Roughly 700 women in the United States die each year from pregnancy-related complications, according to the Center for Disease Control. But black women, in particular, face the highest maternal mortality rate, as they are four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women.
On Monday, Feb. 25, during this year’s Texas Legislative Black Caucus Summit, the Black Mamas Community Collective – a group of researchers, social workers, policy makers, public health professionals, and community activists – held a panel discussion and press conference to highlight the need to address the alarming maternal mortality rate among black women.
Jaymie Rivera-Clemente, a certified doula and a member of the Collective, spoke about her traumatic birth experiences during the panel. Poor communication from doctors and nurses put unnecessary stress on her and the babies. Prior to her third delivery, Rivera-Clemente said she went to the hospital to deliver, but was turned down. “I go home, and in less than half an hour, my water breaks,” explained Rivera-Clemente. “Thirty minutes back, then I get a nurse who doesn’t listen to me.” According to Rivera-Clemente, the nurse disregarded her chart and medication needs. “I wanted to enjoy my labor and delivery. I wanted this lovely process.” As she recalled the trauma of her postpartum experience, she became emotional, saying: “I love my baby. … I did not want him when he came out. There was an instant disconnect. I fought through that constantly.”
Dr. Michele Rountree, an associate professor at the UT Steve Hicks School of Social Work, highlighted the importance of both research opportunities and newly tested interventions that are culturally relevant for black women. Often times, Rountree said, black women underutilize resources for physical and mental health care due to a long history of racial abuse within medical institutions. Various studies have shown that racial and ethnic bias among clinicians still abounds today. According to Rountree, black women who experience higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths do so regardless of income, education, or marital status, further highlighting implicit biases.
Texas Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, echoed this, noting: “Whether you’re a Medicaid mom or an African-American woman with top-notch health care … whether you’re 20 years old with a high school degree or you have a Ph.D.,” black women and mothers are “asking to be heard and are not being listened to.” In January, Thierry filed House Bill 607 to address identity-based disparities in health care services by requiring bias and cultural competency trainings as a licensing requirement for physicians of general practice, pediatrics, obstetrics, or gynecology.
The stressors faced by black women from institutional racism and oppression contribute greatly to pregnancy-related deaths. According to Rountree, social determinants of health – such as access to educational, economic, and job opportunities – as well as community-based resources and support account for many health outcomes, and the Black Mamas Community Collective aims to change these external and contextual factors. “We refuse to believe that these statistics are acceptable or even remotely okay,” Rountree said. “We must do better; we can do better.”
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