The Truth About Black Women and Their Babies In America by Desirae Ofori
I was 22 weeks pregnant (about 5 months) with my second child, when my friend text me to ask if I had heard about Black Maternal Health week. She said that I should check it out and post something about it.
First, I searched the hashtag, decided to do a little research then dug around the Black Mamas Matter Alliance website. What I found left me in shock!
Being a woman of color, a black mother, a melanin mommy, I was even in more shock that I had no clue that what I found was even a “thing”! I knew in general there were issues with maternal health and birth in the U.S., but I didn’t realize there was a crisis among black women.
I wanted to be a part of raising awareness and needed to do more than just a social media post and a hashtag.
So What Did I Find Out?
I discovered that in the United States Black women and their babies are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than any other race – specifically, more than white women.
I also learned that this is not an issue singled out to just women and children of low income households and communities. College educated and middle class women and their children are dying as well; and in some cases at a higher rate.
The black maternal health crisis is also happening to the rich and famous. Take Beyoncé and Serena Williams both are black women, in great shape, with access to the best of the best in professional healthcare – yet both experienced pregnancy and childbirth related challenges.
And it doesn’t stop there.
“Neonatologists James Collins and Richard David believe that African American women are at increased risk during pregnancy, not because of something innate to their biology, but because of the cumulative impact of racism they experience over their lifetime – an impact that can outweigh even the benefits of higher social and class status.
To demonstrate their theory, Drs. Collins and David showed that African immigrants to the U.S. and U.S.-born white women had similar birth outcomes, yet African American women tended to have babies that weighed significantly less. Moreover, they showed that the results changed over time: outcomes for the African-born group worsened within one generation and became comparable to the African American group.” – Paragraph excerpt from Unnatural Causes Documentary Series, Episode 2 “When the Bough Breaks”.
This new knowledge became more than a social media post and a few hashtags. I felt like this was a cause that I could connect with on a personal level, not just because I was a pregnant black woman, but because I could easily fall into many of the determinants that put a black mother and her baby at risk for death.
After I shared my thoughts and my experience on social media, I also knew that posting would just be the start of something more for me.
Show Me the Numbers
Florida Charts, 2017
- From 2015 to 2017, in Florida, for every 100,000 babies born the black maternal death rate was 130.6 compared to white maternal death rate of 40.2.
- Black babies are 3.5 times more likely to die in Polk county (Florida) communities before their first birthday.
- The state of Florida infant mortality rate is 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births.
- Our Polk County infant mortality rate is higher than the state at 7.8
- The data reflects Polk county black infant mortality is 16.6 deaths per 1,000 live births as compared to 5.4 and 4.6 deaths for whites and Hispanics respectively.
So How Do We Save Black Mothers and Babies?
Here are some ways you can help, as we work towards narrowing in to eliminate the highest causes of death.
Raise awareness by talking about the disparity and educating your family, friends and community (of all races). Encourage black mothers to not be afraid to speak up to healthcare professionals or even find a new provider when they feel dismissed or unheard. Participate in research opportunities and share honestly about your experience. Get involved with community events and groups related to closing the black maternal health disparity gap.
Last year, I was invited to join the Polk Florida Healthy Babies Community Action Group to aide in research and creating solutions to close the disparity gap. We want to find ways to help decrease the number of black women and babies that are dying in our county. This is also a pilot program with hopes to implement in other counties across the state of Florida.
We are open to receiving more people from the community and professionals who want to be apart of this group. You can contact Dr. Lynn Marshall for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melanin Families Matter Event
March 9th, 2019 the Polk Florida Healthy Babies Community Action Group is hosting the first annual Melanin Families Matter event. This a FREE event with food at no cost, activities for children, door prizes, pampering, community services, vendors, and information. The day will also include a panel from local birth health professionals, a fatherhood panel, nutrition education, and free car seat install safety checks! The event will be held at Lakeland Regional Health’s Pavilion for Women and Children.
You can RSVP to Dr. Lynn Marshall (863-223-6258 / email@example.com) or Taylor Freeman (863-578-2141 / firstname.lastname@example.org).
However, in the meantime or if you’re not able to attend this free event, please check out the resources I’ve listed below to learn more about the Black Maternal Health Disparity to educate others and spread awareness of this American crisis.
** Special thanks to Tonya Akwetey, MPH – Community Liaison/FIMR Coordinator for Healthy Start Coalition of Hardee, Highlands & Polk Counties – on her help with providing the stats and some of the resources listed below. **
Resources – Websites, Articles, and Videos
Black Mamas Matter Alliance – Founders of the Black Maternal Health Week
“Death by Delivery” – Video Documentary by The Naked Truth
“When the Bough Breaks” – Video Documentary by Unnatural Causes
Polk Health Officials Address Racial Disparities in Infant Deaths – Article by Marilyn Meyer in The Lakeland Ledger
Racial Disparities in Maternal Mortality in the United States: The Postpartum Period Is a Missed Opportunity for Action – Article by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology
Racism Is The Root, Sustaining Cause Of Black Infant Mortality – Article by Dr. Joia Crear Perry on Essence.com
Serena Williams: What my life-threatening experience taught me about giving birth – Article by Serena Williams on CNN.com
Beyoncé in Her Own Words: Her Life, Her Body, Her Heritage- Article by Beyoncé on Vogue.com
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