For the first time ever, a presidential proclamation marked the second week of April as Black Maternal Health Week. The current administration made the announcement as part of a broader effort to highlight racial gaps in pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths and complications in the United States.
Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a round table discussion on the topic along with Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, to bring awareness to the issue and to start finding solutions for the unconscionably high mortality death rates among Black women.
Kamala Harris Characterized the Situation as a Black ‘Maternal Health Crisis’ in Her Opening Remarks.
“Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis,” Kamala Harris said to open the dialogue. “We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias,” Harris added.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, driven mostly by the high mortality rates among Black mothers.
Approximately 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or its complications, according to the CDC, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.
Unfortunately, the issue isn’t only one for Black mothers, it’s also dangerous for their children. Black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants: 10.8 per 1,000 Black babies, compared with 4.6 per 1,000 white babies. Twice!
The discussion touched on these disparities by giving the floor to three Black women who shared their birth experiences. Each highlighted how structural racism led to stillbirths and near-death experiences. Often, the women said, doctors simply didn’t take their health concerns and symptoms seriously until it was too late.
“The number one thing I hear is, ‘They’re not listening to me,’” Heather Wilson said at the roundtable, who lost her own child and became a bereavement doula to help other families navigate their loss. “There were times that I felt that way, too.”
“We just need to be listened to and heard, especially when it comes to pain throughout the reproductive system,” explained Erica McAfee, founder and chief executive of Sisters in Loss, a podcast that features mothers who tell their own stories of loss.
Elizabeth Howell, chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania, urged the round table participants to consider the larger implications as maternal and infant mortality is also just one part of maternal health.
“For every maternal death, over 100 women experience a severe complication related to pregnancy and childbirth — something we call severe maternal morbidity, and it impacts over 50,000 women in the United States every year,” Dr. Howell shared.
“Similar to maternal mortality, Black and brown women have elevated rates of maternal morbidity,” the doctor continued.
According to the current presidential administration, legislation has been put forward to address these issues. Through the American Rescue Plan, which passed in March, the legislation earmarked $30 million for implicit bias training for health care providers and a provision that allows states to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year.
Illinois became the first state to do just that, one day ahead of the round table. It is expected to improve health outcomes for Black mothers and patients.
We know there is so much more to be done around Black Maternal Health, but the round table really did put a spotlight on it. The discussion provided an impetus for all the healthcare workers to do better as the only way we can end this “crisis” is through more education and policy that leads to more equitable care.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
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