Black Maternity/Parent Health: Why are Black Women Dying When Giving Birth?

Black people are the blueprint of the medical field, yet the doctor’s office is one of the most uncomfortable places for us to be. 

The mistrust isn’t without good reason and has grown naturally as our bodies were poked and prodded without consent for centuries. Despite our bodies being used to test scientific hypotheses, those conclusions haven’t been used to save us. 

When it comes to birth and maternity/parenthood, Black women face high risks. We are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. The disparity has existed for centuries and has even impacted our babies. The infant mortality rate among enslaved people in 1850 was twice that of whites, and less than two out of three Black children lived to see the age of ten.

Our bodies weren’t seen as valuable or human but as test subjects. 

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a mother of 5, went to the doctor for vaginal bleeding. It’s very likely she had no idea that she was about to become the mother of modern medicine.

It turned out that Lacks had cervical cancer. 

Cells collected during her exam went on to be used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. 

One of their most recent applications has been in research for vaccines against COVID-19.

None of the biotechnology or other companies that profited from her cells passed any money back to her family.

The truth is that most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable and Black women are more likely to experience preventable maternal death compared with white women.

We are more likely to experience maternal health complications than white women. That can be linked to systemic social challenges like lack of access to quality care due to environments.

A majority of Black women will give birth in areas that predominantly serve Black people, which as we know are often underfunded and understaffed. Black-serving hospitals have higher rates of maternal complications than other hospitals.

The system fails Black people even before they conceive. There is often a lack of access to contraceptive care and counseling.

So what’s a solution? Doctors and medical staff have to do better at treating our pain, acknowledging it, and caring for us. Black people deserve quality care. 

Some parents are also turning to birth doulas to help them navigate their pregnancies. Doulas can work as advocates for people giving birth. They also offer emotional support that we don’t usually find in a medical environment.

Doulas are an option for those who feel unsafe and unheard. However, real change is needed here to keep Black people alive when giving birth.

About Brianna Milon

Brianna is local media professional who loves writing, watching Netflix, and playing with her dog, Weenie and her cat, Fancy. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at SUNY Brockport and was heavily involved in the campus radio station. Brianna also co-hosts a radio show, “Fat, Black, and Femme”, on 100.9 WXIR. You can find out more on Facebook and Blogspot.

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