Despite all the modern advances in medical care, pregnancy and birthing can be dangerous for women of color. Massachusetts boasts some of the best hospitals in the world, yet here in the Bay State, Black women are nearly two times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
It's a sobering statistic, and racism is largely to blame, local experts told Callie Crossley on Basic Black. Black women are often disregarded and ignored when raising concerns about their symptoms.
Liz Miranda, state representative for Suffolk County’s 5th District, comprising areas of Roxbury and Dorchester, had a personal experience with infant mortality when her sister's daughter was born premature at 21 weeks and passed away.
"My sister was sent home and told that she was just being anxious, so to take Tylenol and go to sleep, and she went into early labor," said Miranda, who is also a candidate for state senator for the 2nd Suffolk District.
Miranda created a commission to study the issue of maternal health at the state level. She noted that even among Black women of different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, the rates of complications and deaths did not change.
"So what we know is this is about racism, right? This is not a situation where if you are smarter, have a partner, make more money as a Black woman that actually your outcomes are getting better. And so, we need to focus on addressing the racism that is structural in our institutions," Miranda said.
Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, Ph.D., assistant dean, associate professor and founder of the Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice at Tufts University, confronts maternal health disparities in her job all the time.
Amutah-Onukagha said pregnancy is a stress test on the body, and "we still see Black women not getting the quality of care they deserve." She said even with her work and experience, she was nervous to get pregnant.
One thing that can help to move the needle is to have more physicians of color.
"In a case where infants were treated by Black doctors, the likelihood of infant mortality was actually cut in half. That is significant, because we know that for Black infants … they're more than twice as likely to die than their white counterparts," said Amutah-Onukagha.
Another key in helping Black women and their babies achieve better outcomes is the use of doulas, who are not only professional labor assistants, but also emotional and psychological advocates for the patient.
Ketura’h Edwards-Robinson is a doula and nurse practitioner and manager of the Maternal Child Health Program at the Dimock Center in Roxbury.
She said progress will require ushering forward policies, gathering more data, educating pregnant women and improving postpartum care. Half of maternal deaths happen after a woman gives birth, and institutions are not managing data on such issues after 60 days postpartum.
"For the women who I guess are lucky enough to not have to pass away from giving birth, there are still other long-term chronic issues that women still face after giving birth such as postpartum depression, pelvic floor dysfunction, or just a just poor adjustment to being a new parent," Edwards-Robinson said.
Watch: Basic Black: Black Maternal Health
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