There are so many aspects that we need to work on to create lasting change- but one that hits closest to home for me since I am so involved in women’s health is maternal healthcare inequality. As a practitioner who is passionate about women’s health, after I began researching I was honestly embarrassed to realize the extent of my ignorance on this issue. I pledge to do better in continuing to educate myself, looking at my own unconscious bias as well as spreading awareness and donating to organizations which are making meaningful change.
Did you know that Black women in the USA are 3-4 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts? In New York City, the rate is 12 times higher.
Why is this happening? I’ve been reading through many articles on the topic, and while I still have a lot of learning to do, I’ve found that researchers agree it has little to nothing to do with lifestyle factors (diet, etc), access to high quality healthcare or any genetic predisposition.
According to Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, research shows that “Black women who live in affluent neighborhoods, receive prenatal care in the first trimester, are normal weight, and have advanced degrees are still more likely to die or have their baby die than white women in poor neighborhoods, with no prenatal care, who are obese, and don’t have a high school diploma.”
We must do better. The main factors that researchers believe are responsible for increased maternal and infant mortality in the USA are implicit (unconscious) bias on the part of healthcare practitioners as well as “weathering”, which is the cumulative physical effects of exposure to discrimination, leading to poorer health outcomes.
What can we do? I am still learning and researching, but studies show that one solution is making free or low cost doulas available for pregnant people who can’t afford them. This additional support during pregnancy and postpartum results in improved outcomes and can literally be a lifesaving solution. We must support the community organizations that provide doula services so that they can serve more women and fairly compensate the doulas. This is not the only solution, but does help to fill in the gaps while our society works to address the underlying issue of racism.
- Read Chapter 8 of the book “Babies are Not Pizzas” by Rebecca Dekker, RN, PhD. This chapter has generously been made available for free online- scroll to the bottom of the page for the pdf
- Read through some of the articles on this page from Every Mother Counts, especially the first section on “The Impact of Systemic Racism on Black Maternal Health”. Please read a few articles, but if you’re just going to pick one from this list, I recommend this one.
- Watch this short TED Talk to learn more about the effects of cumulative stress during pregnancy as well as the clinic model described in the third action step (below)
- Donate to a community based doula organization in your area so that they may serve more pregnant people and improve health outcomes both for mothers and babies. Here in NYC and the northern NJ area, Ancient Song Doula Services and Village Birth International are wonderful options.
- Donate to organizations directly working on advocacy and policy change such as Black Mamas Matter Alliance
- Donate to the Commonsense Childbirth National Perinatal Task Force, which works to help people establish community clinics called “Perinatal Safe Spots” across the country which make birth and perinatal care safer for women.