It’s a problem we all know about, and one that just keeps getting worse. A new shadow report, written for the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, examines the ongoing crisis of maternal mortality for African-American women, which I wrote about in my latest article for Colorlines.
“Over the last 40 years, the rate of black women dying in childbirth has been three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. For example, in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, there are 94 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for black women—three times the national average. The white maternal mortality rate in the same county is essentially zero—too insignificant to report. In Chicksaw County, Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is higher than those in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Rwanda.”
It’s so upsetting to see this crisis worsen, and wonder whether there is any political will to really address it. The report also includes anecdotal evidence from two focus groups conducted in Mississippi and Georgia by Sistersong, where black women shared their experiences with health care. Unsurprisingly, there were many accounts of racism, miseducation and disrespect experienced.
One woman from Jackson, Mississippi, shared that her doctor had assumed she wouldn’t be able to use birth control effectively: “After I had the baby, and I went back for my checkup…[the doctor] told me, ‘I’ll see you in six weeks.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said I’d be pregnant again.” Others described prenatal and labor experiences where they didn’t feel their providers adequately informed them of their options. Another woman from Jackson had this to say: “We really don’t have a lot of good experiences when it comes to having childbirth, especially because we’re poor…Why are all these women having caesareans? Was it really necessary for me?…You have more black women having caesareans. Now I’m questioning.”
I didn’t include this in the article, but Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of Sistersong, told me that doulas and midwives were brought up in both focus groups. While we may not be able to solve maternal mortality on our own, we may be able to improve individual women’s health care experiences by providing support and resources.
The report also addressed lack of access to health care because of immigration status for Latina women living in South Texas.
My only hope is that the more we raise the alarm about this problem, the more likely we are to see steps taken to address it.