Black Maternal Health is dear to my heart and soul. You may be asking, why it is dear to me. Above all, the main reason is because Black Maternal Health is a part of my purpose from God. A purpose I was not always sure I would find and fall into throughout a majority of my life. I am thankful that God has led me towards the plan he had for my life all along. A plan that allowed me to experience three pregnancies and two Earth-side births.
These experiences put me in line for God to use me for a purpose. A purpose that involves making a difference in the mental health and maternal health of Black women and mothers. In this purpose, I see myself working for God and not for man Colossians 3:23 makes that plain! Black Maternal Health is where I work ferverently for the Lord. Simply put the work I do holds a purpose that is far much bigger than me!
The Foundation of My Passion For Black Maternal Health
Moreover, my passion has a foundation based on my experiences during pregnancy, in the midst of childbirth, and in the postpartum period. Outside of my own personal experiences, I am passionate about Black Maternal Health for three specific reasons. First, I passionate about changing the black maternal mortality rates. In comparison to other developing countries, the U.S. has one of the worst Raes for pregnancy related complications. Unfortunately Black women are the ones suffering the most. Black women are facing the rate of being three to four times more likely to die from complications than white women here in the U.S.
Second, I am passionate about dismantling the centuries of systematic racism and biases placed upon black women. Black women are silenced when it comes to what we know about our bodies and what happens to our bodies in the hands medical professionals. Third, I am passionate about reworking policies that impact Black mothers. These policies being made are taking place at a government level. These policies are also taking place amongst healthcare professionals. Yes, I have a lot to talk about. I believe that more people should had a lot to say about Black Maternal Health.
1. U.S. Black Maternal Morality
As mentioned, the United States is one of the greatest developing nations. Yet, it has one of worst maternal death rates. According to the CDC, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is 17.4 per 100,000 births. Startling, right? Now get this, the U.S. maternal mortality rate for Black women is 40.8 per 100,000 live births. Hence Black women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications. This sounds like a national health crisis that needs tending to with a raging sense of urgency. I am filled with that sense of urgency to advocate for Black mothers by raising awareness of these shocking statistics. Awareness comes in the form of how I use my voice to bring attention to the statistics Black women face.
The black maternal mortality rate in my home state of Alabama made me fearful of giving birth. According to the United Health Foundation Americas Health Rankings project, the 2018 rate of death tied to pregnancy for white women in Alabama is 5.6 per 100,000. In comparison, the death rate is 27.6 per 100,000 for Black women. In comparison to where I live now in North Carolina, the maternal mortality rate for black women is 56.8 deaths per 100,000. Have you checked the rates in your state?
These numbers are absolutely heartbreaking for black women and can make the thought of wanting to have a baby terrifying. My passion sits on making more black women aware of these statistics. Awareness drives black women to advocate for themselves in all stages of pregnancy. I believe that these statistics are stemming from hundreds of years of racism and injustices. Systematic racism is a contributing factor of the years of ever growing maternal death rates of Black women.
2. Systematic Racism Towards Black Women
No matter what people have to say, systematic racism has existed for thousands of years. It is the driving force behind the tragic maternal mortality rate. The deeply rooted oppression towards Black women began during the Transatlantic salve trade. In this time period, Black women’s bodies were examined by hired surgeons. These surgeons were testing for goodness and strength to carry children while performing field labor. A black woman’s body held a particular value for slave traders and owners.
More value came the time she would give birth to a child who would subjected into ownership. No concern was placed on these women’s overall well-being nor their right to live. Black enslaved women were soon forced to be used as experimental subjects in the field of gynecology. Present day techniques are a result of performing surgery without consent or anesthesia on black enslaved women.
Physician of Systematic Racism
Francois Marie Prevost performed repeat experiments on Black enslaved women which led him to perfect the cesarean section birth. J. Marion Sims, the so-called father of gynecology, experimented on enslaved Black women in Alabama. His procedures led to the technique that would repair obstetrical fistula. Modern day medical textbooks include oppressive language that suggest black women can withstand a significant threshold of pain. These physicians of the past viewed the Black female body as a medical device that could withstand that pain. That should have not been the case. No matter what level of pain a black woman experiences, it should not go ignored. Yet, there are numerous black women going ignored with their concerns.
Personal Experience of Systemic Racism
I can use myself as an example. The concerns of pain and discomfort I addressed while pregnant with both Cedric and Alexander were dismissed. I was told that the round ligament pain I was feeling was a normal part of pregnancy. I was informed that the best treatment would be medication to help me as I continued working. However, the pain grew far more excruciating. It got to a point where I could not stand for more than 30 minutes while pregnant with Cedric. On the contrary, the pain led me to faint in the behavioral health facility while pregnant with Alexander. What I experienced goes to show that Black maternal patients experience a lower standard of care as well as value.
