distorted based on who writes the books and the laws. Cannabis has been a part of Black culture since the time of our ancient ancestors, and the racially motivated prohibition of cannabis and the War on Drugs continues to stifle the growth of Black families and communities for generations.
Is cannabis the answer to the rising maternal mortality crisis?
After my beautiful surprise of a home birth with my first son, Messiah, I was rushed to the nearest hospital where I had to get stitches for third degree lacerations (including what I know now as the Husband Stitch) and where I spent the first two days postpartum. It was ridiculous. We barely ate or slept the entire time. My first shower and trip to the bathroom was a horrible experience in a sterile, cold environment with nurses coming in and out every two hours. What I remember most from that experience is when I asked the nurses/doctors for pain medication, they told me the only two options I had were, Tylenol or Oxycodon. I was in a lot of pain and I knew that Tylenol would be of little help. I was in so much pain, not from giving birth, but from these stitches that the OB violently sutured. I knew from childbirth education classes, that narcotics interfere with breastfeeding and bonding, and isn’t safe for the baby. So I couldn’t understand then why a highly addictive narcotic was being offered to women immediately after giving birth.
Our body’s works really hard after birth regulating hormones, contracting the uterus, producing breastmilk, releasing the placenta, allowing us to love on and care for our babies. If women are given addictive drugs at such a sensitive time, the risk of dependency is so much greater! I’m thankful that I knew better, that I knew to look up the names of the drugs they offered me, and that I was able to deny them even though I was in so much pain and even after being repeatedly offered the narcotics. Still, however, I suffered in pain and in silence after giving birth for a long time because I refused harmful pharmaceuticals.
This shocking reality is why I advocate for cannabis consumption during postpartum, especially. Cannabis works by binding to receptors in our body and alleviates the cause of pain, it doesn’t numb the pain like synthetic chemicals. Plus, there are no side effects. Safe cannabis consumption is important for pregnant & nursing mothers and we deserve access and education for natural pain relief to aid any discomfort related to pregnancy and childbirth. Traditionally, cannabis in various methods of consumption was used to induce labor, to speed up a stalled birth, for a faster and easier birth, and to stop hemorrhage, as well as treating symptoms related to postpartum depression and psychosis.
So to answer the question, can cannabis be used to address maternal mortality?
For me and more many other families who choose cannabis,
the answer is yes.
Exactly a month ago, I sat in the doctor’s office with my fiancé and our two sons, as a woman I’d just met told me that a biopsy and ultrasound of my thyroid and neck was suspicious of thyroid cancer. I smiled. Surely, she’d made a mistake. A week prior, I had brought in a CT of my neck from three years ago when I had first noticed the lumps there. I thought it was due to swelling from having several wisdom teeth extracted and thought nothing more of it. Until now. The lumps are still here. Not painful, but somewhat noticeable. Still, I thought maybe it had something to do with giving birth or breastfeeding. Afterall, our body’s change so much & postpartum thyroiditis is a thing.
So I went to Johns Hopkins, I scheduled an appointment with otolaryngology. The surgeon did a scope of my throat and didn’t notice anything unusual. After viewing my CT scans he tell us that we should probably prepare ourselves for The C-word. “I see it all the time, I’m not worried. If it is cancer, don’t worry, we can have a small surgery to remove the thyroid. It’s the common procedure in this case,” He says and gave me the information for an endocrinologist, who apparently only took clients seven months out. With his referral, he assured me, I’d get an appointment the next week.
So here we are, sitting in a small examine room, as this woman, the endocrinologist, tells me, in otherwise perfect health, the one thing that I never imagined would change my life forever. She goes on and on about the surgery, the 4 week recovery, and the radioactive iodide that would follow. Plus, the hormone pills and lifelong doctor visits after that. The entire time, I’m smiling, half listening trying to keep Mars and Messiah entertained. Completely unbothered by the news. In fact, I thought and still think, the whole thing was hilarious. Serious, but funny, and sad in the way providers attempt to plant fear in patients in order to get their consent to thousand dollar surgeries and treatment plans even though natural healing and cures exist. So, I just smiled.
Before now, I’ve used cannabis to treat self-diagnosed anxiety, depression, and maybe PTSD. Nausea and insomnia, and whatever else. But I never really considered myself as a cannabis patient. I gained cannabis knowledge and experience in the Industry with the humble intentions of inspiring others to use cannabis to heal themselves! My use of cannabis has been mostly recreational with medicinal benefits. Now, everything is different.
