Why is there a Black maternal health crisis?
Rachel Nicks, a certified doula and fitness expert, is an In The Know by Yahoo parenting contributor. Check out her site, Birth Queen, and follow her on Instagram for more.
What comes to mind when you hear the words:
I ask this because there is a Black maternal health crisis in our country right now. Black women die at three to five times the rate of white women during childbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in New York City, they die at 12 times the rate of white women. Not only that, but Black babies are at least twice as likely not to reach their first birthday.
The next question I will ask you: Why is there a Black maternal health crisis?
Leaders in positions of power might say this is due to poverty, immigration, Black women with pre-existing conditions, obesity or a lack of education, but these are gross misconceptions.
The fact is, no one deserves to die in childbirth. Period. All women and birthing people have the right to a safe, supported, empowered and beautiful birth experience, something the U.S. is failing to achieve.
So what is killing Black birthing people and babies?
Our health care system has deeply embedded medical racism. It manifests as conscious and unconscious bias. It can be blatant negligent care, a simple dismissal of a request or concern or an assumption based on prejudice. Unfortunately, these biases are costing Black women and babies their lives.
I will share with you some tangible solutions, so please keep reading because this article will end on a positive and hopeful note. But it is also necessary to understand how we got here.
In the 1860s, Dr. J. Marion Sims was working on fine-tuning the Cesarean section. He practiced on pregnant enslaved women without anesthesia. As a result of many of the women surviving, he reportedly deduced that Black women don’t feel pain in the same way as white women. This absurd fallacy still lingers today and is the cause of the rampant negligent care of Black women in the American health system.
I suffered every single night of my third trimester during the summer of 2020, pregnant with my second Black son. At first, I and others blamed the pregnancy until I realized racism was the cause. Fear was the cause of my anxiety. I was terrified to bring another Black man into this world, and I was afraid of not surviving his birth.
I am a Juilliard-trained actor, MIRROR trainer, doula and lactation counselor. I have an education, resources and support. But after birthing my son, I had a lot of bleeding. As they were trying to stop it, I implored, “Please do what you have to do because I don’t want to die.” There is no escaping the fear, pain and trauma of being Black in America.
I founded Birth Queen in March of 2021 when my son Baldwin was 6 months old and my older son Samuel was 3. We cannot continue to let Black mothers and babies suffer and die. It must stop. How? When Black care providers support and care for Black birthing people, there are positive outcomes. Birth Queen’s mission is to provide education, resources and the support of midwives, doulas and lactation counselors to Black birthing people. Birth Queen also funds training for black birth workers, midwives, doulas and lactation counselors.
Hearing about this crisis is devastating. Trust me; I get it. I ask that you make the choice to focus on the solution. If everyone commits to bringing this crisis to the attention of everyone they know, and each of those people continues to discuss the crisis and solution, change will happen. If you feel helpless, imagine not surviving your birth or your baby not seeing their first birthday. You would want people to not only talk about how sad it is, but you would also want them to take action.
Here are some ways to commit to change:
Discuss the crisis and solution with everyone you know.
Call out racism when you see it.
Join the @BirthQueenorg family on Instagram, and visit BirthQueen.org to learn and donate.
Give the gift of a midwife, doula or lactation counselor to a Black mother.
Together we can end the passing down of generational racial trauma for Black families. Every family has the right to enter and exit the birthing experience feeling supported and empowered.
Photo credit: Say Jess Photography
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