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A look at Black women's reproductive health in comics

Contributed by
Nov 6, 2018

Women’s reproductive health is always going to be an evergreen subject, especially because it looks so different for all women — trans, cis, race, ability, disability, and a host of other identities. Speaking specifically to Black women’s reproductive health, it’s a conversation that has picked up much-needed steam over the last year. Black women are still dying in the care of health professionals during and after childbirth at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than any other race. It’s evident there is a problem within the medical community that needs to be addressed.

As we consider the various ways we can keep the conversations of the reproductive health of Black women going, comics are a medium that has never shied away from touching on subjects that affect us, including this one. While there aren’t a great number of stories that center Black women’s reproductive health or the situations they find themselves in, especially among the well known comic imprints, there are some.

One of the better-known handlings of Black women's reproductive health happens in Icon. The comic series by Milestone is from the early '90s, making the choice to feature a young Black teenage girl faced with early teen pregnancy ahead of its time. Raquel Ervin, also known as Rocket, is a 15-year-old living in an impoverished city called Paris Island in Dakota. Shortly after meeting the comic’s namesake, Icon, she becomes his sidekick while simultaneously finding out she’s expecting after having unprotected sex with her boyfriend. Raquel is faced with a difficult situation of what to do about the unplanned pregnancy.

The budding superheroine and writer is faced with a difficult decision, and, to make things worse, she deals with a lack of support from both the child’s father and her own mother and grandmother. Raquel goes to a local Planned Parenthood where she finally finds some kind of guidance. There are some really great panels used for these scenes. The reader gets to see Raquel’s thought process as she struggles with the possible outcomes based on whether she keeps the unplanned pregnancy. Raquel considers abortion, adoption, or keeping a child she can’t afford to take care of — all very real and relevant choices to someone back then and today.

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She gets honest advice from a Black doctor who also found herself in the same predicament as Raquel. Again, the panels do a really good job of showing Raquel absorb all of the information she’s getting and just how difficult this situation is going to be for her. At the end of the day, Raquel soon learns no one has the right answer she’s searching for because the answer is different for everyone.

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She ultimately decides to keep her child, determined to be both a writer and a superheroine. Not only does Icon feature an unplanned pregnancy, but it also features a young single mother and how she deals with her choice to keep her child. Icon even shares a story of how he and his wife had to terminate a pregnancy early because it was a threat to her life, showing there are multiple reasons why a woman might consider having an abortion. 

In contrast to Raquel’s experience, Misty Knight deals with a false pregnancy and the mental toll that takes on her. Shortly after moving in together and getting engaged, Misty and Danny Rand find out they’re expecting their first child. In I Am An Avenger, it's revealed to have been a false pregnancy; Danny’s chi was to blame for the pregnancy test Misty took reading positive.

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The emotional toll it took on both Misty and Danny caused a strain in their relationship, causing them to go their separate ways. Later in the Heroes for Hire run from 2011, how the false pregnancy affected Misty mentally is further explored. She’s dealing with depression, anxiety, and the ghost of a future that did not happen for her and Danny. Misty’s situation, aside from having an Immortal Weapon for a partner, is relatable and touches on fertility issues.

While this next instance does not give much detail, we learn in Jungle Action featuring the Black Panther thatT’Challa’s mother dies while giving birth to him. If we assume her death was due to pregnancy-related complications, this is another relatable risk women, especially Black women, face. What were her complications and if she was in the most technologically advanced countries in the Marvel world, how did she still die? Questions we don’t have the answers to because there are no details, given the relevance, it would be a story worth exploring. Bringing us back to reproductive health situations varying person to person and all have different consequences and outcomes.

These instances are most certainly not the only comics that have included the situations pertaining to Black women's reproductive health. It’s an extremely important conversation that needs to stay relevant. The media we consume often reflects our day to day lives, so more stories like Raquel’s, Misty’s, and the untold story of T’Challa’s birth mother are needed. They have just as much significance as any other.

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