Meet Medical Provider Havian Sterile
Two sexual wellness practitioners have a conversation with a Nurx medical provider about reproductive justice, advocacy and how to approach your next annual wellness visit.
It’s not every day that you get a chance to sit down with a healthcare provider to talk about how the history of reproductive injustice impacts how Black women experience healthcare today, and we’re so glad that we did! We had the pleasure of learning from and getting to know Nurx medical provider Havian Sterile, a Philadelphia-based Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Havian’s devotion to reproductive justice reminds us that in order for us all to achieve sexual wellness, the experiences of Black women must be heard and prioritized.
Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. A multitude of factors contribute to these outcomes including lack of access to quality health care, underlying chronic conditions, and the structural racism and implicit bias embedded in our healthcare system and society writ large. In order to create and sustain change, we must acknowledge and disrupt the systems that lead to medical mistrust and healthy inequity.
Here, we’ll chat with Havian about how to deepen our understanding of the historical injustices committed on Black women’s bodies, how to self-advocate during your annual wellness visit and how to sustain yourselves in sexual and reproductive health work.
We are big fans of providers in the women’s health space, especially folks who work with Black women, and we’re curious about what inspired you to become a nurse practitioner with an obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) speciality?
I struggle with the word feminist unless it’s intersectional, but I have always been an advocate for women, particularly Black women in the OB-GYN space. It is an honor to serve Black women and for me it was a conscious decision. I needed to advocate for us because oftentimes there is little to no representation as it relates to our choices, our bodies and our decisions. At least once a month I am told in some capacity “I wanted to you see because you were Black”. I have a heightened sense of responsibility to Black and Brown women because of the traumatic experiences we’ve had particularly within the field of obstetrics and gynecology. For me, I not only wanted to be the provider that I needed but also to course correct.
Thank you for mentioning the traumatic history that Black and Brown women have experienced in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. As sexual wellness practitioners we like to provide that information to folks to deepen their understanding of the complexity of Black women’s sexual and reproductive health.
Yes, I recommend starting off by learning this history with books like Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deirdre Cooper Owens and Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts. I definitely feel like I owe it to Betsey, Lucy and Anarcha the right to do this work, and to be a face in the midst of this field particularly with everything going on in the world. We can’t do this work without understanding we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors.
Yes! We are also led by the spirit, energy and sacrifices of Betsey, Lucy, and Anarcha and we love that they also guide your work. Given Black women’s history with medical institutions, what makes navigating healthcare different for Black women?
I think as a Black woman it’s different for a number of reasons. For one we have to hold our providers accountable. We can’t ignore racism because it makes us uncomfortable. Racism is not only related to the quality of care that we receive as Black women but also our health outcomes. So we can’t pretend that racism isn’t a risk factor. Race is a social construct and it is racism (not race) that impacts the health outcomes of Black women.
In addition to that we also have to be mindful that our providers – and I say this as a Black woman but also as a provider – work for us. They are there for us. We are the experts of our own bodies so at any point you feel like your provider is not hearing you, you feel uncomfortable, you feel rushed, you don’t feel affirmed, you have options! You can go somewhere else or get a second opinion.
I think that we often are told by society that we don’t deserve certain things but I believe you deserve the level of care that you are requesting at all times.
Yes — we have options! We’re wondering if you can talk a little bit about how women should prepare for an annual wellness visit so that they may have the most full experience that centers what they need?
Absolutely! There are a couple of things that I think are important. First is to understand what an annual wellness visit is and understand that a wellness visit is about you from a holistic perspective. We really want to take this time to explore everything together that ranges from your family history to your menstrual history, your sexual history, contraception, even pre-contraception counseling, emotional and self-care practices because emotional health impacts everything.
Second, I think it’s important to ask your provider about specific risk factors that you might have, but also how your care plan might be different when taking those into account.
Third, is making sure you come armed with questions about everything, even the questions that you assumed were normal so would never bother to ask. You should make sure your provider is able to answer your questions, particularly in a way that you understand. If you are concerned about something, you should feel safe and comfortable to bring those things to your provider.
Lastly, we want to make sure that you’re safe and if you are not safe connect you to resources that can help get you through whatever it is that you need at this time.
Again, I believe you are the expert of your own body and we are working on this together.
Speaking of being in this together, we began our conversation talking about why you wanted to be a nurse practitioner and you shared the ancestral wisdom and sacrifices that Black women before you made. Do you have any advice for Black women and folks in the sexual and reproductive wellness space? What is one lesson that you have learned as a provider in this space?
I’m so grateful for all of the women, all of the Black women before me, who are doing this work, and providing the blueprint that I can follow, because we have to work on this together.
This work is hard and never ending, and sometimes you’re the only one and that can be exhausting because resilience fatigue is real. So, I’ve learned when I take care of myself I can pour from my overflow.
It’s important for me to take care of myself. I say that because I cannot be the best provider and advocate that I need to be for someone else if I’m pouring from an empty vessel. Particularly as Black women and as Black providers, we adopt the superhero complex that we can do it all at all times and at any time, and then burnout kicks in. You can no longer be the advocate you set out to be when you first started because you’re tired.
I want to stress this for both of you (and you, the reader!). Take care of yourselves, because this work is not easy. You are oftentimes going to be the only one, pushing these conversations forward, and I don’t want you to forget the reasons why you started to ask these important questions and began to do this work. So just adopt the practice of pouring from your overflow versus anything else. Only, pour from your overflow.
About the Authors
Kimberly Huggins, LSW, MPH, MEd, and Brittany Brathwaite, MSW, MPH, are the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Kimbritive, a New York-based company focused on creating real, empowering conversations and sexual wellness workshops for Black women and girls. Kimberly is a licensed social worker and human sexuality educator who is passionate about reproductive health and the emotional wellbeing for people living with HIV and stigmatized health conditions. Brittany is a reproductive justice activist, youth worker and community accountable scholar with a deep commitment to supporting the leadership, organizing, and healing of girls of color.