Black mothers keep dying after giving birth, researchers blame racism

Black mothers keep dying after giving birth, researchers blame racism
 Tennis superstar Serena Williams recently made international headlines after telling the harrowing story of how, after giving birth to her daughter, she had to demand life-saving treatment from hospital staff who didn’t take her seriously. Her story renewed public interest in a topic that needs more attention: Black women in the U.S. are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women.

According to the CDC, a pregnancy-related death can occur not only during pregnancy but also within one year after the end of pregnancy. There has been a steady increase in U.S. pregnancy-related deaths, but Black mothers are disproportionately affected.

In Louisiana, Black women are nearly four times as likely to die within one year of birth as White women, Louisiana obstetrician Dr. Joia Crear Perry, president of National Birth Equity Collaborative, wrote in an essay for The Root. The maternal mortality rate for the state is 19.6 per 100,000 live births, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.Joia PerryWhile chronic conditions like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes are usually said to be the main culprits, research shows that some other issue may be to blame for this disparity: racism.

 In a joint investigation, NPR and ProPublica collected more than 200 stories from Black mothers, and revealed that “the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme.”

Black mothers from around the country told terrifying stories about how doctors wouldn’t believe them about health conditions until it was almost too late and even regularly dismissed their pain. These stories revealed how Black women are facing these issues regardless of education and income.



The publications also highlighted the story of Shalon Irving, a 36-year-old mother and an epidemiologist from Atlanta who collapsed and died three weeks after giving birth. She insisted to nurses, “It just doesn’t feel right” and was sent home anyway with only a prescription.

As reported by NPR, Irving was researcher working to eradicate disparities in health access and outcomes who has become a symbol of one of the most troublesome health disparities facing Black women in the U.S. today: disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality.

Chronic stress caused by racism outside of the healthcare system also influences the health of Black mothers, reproductive justice advocate Elizabeth Dawes Gay, MPH, wrote for The Nation.

“Black people experience chronic stress resulting from exposure to overt and covert racism and micro-aggression, which can range from something as basic as intentionally avoiding eye contact to the extreme of being harassed, abused, or killed by police,” Gay wrote.


Erica Garner on Time.com

Some believe this chronic stress contributed the tragic death of activist Erica Garner, daughter of the late Eric Garner. Vox reported that the stress of her father’s chokehold death by police, combined with her chronic health issues, could be the reason why the 27-year-old mother died just four months after giving birth to her second child.

“The US has failed to deal with its high rates of maternal mortality on many fronts — particularly for women of color,” Vox staff writer P.R. Lockhart wrote.

These grim statistics reveal that something needs to be done about pregnancy-related deaths among Black women. But what will the solution look like?

Gay said the first step is acknowledging racism’s role.

“We won’t go far in solving the American maternal-health problem without first acknowledging and then addressing how racism—both inside and outside the health-care setting—harms Black moms,” she said.

By Anastasia L Semien
Contributing writer
Anastasia Semien is an award-winning digital journalist whose work has been published in publications across the country. This article was featured at WeBuyBlack.com. Follow her at @AnastasiaSemien

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