When I told the doctor of my intention to use medical cannabis, his response was the generic response that most doctors are required by hospital protocol to give, as to be expected. I will be using cannabis to treat thyroid cancer. I’m currently in the process of becoming a medical cannabis patient in my state. While I know there is a lot of fear, and shame, and whatever else associated with cancer, and with cannabis use, that often leads people into fear based thinking—I am excited for the opportunity to use RSO, a highly concentrated cannabis oil, along with other herbs (plus an alkaline vegan diet, fasting, and exercise) to heal my thyroid and my body, mind, & spirit. & most importantly, to share my journey—because clearly my throat chakra is all fucked up!
Surgery, especially removing such an important organ as the thyroid, is not an option for me and will never be the best choice, regardless of what Western medicine diagnoses. While I know many people are unaware of the healing power of herbs and of cannabis, especially in killing cancerous cells and improving thyroid function, I’m conscious! Healing is a natural, mind-body-spirit phenomenon so I’ll be healing and balancing naturally. “How can you heal if you’ve never healed?” the universe asked me, in the midst of my shame and embarrassment. So, I’m healing. & happy.
I’m grateful. I was challenged originally with whether or not to tell people. I was crippled slightly due to the fear of shame and embarrassment. People tend to plant their worse fear onto others and often neglect evidence based information in the process. There are so many people who, would never question their doctor, their diagnosis or treatment and even asking for a second opinion is blasphemous. For them, there is nothing to research, no alternative to consider because “whatever the doctor says, goes.” I’m not one of those people. I don’t ever want to put on a facade like everything is perfect and these moments aren’t challenging but my happiness is absolute, not relative. I’ve had far worse moments, and have overcome triumphantly a whole lot of shit that many people should never live through. I’m not interested in being an advocate for surviving cancer or fighting cancer in any traditional sense. Surviving, fighting, and treating cancer is not healing or curing it! I also don’t want to be quiet about the fact that more people (young, black, and women) are being diagnosed with cancer and dying from carcinogens in our environment and in our foods while cures like cannabis, are being suppressed and stigmatized, especially in Black communities.
Becoming a medical cannabis patient will make me a better caregiver! I’ll be crafting my own medicine, herbal infusions, and edibles to heal MY body. I hope to be transparent throughout this entire time, to aid in my healing. I’ll be sharing my journey here, and doing videos and demonstrations via patreon. I’ll be hosting educational workshops and events to elevate cannabis healing and break the stigma associated with cannabis. Join me!
How are you using cannabis to heal?
I receive a lot of questions about women using cannabis for pregnancy and postpartum related symptoms and for menstrual cramps, body aches, etc. from mamas, doulas, and midwives. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, so it is no wonder so many women are shy about their consumption. Most of the cannabis industry is marketing its products to young, single males when it’s actually mothers who make and influence the health decisions for everyone in her familiy. I am confident, however, that more research is being done on the benefits of cannabis on women’s health and thus more education will follow.
Nevertheless, here are THREE important things you need to know (there’s more):
1- There is not sufficient research to prove the benefits or harm of cannabis on pregnant women and/or on her unborn baby! However, there is medical evidence that has proven that even when the fetus is as tiny as two cells, it has an endocannabinoid system with receptors that binds to cannabinoids present in cannabis, such as CBD, to promote the growth and function of other body systems. Many pregnant women who have used cannabis during pregnancy have gone on to birth healthy, full term babies. In places like Jamaica, for example, women have reported heavy use of cannabis during pregnancy with no complications or side effects. The other research that does exist, is highly flawed.
2- If you are considering using cannabis while you are pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife. If you do use Cannabis and you are pregnant, practice safe consumption. If you choose not to, that's great. Don't shame other women for their choice, opinion or thoughts about using cannabis while pregnant, especially if you lack proper information.
3- Many women have experienced relief from common pregnancy concerns such as pain relief, nausea, insomnia, hormonal and mood imbalances, the list goes on. People who are pregnant and are unable to take prescription medication to manage their mental health, also use cannabis to treat depression and anxiety. It's often the healthier alternative. Keep in mind also, that using cannabis requires making an informed decision, like many other decisions that women have to make during pregnancy and it is important to talk to your doctor. If your doctor is not aware of your consumption and for whatever reason does a drug test on you and your baby, the situation may not end well. However, if you are informed, and practicing safe consumption: a registered patient, using organic cannabis, medicating with an appropriate strain and application then there would be no reason for a doctor to suspect child negligence or drug abuse.
