A Healthcare Crisis That Hits Close to Home

What if I told you that we are in the middle of a national crisis and a portion of the population experiences complications & even death from preventable factors at disproportionate rates?

Alarming right?

Well that’s the unfortunate reality for many Black women in America (as well as in other countries). There is a Black maternal health crisis where Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.

Even when factors like socioeconomic status, age, education, and access are accounted for, Black women are still worse off during pregnancy & childbirth. This is supposed to be a joyous time for mothers but unfortunately it ends up being the opposite for many Black women in America.

And this is not ok!

Thankfully my experience with my daughter was good, and so far my current pregnancy has been smooth, and I am grateful for that.

I don’t take this for granted because many of my Black sisters do not have positive experiences surrounding childbirth, and it truly breaks my heart at how common that is.

With my second labor & delivery approaching, I’m not necessarily fearful about it, because I’m trying to lean on faith that everything will work out. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the thought of my race being a barrier to me bringing my child home safely hasn’t crossed my mind a time or two.

I, like any other mom, want to live to care for my child. And that’s certainly not too much to ask.

With April 11th-17th having been Black Maternal Health Week, it’s important to raise awareness and learn how we all can support pregnant people in our lives to reduce factors that contribute to pregnancy-related complications and death.

The current administration claims to be tackling this issue head on, and I hope the recent Proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week is a step in the right direction.

But if I’m being honest, I’ll believe it when I see it. The stats will eventually speak for themselves on whether measurable improvement for Black maternal health will occur.

In the meantime, what can we do to help?

1) Listen to Black women

Some of the issues stem from the erroneous belief that Black women have a higher pain tolerance than their white counterparts. These stereotypes can be traced back to slavery where enslaved women were thought to be less than human and some doctors even theorized that Black women’s skin is literally thicker and thus should be managed differently. Progress has been made, and thankfully many providers aren’t that overtly ignorant anymore, but implicit bias and blind spots are real and need to be addressed within healthcare.

Healthcare providers: If a Black women tells you she’s uncomfortable or in pain, her concerns should not be dismissed as her “complaining” or even worse, seeking drugs. Being able to acknowledge your biases and actively seek out ways to eliminate them will not only make you better at your job, but may save someone’s life in the long run.

Pregnant women: if at any time you feel uncomfortable with the level of care you’re receiving from your provider, never feel obligated to stay with them. If circumstances allow, find a provider who hears you and will honor you during this vulnerable period. Doing so can be life altering.

2) Build (or become) an advocate

As important as it is for Black women to be intentional about advocating for themselves, becoming an advocate can have a lasting impact on them as well. Having a team to speak up for pregnant women whether that’s a doula, partner, family member, or friend has shown to help with Black women’s voices being heard.

I remember a poignant scene during my labor with my daughter where I unsuccessfully attempted to make my feelings known to my OB because apparently between the pain, exhaustion & frustration, I was incoherent. In that moment my husband Jeff spoke up, amplified my voice, and we were able to successfully explain to the doctor my sudden outburst wasn’t due to confusion, but from my deeply rooted desire to deliver vaginally. This memory will always resonate with me because I experienced first hand just how impactful it was to have an advocate that knows you & your desires.

3) Seek Knowledge

Equipping ourselves & others with the knowledge of urgent warning signs during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period may help us feel empowered if/when we need to voice concerns. Some warning signs to urgently discuss with your care provider include severe headache, extreme swelling of hands or face, trouble breathing, heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge, and overwhelming tiredness, to name a few. These symptoms could indicate potentially life-threatening complications, and shouldn’t be ignored.

There is something to be said about a woman’s intuition and understanding that no one knows her body like she does. Trusting our instincts may also help improve the quality of care we receive. If something feels off, don’t be scared to say it. Now is not the time to be timid or scared of coming off as the “angry Black woman” because timely and directed care can be a matter of life and death amidst this crisis we are facing.

The stats are dire. The crisis is pervasive. The task may seem insurmountable. But I still do believe that with (drastic) collective efforts the current state of Black Maternal Care in America can improve.

This is a very layered issue with a lot more conversation to be had, but I pray that as we take strides to kill the crisis today, the world will be a much safer place for the next generation of women to deliver babies.



Center For Disease Control and Prevention

American Hospital Association

University of Chicago article by Dr. Jana Richards

New York Times Article

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