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Why Are Black Mothers At Higher Risk Of Dying?

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Research has found that Black mothers in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications. So, why are Black mothers at more risk of dying? Besides the fact that two years ago international studies conducted in the U.S. and UK reported that Black women are more likely to die from complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth while pointing to systemic problems within healthcare, assumptions made about patients based on the race factor integrated into the governing political arena.

Unfortunately, if you are Black in America, your value is questionable. In the summer of 2021, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (RCOG) set up a Race Equality Taskforce (RET), to seek answers to why there are racial disparities in women’s healthcare. Black women will tell you that, “they already know,” to quote a professional in corporate America, who wished to remain anonymous.  She stated,

“It’s not a new experience so as Black women going to the doctor, you don’t expect them to have your best interest at heart. But what can you do?” She continued, “It’s built in the system. The white doctor doesn’t even know he’s carrying out racism. He just is.”

The goal is to better understand the racism that patients and workers experience. Statistics released during Covid-19 highlighted that 55% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with the virus were from Black, Asian, or other ethnic minority backgrounds.  These racial disparities in healthcare are consistent with the Black experience and existed before the pandemic. Death during pregnancy and childbirth is rare. But accordingly, there is a proportionally higher risk to Black women than white. The chance of death is 1 in 2,500 for Black women but the rate was five times smaller for white women between 2014 and 2016.

This risk was five times higher than white parents-to-be.  Of course, some of this was contributed to classism at work.  But a study revealed that Black middle-class women were more likely to die in childbirth than white working-class women. Class was not a direct factor but rather why the group is relegated to the class like race or gender.

Noted is that long term trauma which causes both physiological and psychological issues impact the human development which manifests creating emotional and psychological conditioning that is the root of illnesses, fears, anger, and rage that are often suppressed leaving the individual unaware of their fear, anger rage or other physical and psychological affects upon them.  

In Dr. Gabor Mate’s book, The Myth of Normal . . .Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture, he explains that childhood traumas even while in the womb communicates the wrong message to a baby, creating long term trauma which causes both physiological and psychological issues. And that Black women suffer more than any other group from this occurrence.

Celebrities Serena Williams and Beyoncé, two Black women who are above the middle class have opened-up about the trauma they experienced through pregnancy and childbirth. Writing about their experiences through pregnancy and childbirth. World tennis champion Serena openly shared with the world her near death experience while giving birth to her daughter Olympia. Serena, told CNN, “I’m so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren't for their professional care, I wouldn't be here today.”  Serena suffered several complications including a pulmonary embolism and hematoma in her abdomen.

The National Center for Health Statistics collated maternal mortality data from all 50 U.S. states, that it found that in 2018 there were an estimated 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births when 658 women died.  Dr. However, pregnancy-related deaths were two and a half times more common in Black mothers. Speaking about the data Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics said on NBC, “I don't think it's as important to focus on the exact numbers. What's important is that Black women have a much higher maternal mortality rate than white women."

Again, it is not to be taken lightly. The trauma of reoccurring loss of children, mate and parents at young age has cell memory according to Dr. Mate’ and he is certain that it has a heavy bearing on the Black woman’s mental health and therein her child birthing experience.

Throughout the pandemic, pregnant women have been listed as vulnerable and advised to take extra precautions. The differences in the rates of maternal mortality are stark and some have said they need to be looked at in the wider context of racial bias in healthcare. Statistics show that Black women are at a higher risk of developing heart disease and having a stroke. Similarly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are less likely to develop breast cancer but 40% more likely to die from it than their white counterparts.  

In summary, Tina Sacks, assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare and the author of Invisible Visits: Black Middle-Class Women in the American Healthcare System is quoted in Fortune, “Black women, like all women across races, have a very hard time being taken seriously about their own bodies, due to pervasive sexism . . . so when you compound that with racism, you have a particularly toxic mixture that Black women are facing.”  It’s a thing.

Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02) issued the following statement to mark the beginning of Black Maternal Health Week:

“Protecting the health of Black women and girls should be beyond negotiation and policy dealing. Disparities in maternal death rates and maternal morbidity remain dire for Black mothers when compared to their white counterparts. Even if a Black woman is well-off, well-educated, and well-connected, she is still more likely to die from childbirth-related complications than a white woman. This is unacceptable."

“This isn't just a matter of statistics - it's personal. We all deserve to lead full and healthy lives, regardless of who we are, where we live, or what we look like.
Congresswoman Kelly is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, Co-Chair of the bipartisan Maternity Care Caucus, and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.

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