On April 11, the Black Mama’s Matter Alliance launched the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17) to promote awareness about the high mortality rate for Black mothers in the United States.
According to the Black Mama’s Matter Alliance, the events of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week “serve to amplify the voices of Black mamas and center the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements. Activities during BMHW are rooted in human rights, reproductive justice, and birth justice frameworks.”
Activists wrote articles, launched digital campaigns, hosted webinars, held movie screenings, and facilitated community discussions in several states to bring attention to the dangerous health crisis that impacts Black mothers and their children, families, and communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black mothers die at more than 3 times the rate of white mothers due to pregnancy related conditions and complications nationally. In Texas, the state Maternal Mortality Task Force found that while Black women only account for 11.4% of all births, Black women constituted 28.4% of maternal deaths in the state. In New York City, Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than their white counterparts.
Black maternal mortality gained media attention after Serena Williams, internationally recognized tennis champion, almost died after giving birth to her daughter in September of 2017. She had previously suffered from a pulmonary embolism and when she felt shortness of breath after having a C-section, she quickly alerted her medical team. She was rushed back into surgery where the doctors were able to save her life. Williams’ experience is very similar to that of many other Black mothers in the United States. In 2017, an NPR and ProPublica report told the story of Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just three weeks after giving birth, Irving died from postpartum blood pressure complications. A report on maternal morbidity in New York City released in 2016, reported Black women with advanced degrees are more likely to die from childbirth complications than white women without a high school diploma.
According to several studies, the reason for the higher rate of Black maternal mortality is due to systemic social inequalities and racial biases in the medical profession. Studies have shown that doctors often take the pain of women and Black patients less seriously, and therefore fail to prescribe the appropriate medication. Additionally, research has found that many medical professionals still hold baseless presumptions of biological difference between Black and white people. resulting in a lower quality of care for Black patients.
Media resources: NPR 12/7/2017; New York Times 4/11/2018; Feminist Majority Blog 8/24/2017; Rewire News 4/11/2018, 4/17/2018; CNN 2/20/2018; Black Mamas Matter Alliance; The Guardian 8/10/2016