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Black Mothers Matter: Addressing Deadly Healthcare Disparities

I believe that it is important to continually educate ourselves on the prevalence of racism that plagues our society. Recent events have created a new awareness surrounding the treatment of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in our country. The upheaval and unrest surrounding the murders of Black people at the hands of the police are important. It means that more people are awakening to the experiences of Black and POC in our country. It makes me hopeful to see a new awareness filling the minds of many Americans.

AND we need to remember that the work is not even close to being done. Part of acknowledging the experiences of Black people and People of Color, is recognizing the ways in which racism exists in all of our systems.

This has been a realization that I myself am grappling with. Our country was built to oppress Black people and POC in ways that are not blatantly spelled out for us. These ways linger in the background of our daily lives.

I am writing this blog because I am further educating myself on a topic that I am passionate about. In my research of reproductive justice, doulas, midwives and the history behind these supportive roles, I have opened my eyes to a devastating disparity amongst Black mothers. It is important that we become aware of this, so that we can create change.

There is an alarming disparity that exists between the care that White mothers receive and the care that Black mothers receive during pregnancy and birth. To be specific, Black mothers are two to six times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than White mothers.

How are Black Women Still in Chains?

Somebody recently confronted me with an important question, “How are Black women still in chains?”

I want to use this question as an opportunity to vocalize the ways in which our systems perpetuate violence against Black women, implicitly and explicitly. The beauty and power of Black women is often dismissed. I hope to shine a light on these injustices in any way that I can. And I want to bring attention to a problem that has been present for years. A problem that we need to solve on behalf of the health and safety of Black mothers and their babies.

 According to an article written at Harvard, “700 to 900 new and expectant mothers die in the U.S. each year, and an additional 500,000 women experience life-threatening postpartum complications.” Devastatingly, most of these deaths and complications were preventable.

And, these cases are disproportionally Black women.

Black mothers, and their babies, are dying and experiencing complications during birth at higher rates. This fact is indicative of the way in which our country views the value of Black women.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.”

Audre Lorde

What is the Cause?

The reason for high death rates among Black mothers and their babies is not dependent on lack of education. The CDC states that, “The PRMR [pregnancy-related mortality ratio] for black women with at least a college degree was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts.” If education is not the cause, then what is?

There are many speculations about why the mortality rate is higher for Black women. Institutional racism can have an effect on the care that Black mothers receive during delivery and pregnancy. The stress that accompanies experiencing racism, directly and indirectly, can cause major health problems for mothers and their babies. For Black infants, the rate of mortality is two times higher than that of White infants. Prolonged racism-induced stress that Black mothers experience during pregnancy can help explain this. I recommend this article for more information.

There is a historically-rooted belief that Black women are irrational and that their voices should be dismissed. This is perpetuated by upholding hurtful stereotypes about Black women. In turn, leading to the care they receive during pregnancy and birth.

Historical Influences

Our country has a prominent and influential history of using, abusing, and dismissing Black women and Women of Color. Our systems were not built to satisfy the needs of Black people and were specifically maneuvered to work against us. Racism and prejudice plague, not only the criminal justice system, but healthcare, education, etc.

Historically, it was believed that Black people could not feel pain in the same ways that white people could. There are countless examples of experiments that have been conducted on enslaved Black people that were inhumane, as well as physically and psychologically painful (The Tuskegee Experiment, and James Marion Sim’s experiments on enslaved Black women). The thought that Black people do not feel pain to the same extent as white people continues to be an implicit assumption today.

There are many reported cases where Black mothers feel as if something is wrong with their health during or after labor. They are often dismissed and told their concerns are not valid. Check out this video to hear the stories of Black women who have experienced this, as well as more historical context behind this issue.

In many cases, implicit racism taints the ways that Black mothers receive care.

Value Black Voices and Acknowledge what Needs to Change

Black women should not have to ask to be valued and taken care of. The voices of Black women should be heard and respected, just as any White person’s voice is. Our society is rooted so deeply in racism that we are often blind to the ways in which our systems are failing People of Color, specifically Black women and Black mothers.

I hope that bringing this issue to light will encourage open dialogue surrounding institutional racism and the experiences of Black women and Women of Color. I also encourage you to continue educating yourselves, checking yourselves, and opening your minds and hearts.

If you would like to hear more from me, check out my other blog posts here!

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