If we don’t speak up for Black mothers, who will?

By Gabrielle White

When we think of the birthing process known as “miracle of life,” it is easy to focus on the beautiful life that results. However, we must not overlook the life of the mother who brought that child into the world. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives the details.

  • In 2020, 861 American women died while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy.

  • For every 100,000 live births in the United States, 24 new mothers will die.

  • Each year, more than 50,000 American women experience severe pregnancy complications that can cause serious, long-term consequences.

These numbers are even worse when we look at race. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women, and these disparities are consistent across all income levels, according to the CDC.

  • Black women account for one-third of the maternal deaths in 2020, despite Black Americans making up only 13 percent of the population.

  • The maternal mortality rate for Black women. (37.1 per 100,000 pregnancies) is 2.5 times the rate for White women (14.7) and three times the rate for Hispanic women (11.8).

  • Black women with at least an undergraduate degree have higher severe complication rates than women of other races and ethnicities who never graduated high school.

This is a national emergency. Our mothers are in danger.

Black Maternal Health Week is April 11-17 and is appropriately centered in National Minority Health Month. This week of awareness, activism, and organizing is focused on deepening the national conversation about Black maternal health in the U.S. and amplifying community-driven policy, research, and care solutions.

Many of the deaths and near-death experiences that occur within the first six weeks postpartum, are tied to cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, which are often pre-existing conditions. Black women are over three times more likely to die in pregnancy or postpartum than White women, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Without addressing these issues, there is no way disparities in birth outcomes can be fixed.

Rachel Hardeman of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota says we need to be asking, “How do systems, policies, and social structures combine to create the conditions for poor health?”

Because of the systemic racism that has shaped many areas of the healthcare system, change needs to happen on the institutional level. When women do not have access to quality healthcare before getting pregnant, they are more likely to have high risk pregnancies that can lead to tragic results.

Prosper Waco’s Access to Healthcare working group is finding ways to ensure our community members can easily acquire quality healthcare. The group put together a brochure that will be available in local emergency rooms that encourages people to create a relationship with a primary care physician and will walk them through the process of how to establish a medical home.

Working group members are also planning their second food drive and health fair for April 30 at Connally High School. These events provide health screenings, distribute wellness information, and address food access which is directly related to general health. Pursuing these connections will allow women to address their overall health needs so that if they choose to become mothers, they will already have the support that they need in order to have a greater chance of positive birth experiences.

As a social worker in training and as a Black woman, I hope to continue to pursue equitable health practices that will provide appropriate care for the communities I engage with. We all must join together to ensure that our mothers, sisters, daughters, and neighbors are getting the care that they deserve.

Gabrielle White is a health initiatives intern with Prosper Waco. She is a Master of Social Work candidate with Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work.