A statistic about maternal mortality in the United States: black women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth complications than white women. In fact, the US has the worst maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country, with deaths rising over the past two decades. The question arises: why aren’t black mothers receiving the proper care? Why are their voices not being heard?
In the Media
The issue has been present for years but is just recently getting the attention it deserves with the unfortunate stories involving tennis superstar Serena Williams, music icon Beyonce Knowles Carter, and Kira Johnson, the daughter-in-law of popular television judge, Glenda Hatchett.
Recently, Serena Williams shared her story of needing to actively ask for care when she experienced shortness of breath and was told it was probably nothing. Williams needed an emergency C-section when her daughter’s heart rate reached dangerously low levels during birth. Williams later developed a pulmonary embolism, which resulted in her needing multiple surgeries after giving birth.
In an article for Vogue last August, Beyonce recalls her pregnancy crisis with twins Sir and Rumi. “I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU. My husband was a soldier and such a strong support system for me.”
Johnson died in 2016 from a hemorrhage just hours after she gave birth to her second son. Johnson’s husband says his wife’s death could have been prevented and has since sued the hospital where she gave birth.
“Black women often feel they’re not being heard when they raise concerns about aspects of their care,” Monica Coleman, Chief Communications Officer for The Black Women’s Health Imperative, tells Parentology.
Coleman says black women are disproportionately impacted by risk factors related to pregnancy, like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. The stress of racial discrimination and lower quality healthcare, Coleman says, only make those health issues worse.
What Can be Done to Lower the Maternal Mortality Rate?
Congress recently approved a bill earmarking $60 million over the next five years to prevent maternal mortality in the U.S. The money will go towards gathering more information to pinpoint what’s killing women during and after childbirth. It will also fund maternal health review committees in all 50 states.
MTV is also using its voice to educate people about the maternal death rate. This past Mother’s Day, the network launched a “Save Our Moms” campaign. Original content, like a video produced by actress Lena Waithe’s Protest Art Productions, is being aired across all MTV platforms in addition to educational resources.
Awareness of potential problems surrounding pregnancy and birth is key. Coleman tells Parentology that women must be conscious of their health, monitoring blood pressure, fever or any other signs of illness. They should also remember that complications can still pop up one to two weeks after childbirth.
Coleman encourages women taking their health into their own hands by speaking up when they feel something isn’t right. “Be persistent in demanding further review of all concerns to rule out any complications.”
And, women should also feel comfortable in changing doctors if they’re not receiving the care they need and deserve.
Monica Coleman, Chief Communications Officer for The Black Women’s Health Imperative
Vogue: Beyonce in Her Own Words
American Heart Association: Why Black Women are at High Risk of Dying from Pregnancy Complications