“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from”
– Brianna Wiest
I always knew there was something different about how I saw America, because I was able to see it as an outsider. I was born on the beautiful island of Trinidad, and lived there until my family moved to the US when I was almost 11 years old.
My Life In Trinidad
My life in Trinidad taught me so many things. It provided me with traits and skills that I would need to rely on as I grew up in the United States. My psyche was padded with a cushion of self esteem, self worth, certainty of my potential that I received not only from great parenting, but from the environment in Trinidad itself.
Walking around surrounded by Black and brown bodies running schools, government, healthcare, most industries, there was no doubt in my mind that I was capable of doing and being anything that I wanted to be, even amidst the real financial struggles of the country and the tough competition for limited resources.
Once you know what it feels like to walk around devoid of an awareness that everything around you is built to prevent you from thriving, entering that suffocating and constrained atmosphere is as jarring as stepping out into space. One can only struggle to breathe for so long.
I know that it can be better. I know that it is better. Knowing that there is greener grass somewhere else makes it very hard to tolerate the weeds in your own lawn.
The Timing Was Not Right, Yet
My husband and I got engaged a few short months after we first met, right before I was supposed to leave for medical school. He was raised in Australia for the first 12 years of his life and also lived through the culture shock of coming to the US. In the very early days of our whirlwind courtship, we mused about the fact that we were both intent on raising our children outside of the United States as soon as we could. That was 18 years ago.
In 2015, I watched as the country was making it very clear who they really were. And I believed them. My desire to leave the country and look into moving to Australia was reignited, but, It would not have been possible to do it at that time. We had a newborn (our third child), we’d just bought our first home, and I had just switched to a new private practice. The timing was not right, yet.
A Troubling Insight
By 2021, I was very involved in antiracism, anti-white supremacy and pro-equity in education advocacy and activism. I was also doing regular educational talks to girls at a group home, discussing sexual health. Once the pandemic was in full swing, I collaborated with a multidisciplinary group of fellow physicians to produce much needed guidance on COVID management throughout multiple school districts in my state and pressured our state leaders to follow the science when making decisions on how to manage COVID in the community and in the schools.
I worked in close proximity and communication with local, state, and some national leaders and that exposure gave me an insight that troubled me. The country seemed to be divided into groups in my mind, with the two largest groups being either those intent on the continued subjugation and marginalization of whole groups of people, or those who claim to want to make change but who lacked the necessary will to make it better, thus perpetuating harm anyway.
That same year, I left private practice and started hospitalist work. I was unable to truly enjoy my “days off” because I had filled that time with helping my activist friends put out one fire after another.
Being a Black, Immigrant, Female OB/GYN
As a Black, immigrant, female, OB/GYN who provides medical care to women and cares deeply for education, every aspect of my being was vulnerable.
There was the:
- the lack of respect for knowledge and expertise
- culture of abusing staff or physicians.
- Devaluation of highly trained doctors by elevating less qualified mid-level providers, falsely and dangerously equivocating their knowledge and expertise – poor, Black and brown communities were usually over represented in where these inexperienced providers worked (Urgent care clinics etc)
- working to exhaustion without time for rejuvenation and balance
- seeing too many patients in a day
- being faulted for putting yourself or your family first.
There were the micro- and macro-aggressions that I faced at work and in the community on at least a weekly basis. Being a highly educated professional does not protect the Black body.
I watched women and the people who care for women be consistently devalued by a patriarchal hospital, government policy, and insurance reimbursement practices. Racism and misogyny is not just about hurt feelings. I watched first hand as it manifested into abysmal maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. Anti-science was rampant in positions of power, and the healthcare model was stealing the joy out of practicing medicine.
I was an immigrant with family members intimately affected by anti-immigrant policies such as removal of DACA protections. Watching babies torn from the arms of their parents with no plans of reunification literally broke my heart and made me ashamed of the US. It also disgusted me that powerful countries kept quiet and did not admonish or punish the US for their human rights offences.
The collective trauma triggered anew every time another Black body was discarded in the street like roadkill by cops or hateful citizens was unacceptable.
I was privy to the data that Black and brown children were more likely to be disciplined for normal child/adolescent behavior and less likely to be put up for gifted testing. I knew that it was a lie to tell children of color that all they had to do was work hard and they would succeed in America.
I never got accustomed to the visceral, physiologic changes happening in my body every time I had to sit in a district meeting and hear white supremacy spouted by disgruntled parents, or on the news. I heard bigoted parents try to intimidate any teacher or board member that were openly LGBTQ-affirming for the students and unabashedly demand that we abandon striving for equity in education, social emotional learning, trauma-informed care and sex education, and “just teach reading, writing and arithmetic”.
I watched as the schools acquiesced to the white mob, once again prioritizing their discomfort over the safety of our marginalized students. All of this while Black boys in high school committed suicide, one who just a few weeks prior stated in a school forum that he felt like being Black in America was like walking around with a target on his back.
While I had never suffered from clinical depression or anxiety, I knew that I was not safe mentally, emotionally or physically in the United States and neither were my multiracial children.
Deciding to Leave
The more I read about the deleterious effects on health and life expectancy of racial trauma on immigrants to the United States, the more I wanted to get out.
August of 2021, I realized that it would not matter who was in political power, that I would still be swimming in the toxic stew that will not improve significantly in my lifetime. If anything, it was getting worse. I reminded myself that John Lewis, riddled with cancer, spent his last months marching and begging for the same things he was begging for on the bridge at Selma over 50 years prior when he had his head bashed in.
I decided that it was time to leave. My husband has always understood and supported me. We were in a better position financially at that time, so we started the journey of making the move abroad.
In the next post, Dr. Dionne Mills-Sillik shares a radically different experience as a Black, Female, OB/GYN after moving to New Zealand.
Now, we want to hear from you!
What are your reasons for wanting to move abroad?
Let us know in the comments below!
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Dr. Dionne Mills-Sillik is a board-certified Obstetrician Gynecologist. She completed her training 10 years ago. She’s married to a wonderful stay at home dad and professional Chef, and they have three amazing kids- a 13yr old son, 10yr old daughter and 7year old son. You can also find her blogging at Going Where We’re Valued.