Maternal Mortality Rates for Black Women in the United States

Black women are dying. Now, as daunting as that sounds, that statement is still surprisingly an empty one. Yes, black women are dying, but from what exactly? If you’re not a black woman and you’ve scrolled away by this third sentence or even if you’re a non-black woman and you’ve continued to read further down: black women are dying from childbirth and it’s because of their skin color.

Contrary to popular belief for a first world country, the United States is among some of the highest for maternal mortality rates. Findings like this are hard to fathom with all of the resources readily available and put in place by our government for women. Reproductive health is a hot button topic for most social media platforms and news outlets. However, as you divulge further into the numbers, you find facts like “African American women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic women,” according to The Center for American Progress. In the historic age of feminists like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey and Malala Yousafzai, why aren’t our black women being protected from tragic incidents while under hospital care?

If it’s any consolation, most black women are so prone to the microaggressions experienced daily, that when they expose themselves in the form of a disgruntled nurse or a negligent doctor, we write it off as a norm. What’s more concerning than the fact that we’re dying under the supervision of trained medical professions, is that socioeconomic status or education level will not save us either. One 2016 study found that “college educated black women who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.”

The buzz surrounding maternal mortality in the United States hit mainstream America once A-list tennis celebrity Serena Williams spoke about her own complications while giving birth to her daughter, Olympia. In a full spread Vogue issue, Williams disclosed that just a day after giving birth to her daughter, she began experiencing shortness of breath due to a past history of blood clots in. With this knowledge, Williams made an effort to report this information to her nurse but was then regarded as “confused” due to the pain medication that she was prescribed. Williams prevailed after a CT scan revealed the very blood clots that she was reporting.

Serena Williams’ incident is not isolated. As mentioned earlier, the microaggressions that black women often experience aren’t just the ones that are related to our hair. They surround our skin color, our temperament and even our pain tolerance. The dismissiveness of pain becomes so blatant to these women that they are forced to advocate on their own behalf. From this, was birthed the #BelieveBlackWomen movement. This movement is a cue to all healthcare professionals, mental health professionals and counselors to take black women’s words for what they are: truths.

Just this past week, another pregnant black woman died from neglect. According to news reports, expecting mother, Lashonda Hazard, turned to the Women and Infant Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island where she was ignored after describing excruciating stomach pain. Her last texts read: “I’m literally dying.” Hazard couldn’t understand why she wasn’t being taken seriously or “given answers that made her feel better,” according to Lipstick Alley. Soon after Lashonda and her unborn child were both dead.

Hazard’s story is one of many. New York City is cited as a very high risk place to give birth as black mother. ProPublica’s date tells that black mothers are 12 times more than white mothers to fie from childbirth-related causes. Instead of turning a blind eye to the issue, New York City Health Department has put provisions in place so things maternal mortality is less prevalent.

Check these out:

  1. Training staff on implicit bias

  2. Supporting data tracking enhancement of severe maternal mortality and non-isolated events

  3. Enhancing the hospitals and care facilities

  4. Expanding public education

 

While Serena Williams and Lashonda Hazard’s incidents are unfortunate and even tragic, they’re bound to happen again until all healthcare professionals are made aware of the areas where they fall short.

To nurses and doctor’s: believe black women and don’t invalidate their feelings. It’s easily the difference between life and death.

To black women: learn to recognize the signs before it’s late. Advocate on your own behalf prior to conception and even childbirth so that you can save your own life as well. We’re all we got.