If you need assistance talking to your doctors about safe cannabis use during pregnancy and postpartum, I offer this service to my birth doula clients and to people interested in becoming registered medical cannabis patients. It can be a pretty intense conversation, especially when your provider isn't supportive (or informed) and it's good to be prepared with factual information about cannabis void of the stereotypes and misinformation often directed at Black mothers. To learn what cannabis strains, products, and methods of consumption work best for you and your lifestyle, schedule a consultation with Melanie Julion, HCHD.
The Cannabis Doula, a CTU Certified, Hyno-Birth Doula & Childbirth Educator
This is my revolution. I'm pulling my seat up to the table. I found out I was pregnant, for the first time, while cultivating medical cannabis for a Black-owned cultivation center in DC, I had to make a really tough decision. I didn't know how I would coexist as a Black woman in the cannabis industry and now, a young Black mom in this space. There was no way. The taboo was way too apparent. The stereotypes, the misinformation, the propaganda and the stigma is all too real in Black communities. For example, you'll likely find that "there isn't enough research done on the benefits or harm of cannabis during pregnancy" yet cannabis received official medical recognition as a childbirth aid in the 1850s.
Essentially, the hard labor of cultivation was causing me a lot of physical stress (lifting 5 gallon buckets of water all morning is not easy when you have morning sickness) and the grow environment wasn't safe. So I resigned from my job, after really feeling like I had no choice. I was pregnant and isolated in a male dominated industry and no way to support or advocate for myself and my needs as a pregnant person. I resigned from doing something I'd wanted to do for so long--GROW Cannabis!
From there, I was drawn to birthwork where I began to cultivate my love of birth and supporting mamas and babies. Having little support during my pregnancy, especially in the first five months while I was working at the cultivation center, I became empowered to advocate for myself and other expectant families. One thing I've noticed since starting this journey, is the shame present in mothers who do decide to use cannabis. And there is a lot of us. And a lot of shame. Cannabis is the most used "illicit drug" by pregnant women. So, my questions now became: why are we so ashamed? So many women, mothers, I've personally worked with and talked to use cannabis to treat all types of pregnancy concerns. From severe nausea, to pain relief, to postpartum depression! First, I had to do a lot of my own self-acceptance when it came to cannabis use. I do consume cannabis, medically and recreationally, and as a black woman, mama, birthworker, and cannabis entrepreneur, I stand by that. &I applaud other women who are choose to. 👏🏾 So often Black mom's get discouraged from seeking doula support for the fear they have of being judged for their consumption!
In order do my best work as a doula, I think it is so important to bring my whole self to the table, so that I can truly advocate for us. I've been working tirelessly to combine my knowledge and experience in the cannabis industry and my work as a doula. I recently realized I've been educating pregnant people about cannabis this whole time. Moms need access to safe cannabis. Moms need education on methods of consumption. We need to talk about harm reduction. Families need support in order to talk to their doctors about their cannabis use. We need safe spaces as black women without threat of our babies being taken from us for cannabis consumption. Black women deserve the same respect as other women who use cannabis while pregnant. In one article I read recently, it described white women reportedly using "marijuana cigarettes" and black women as "smoking joints" during pregnancy. That language there is fucked up. Black women are criminalized for illicit drug use during pregnancy and white women are revolutionary hippie moms using the latest alternative medicine, or trailblazing into a male dominated industry. Not while I'm here. I'm taking up space. I will be seen and heard on this topic, with the hopes of providing education to break stigmas and stereotypes. We deserve birth equity and cannabis equity at the same damn time.
The prohibition of cannabis and the War on Drugs directly impacted Black women and our families. I believe that cannabis can potentially restore our health and well-being individually and collectively. Becoming a doula, for me, is about selflessly caring for birthing people, being nonjudgmental of people's birth choices, and providing them with or connecting them to evidence based information and education. I'm providing the care that I desperately needed as a first time mom. Unbiased, holistic birth support. I'm creating herb and cannabis infused goods for the body, bath, and home especially catering to women's health, pregnancy, and postpartum. I'll be collaborating with other women run brands in the cannabis space and other birthworkers with the hopes of creating honest dialogue and thorough educational and eventful workshops.
Thank you for your continued support. I'll be sharing more of my experience via Patreon.