Wellness Wednesday: Childbearing Woes – Why are America’s Moms, Especially Black Moms, Dying During Childbirth?

Healthy moms. Healthy babies. It should be a priority for every society.

But, sadly, it hasn’t been for us. Last month, we were reminded of that when the National Center for Health Statistics released a study showing a dramatic rise in already-troubling statistics. Its 2020 maternal mortality data showed that our nation’s maternal and infant health emergency worsened. A lot worse. Both the rate of women dying during pregnancy or soon after giving birth, and the disparities in who is affected, rose sharply. The new study found that maternal mortality in the United States rose sharply from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 to 23.8 in 2020. This is unsettling, to say the least!

What’s Going on Here?

Moms of color accounted for the increase, with Black and Hispanic moms showing significantly higher maternal mortality rates than others. In fact, maternal deaths among Black women rose from 44 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 to 55 in 2020. One-third of the pregnant women and new mothers who died in 2020 were Black; that’s much higher than Black women’s percentage of the population. Black women now face nearly three times higher risk of maternal mortality than White women. Our maternal mortality rate isn’t just higher than that of every other industrialized country. It’s getting worse.

She Who Feels it, Knows it

This issue is very personal to me. I’m a mom who has experienced the shortcomings in our maternal health care system, a doula who works to support and protect other moms, and an advocate fighting to improve maternal health.

I have four children from three births. With each delivery, health care providers ignored my needs, preferences, and choices. With each birth, I was pressured, even bullied, by providers. With each delivery, my experience was more traumatic than it needed to be. I know I am not alone. Many who are reading this have either experienced this or know a mom who has.

With my first birth, my doctor suggested my baby would die if I failed to comply with his advice. Like many first-time mothers, I was anxious scared. Let me ask you a question – do you think that added pressure helped me birth a healthier child? The answer is obvious.

Experience is the Best … Well … You Know

My second birth was twins; the incredibly rare twinning type meant additional risks associated with the delivery, so I did a lot of research. I wanted to be sure I was informed to be a real partner in making decisions. But when I spoke up asked questions, my doctor was not interested in having a conversation or answering my questions. It was emotional blackmail.

With my last birth. I told my obstetrician beforehand about my earlier experiences and how important communication was to me. Still, I had to send him out of the room during labor before he would talk to, instead of at, me. Listen! Our minds and bodies already experience seemingly insurmountable odds as we look forward to seeing the light in the eyes of that beautiful baby girl and envision the promise for a peaceful future for that little boy. Why won’t they listen? I have four healthy children, but I see these problems repeatedly with my doula clients.

Real Problems Require Real Solutions

Several recent developments may provide solutions. One such development is the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, which President Biden signed on November 30, 2021. It will help improve maternal and infant health, reduce maternal mortality and improve veterans’ health by ensuring the Department of Veterans Affairs provides high-quality maternal health programs veterans deserve. It will also support a comprehensive study to examine the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans, emphasizing racial and ethnic disparities. There are more than half a million women veterans under age 40 in our country, so its enactment will help make childbirth in America safer — but that is only one part of what lawmakers need to do.

The Protecting Moms Who Served Act is part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which has eleven other provisions that are also urgent priorities. The Momnibus Act includes funds to address social determinants of health, support diversification of the perinatal health workforce, provide grants to improve maternal mental health, strengthen federal maternal health programs, and support anti-bias training for health care professionals. Its enactment would save lives and improve the health of mothers and babies. It is long, long overdue. The U.S. House of Representatives passed critical provisions from the Momnibus Act in the Build Back Better Act, but the Senate has not.

It’s time to change that. Maternal health truly is a public health emergency in our country. We must change that, and we can. I hope you will help us make pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum safer for all women by taking action here.

If we have not learned anything else, there are a few things we must keep in mind:

  1. Black moms need additional support and action to beat the odds during childbirth.
  2. Our children deserve a fighting chance.
  3. Nobody should stand idly by if you can make a difference. Take action.
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