Listening to their voices: Black Women and Infant Mortality

Taking an adequate amount of time to think about bringing a child into the world is imperative. As black women, it is important to consider timing. Which may be based on your current financial stability and the financial stability of the government. It may also be important to consider your current mental state, and whether or not you have the love and patience to deal with a child. Further, being informed about the potential health risks that come with such a decision is extremely important as well.

Thus, it is important to inform yourself of the very real, very problematic issue of maternal mortality facing women in the African American community. When making your final decision consider the following woman’s story, the statistical facts surrounding it, and the health risks and medical neglect described. You never know, her story and the statistical information adjoined may help you navigate through similar issues you might face, or maybe help a loved one. 

The World Health Organization defines maternal mortality or maternal death as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy. Irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. Even though maternal mortality has been reported to affect women of all races, the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance has reported that Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die during pregnancy compared to white women. The contributing factors around these reports include the quality of healthcare each individual has, whether an individual has any chronic conditions, as well as sheer bias and structural racism. There also have been several reports that have indicated a pattern of providers disregarding the health concerns of their Black and pregnant patients.

In one case, a woman named Brooke shared her experience, explaining that she took two visits to her provider with complaints that she hadn’t felt her baby kick. During both visits, Brooke was sent home. She would 6 days later deliver a stillborn child. Brooke later explained, “If they would have listened to me earlier, I would have delivered a living baby, but if you’re a Black woman, you get dismissed because it’s like ‘what are you complaining about now?’”

Throughout Brooke’s visits back and forth to her provider, she made sure to keep track of her medical records which later provided more insight into not only Brooke’s tragedy but the similar and frequent tragedies that happen all over the United States. She discovered what medical experts and researchers had already found: while many pregnant people say their doctors and nurses do not listen to them and their concerns are often dismissed, pregnant Black people face an even higher burden.

Brooke’s story isn’t the first – nor is it the last – but luckily there have been studies done to get a better understanding of how widespread mistreatment is within maternal care, in efforts of lessening the issue. For example, The Giving Voice to Mothers Study, a 2019 study done to measure mistreatment in maternity care, concluded that people of color are two times more likely than white people to report maternity mistreatment. The results also showed that women of color, women who gave birth in hospitals, and those who face social, economic, or health challenges reported higher rates of mistreatment.

Studies like these help bring more awareness to the problem of maternal mortality and are slowly bringing about more answers to how we can lessen this issue within our communities. Fortunately, other forces have joined the fight by providing the public with documentaries and websites to educate the public about this issue, and organizations providing support and resources.

Here are a few: 

An Influential and Informative Documentary: 

“Aftershock” is a riveting documentary made to inform audiences about the egregiously high maternal mortality rate within the People of Color (POC) community and bring light to the systemic racism that penetrates America’s health care system. The film documents the stories of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, who both tragically die from preventable childbirth complications, and explores what part the medical system played in their untimely deaths.

Influential Organizations:

Queen City Cocoa B.E.A.N.S. (QCCB), which represents breastfeeding, education, advocacy, normalcy, and support, is a nonprofit organization located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is one of the organizations working to decrease the Black maternal death rate. QCCB works to ensure that Black families achieve healthier birth outcomes. They assess and monitor issues like why a newborn may not be gaining enough weight, providing feedback and support for Black families who may not have adequate access to high-quality healthcare.

The National Birth Equity Collaborative, or NBEC, provides racial equity training sessions to reduce implicit bias – a known factor that can cloud medical providers’ judgment when dealing with pregnant and post-partum Black people. This organization even provides training and assistance to other organizations that are working towards decreasing Black maternal mortality. 

The Black Mama’s Matter Alliance, or BMMA, was formed through a partnership between the Center for Reproductive Rights and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The alliance fights for better legislation surrounding Black maternal mortality and highlights necessary areas of research and spreads information about the social determinants of health that influence outcomes like traumatic birth or maternal and infant mortality.

A Special Week: 

The week of April 11th through the 17th marks Black Maternal Health Week, which is an effort to build awareness around and improve Black maternal health. 

As a young Black woman who is an aunt to 3 young children, this is very concerning to me. As a woman of color in America, I wonder what this will mean for the African American race in years to come. Thankfully, there is still hope, there are still voices, communities, and hands that care and that want to help. Now, with this new-found information, spread knowledge and contribute what you can to continue to fight for our Black mothers.  

Works Cited

Adams, C. A., & Underwood, C. L. (2019, October 23). 9 organizations working to save Black Mothers. Black Maternal Health Caucus. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://blackmaternalhealthcaucus-underwood.house.gov/media/in-the-news/9-organizations-working-save-black-mothers 

CDC. (2022, April 6). Working together to reduce Black Maternal Mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthequity/features/maternal-mortality/index.html 

Eldeib, D. (2022, December 27). She says doctors ignored her concerns about her pregnancy. for many black women, it’s a familiar story. ProPublica. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.propublica.org/article/stillbirths-pregnancy-mothers-parents-racial-disparities 

Health, R. (2019, June 11). The giving voice to mothers study: Inequity and mistreatment during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. BioMed Central. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12978-019-0729-2 

Hoyert, D. L. (2022, February 23). Maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2020/maternal-mortality-rates-2020.htm 

Peeler, D. (2023, January 9). Local organization provides maternal care resources for families of color. Q City Metro. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://qcitymetro.com/2023/01/08/local-organization-provides-maternal-care-resources-for-families-of-color/ 

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