Handling Systemic Racism
Systemic racism has led to initial bias. That bias has medical professionals subconsciously providing inadequate care. A mannerism that medical professionals are being called out on. Advocates have pressed them to consciously examine whether or not they are actively providing superior care to black maternal patients. Nonetheless, such a lack of care has built mistrust between black maternal women and physicians. It is a part of my ever growing passion to improve this relationship. Improvement starts with raising awareness of the concerns of pregnant and postpartum black women. Once physicians are aware, they must comprehend those concerns. They go on to exhibit actions that can be seen that will save pregnant and postpartum black women. Furthermore physicians need follow in the path of the organizations calling them out. Hundreds of these organizations are developing policies that remove thousands of years of systemic racism.
3. Policies Advancing Black Maternal Health
There are several organizations taking action to combat thousands of years of systemic racism towards black maternal health. The organizations I list are just a few out of the hundreds across the nation and within grass root communities. All of which are driving for changes within legislation, hospital policy, and much more.
Organizations Creating Policy
The Black Maternal Health Caucus is a congressional committee taking aim at the health and wellbeing of black maternal women. They are aware of the inequities that exist for black mothers. They are pushing for policies that allow black women to thrive before, during and after pregnancy. The committee understands that Black maternal health is a national priority. The National Birth Equity Collaborative is addressing large scale issues of black maternal mortality. They focus on initial bias training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaborations. NBEC recognizes that racism is a root of the health inequities black pregnant and postpartum women face. They are putting their focus on saving black mothers and their children with the help of comprehensive data. It is an everlasting hope within my heart that medical professionals take on the missions and visions of these organizations.
The Shades of Blue Project strives to helping black mothers with community resources, mental health needs, and support groups. They have a method that focuses on being a change agent for medical professionals and healthcare systems. They are building community amongst the black women who seek their assistance. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance is a black female led organization focusing on the black maternal issues of inequity and disparities across various sectors. They want to center Black women to be the one to provide solutions to help activist improve black maternal outcomes.
In addition, Black Mamas Matters founded the Black Maternal Health Week Campaign which takes places from April 11-17th. These organizations are consistently fighting for longevity outcomes. Outcomes that ensure that black women and black children receive adequate care to survive after childbirth and years thereafter. Medical professional should take on a sense of urgency to take on the same fight.
Black Maternal Health Policymaking Goals
Black Maternal Health policymaking is one of the hats I plan to wear in the future. The policy goals that I plan to create include those steered towards closing gaps. Those drastic gaps in the hierarchical health care system that have hurt community Black maternal care organizations. For instance, hospitals are closing in communities which causes Black maternal patients to drive excess distances for their necessities. The areas where hospitals are closing have community organizations that are fully equipped to handle the increase of need. I read about numerous black women whom have had to drive excess distances to get the care they so deserve. In the long run, time is a critical reason why policies should be changing. Another policy that needs to change is the training of health care professionals ranging from obstetricians/gynecologist, nurses, and support staff.
The training is in terms of communication. Active communication amongst this team ensures black women receive adequate care. Yes, this is where God wants me to work. Trust me I have more national policy goals. First, national policy must be in place to test for postpartum depression prior to hospital discharge. In addition, a national policy must exam whether or not women are developing an opioid dependency to their medication. Finally, policy should be in place to monitor the heart functions of new mothers every other day after childbirth. All of these will mean increased funding. Funding for such a pressing national crisis is still a problem. However it should not be an issue. Lets remember the track record of how the nation puts so much monetary effort into the military and space exploration. Thats a conversation y’all gonna have to catch me talking about another day.
Concluding Thoughts on Black Maternal Health
I could easily go on and on about additional pressing reasons about why I am passionate about Black Maternal Health. Those reasons could be in relation to socieoeconimnical status, educational level, and or age. Yet, these are not the case. My reasons stem from the lived experiences of my maternal health being put to risk. My maternal health was put to risk during moments where I carried life, brought life in the world, and cared for myself and a child. Such risk grew to be the reasons and the connection that led me make a change in black maternal health.
It is the risk that I nearly lost my life giving birth to Alexander. As for me, I could have been a part of the growing statistic of other Black mothers dying while giving birth and or days after childbirth. It is the systemic racism that made me feel pushed to the side. Remember my doctor suggested that ” this excruciating round ligament pain is normal”. Similary, thousands of physicians make dismissive comments towards Black mothers. It is the two invasive episiotomies done to bring Cedric Jr. into this world. Many other black women face this same neglect of healthcare professionals who fail to follow the birth plans. A reason stands in the postpartum depression that was not take seriously for nearly 9 months. Unfortunately, there are black women receiving inadequate support as well from family and counselors for maternal mood disorders.
The reality is that Black pregnant and postpartum women are being pushed to the side and ignored which makes Black women apprehensive about their lives and their childrens. Black Maternal Health should not be a fight for equal care as another racial group. Black Maternal Health should be a matter of human rights for women who deserves to live long lives and a child/ren whom deserve to have their mother for decades to come.