Seeing those two little lines on a pregnancy test can be one of the most exhilarating times in a woman’s life. Having a baby is supposed to be incredibly joyous, but did you know that for black women it can actually be a very scary and traumatic event for reasons you might not consider?
Are you aware that black mothers die in childbirth at THREE TIMES the rate as white women?
Is institutional racism compromising black women’s health or what’s going on?
Serena Williams Is Just One of Many Women Who Had a
Traumatic Birth Experience And She Had Access to Incredible Care
Most of us have heard Serena Williams’ birth experience, but if you haven’t I’ll try to summarize quickly. Less than 24 hours after Serena gave birth, she noticed she was short of breath and immediately alerted nurses. It turned out she had a pulmonary embolism (where arteries in the lungs get blocked by a blood clot) and because she had a history with this problem, she knew to speak up right away.
All the coughing from this caused her c-section wound to pop open causing her to undergo surgery again where doctors then found a hematoma in her abdomen. Following that surgery, she then had to have surgery to prevent blood clots from traveling to her lungs.
It was intense and traumatic, but she had access to an incredible team who knew exactly what to do.
According to the NPR article, Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why, “a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.”
Shalon Irving, a black woman who had been part of the well-educated elite, was an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She died due to high blood pressure three weeks after giving birth.
The NPR article continues:
“The fact that someone with Shalon’s social and economic advantages is at higher risk highlights how profound the inequities really are, said Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the chief medical director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who met her in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University and was one of her closest friends. “It tells you that you can’t educate your way out of this problem. You can’t health care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.”
Social scientists and medical researchers have concluded that the systemic problems begin with the disparity in access to healthy food, safe drinking water, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, good schools, and good transportation. But, the problem is massive in the medical system where black women aren’t listened to or are undervalued by their medical providers.
There are stories after stories about black mothers who cannot get their medical providers to believe that something is seriously wrong with them, writing their concerns off as being something minor or “in their head.”
So many black women confirm that their medical providers write them off as poor, unworthy, uneducated, or insubordinate.
Another reason that black mothers have higher mortality rates is due to the compounded stress that occurs from the living experiences and living conditions in the United States and around the world.
There are many more contributing factors than I’m going to go into here, but what’s important to know is that this is a real problem.
How Do We Reduce The Rate at Which Black Mothers
Die During or Following Childbirth?
This topic is very near and dear to my heart because I experienced my own traumatic birth experience.
So, how do we fix the problem? Gosh, everyone has their ideas and so many of them are valid. But, how do you and I do it? I don’t entirely know. But, I do know these few things are critical and are steps that we—as individuals— can take:
- Speak up over and over again if something isn’t right. Push until your medical provider agrees to probe deeper. Your provider is working for you; remind that individual of the oath he or she took to do no harm.
- Surround yourself with your village. If you need extra support postpartum, call on your village.
- Reduce stress the best way you can by deep breathing exercises, journaling, or meditation. That may seem airy-fairy or fluff or impractical, but these are proven practices we all have access to that can help.
- Raise awareness by sharing this article, talking about it, and sharing your own birth experience.
The bottom line is—we have to speak up for ourselves and we have to advocate for one another.
I’d love to hear your birth story, especially if you had a traumatic experience. Share your story in the comments below and if you have any ideas about how we can take action to fix the problem, share those, too.