Black Maternal Mortality

Black maternal mortality is not just a statistic; it’s a pressing issue that requires our understanding, empathy, and advocacy. During Black History Month, we want to bring awareness to this topic and discuss how we, as doulas, can contribute to being part of this change. 

Understanding the Numbers

The stark reality is that Black maternal mortality rates are disproportionately high. According to recent data, Black women in the United States are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts (Njoku, 2023).

To look at those statistics in numbers, that means that, “the estimated maternal mortality rate in 2019 was 20.1 and, in 2020, was 23.8 per 100,000 births which represents about 861 maternal deaths.

For Black women, that rate is about 55.3 per 100,000 live births, representing an estimated 1800 maternal deaths, the highest amongst any racial group; this is a number that has continued to increase over the past few years.(Njoku, 2023)” These numbers not only reflect a healthcare disparity but also unveil deeper systemic issues that demand our attention.

Black Maternal Mortality Has Systemic Roots of Disparity

To address Black maternal mortality, we all must acknowledge the systemic roots of this disparity. Structural racism, socioeconomic inequalities, and healthcare access issues play significant roles in shaping the outcomes of maternal health for Black women.

It’s crucial to recognize that this is not merely a medical issue but a societal challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Many times people trying to argue against racism will say that poverty is the issue, not racism. Studies have definitively proven that Black women at all socioeconomic classes are more likely to die due to pregnancy complications. This is significant because it helps to identify racism as the root of this stark disparity. 

How Doulas Support the Non-Birthing Parent

Medical Bias and Its Impact

One critical aspect contributing to Black maternal mortality is the presence of implicit biases within the healthcare system. Studies have shown that Black women often face discrimination and inadequate care during pregnancy and childbirth.

It’s essential for healthcare professionals to recognize and confront these biases, ensuring that every expectant parent receives the care and attention they deserve, regardless of their racial background.

Access to Quality Healthcare

Ensuring access to quality healthcare is a cornerstone in the battle against maternal mortality. From prenatal care to postpartum support, every stage of maternal health should be marked by inclusivity and accessibility.

Policies that address healthcare deserts, improve Medicaid coverage, and eliminate discriminatory practices within the healthcare system are crucial steps toward achieving this goal.

Community Support and Advocacy

The power of communities coming together cannot be overstated. Local grassroots initiatives, support groups, and advocacy efforts play a pivotal role in raising awareness about Black maternal mortality. By fostering a sense of community and encouraging open dialogues, we can create environments where birthing people feel supported and heard, contributing to better maternal health outcomes.

Policy Changes for Lasting Impact on Black Maternal Mortality

Policy changes are imperative for addressing systemic issues that contribute to Black maternal mortality.

Advocating for policies that address racial disparities in healthcare, expand Medicaid, and enhance maternity leave benefits are steps in the right direction.

By actively participating in advocacy and supporting organizations working toward policy reform, we can contribute to shaping a more equitable maternal healthcare landscape.

The Role of Technology in Maternal Health

In the digital age, technology can serve as a powerful ally in maternal health. Telehealth services, mobile apps, and online resources can bridge gaps in healthcare access, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Embracing technological advancements can enhance communication between healthcare providers and expectant parents, ensuring continuous support and monitoring throughout the pregnancy journey.

What’s our role as doulas? 

As doulas, we have a few roles in helping to address Black maternal mortality. First, we need to be  fiercer advocates for our Black birthing clients.

Being aware of test results that providers run, their recommendations, and looking for instances where our Black clients are getting different recommendations than our other clients are all ways doulas can be extra present.

We can make sure that during labor and birth that our client’s birth partners are an active and primary part of the team and that medical providers make sure to include them.

Doulas need to be  sure to look out for pre-eclampsia symptoms and remind the birthing person and their support people of how it can manifest.

Most importantly, we ALWAYS believe our client.

We advocate for them to nurses and the medical team. As white women, we work hard to collaborate with nurses and providers, but are not afraid to  push and/or question them when needed.

In the birth space, we are able to, and MUST, use our privilege to advocate for our clients. 

Another goal  Big Fat Pregnancy is   working hard to achieve is to be available to clients that need our services. We were some of the first doulas in Washington state to get state certification.

This will allow us to offer our services to medicaid patients as soon as the state designates the funds (hopefully available in 2025). In the meantime, we hope to be able to offer sliding scale services to clients that need it. 

Postpartum Essentials - a line art drawing of a mother and father cradling each other and a newborn on the father's shoulder with a beige background with green water color circle and gold glitter accents

We currently don’t have the load that allows this, but it is very important that we get this established as soon as we can. In the state of Washington, there are many  changes happening in the legislature around maternal mortality and birth workers. We spend time in these spaces so we can be aware of what changes may happen that can better serve our clients.

Lastly, we pursue training and education created and taught by Black educators, content creators, and other birth workers.

A Call to Action

As we conclude our exploration of Black maternal mortality, let’s remember that change begins with awareness and compassion. It’s incumbent upon each of us to play a role in fostering a society where every birthing person, regardless of their racial background, can experience pregnancy and childbirth with the dignity and care they deserve.

By understanding the systemic issues at play, addressing medical biases, promoting education, ensuring access to quality healthcare, fostering community support, advocating for policy changes, and embracing technology, we can collectively work towards reducing Black maternal mortality rates and creating a more just and equitable future. 

We must stand united in our commitment to nurturing change—one that ensures every birthing person’s journey is marked by safety, support, and the celebration of life. Together, we can make a difference.

Sources: Njoku, A., Evans, M., Nimo-Sefah, L., & Bailey, J. (2023). Listen to the Whispers before They Become Screams: Addressing Black Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in the United States. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 11(3), 438.

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