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Raising Awareness: Black Maternal Health Week

black maternal health Apr 12, 2022

This week many people, organizations, and institutions will ‘raise the roof’ around the topic of Black Maternal Health here in the United States. Which is part of the ongoing attempt to enact actual change for real people trying to have a safe and preferably sacred pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. 

Are you not familiar with the term “raise the roof?” It means to raise a BIG RUCKUS! Make noise! Demand Action! Call attention to the problem!

This year marks five years for a recognized and dedicated week for Black Maternal Health. The feelings wrapped up in needing a week to highlight the issues are intense, but I am glad there is a concerted effort to make change happen.

I attended New York State’s first symposia on the topic of maternal mortality in February of 2018. I was shocked and appalled at discovering the institutional and state/country-wide disorganization, lack of data tracking, and general in-action on this issue. I was relieved-somewhat - that the New York Academy of Medicine was creating a coalition to tackle the problem. They acknowledged the issues that have historically created the problem and that these issues are present even now. 

Each year in the United States, approximately 700 women and birthing people die because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related complication. With Black non-Hispanic women dying at a rate of 3:1 of white women. The numbers have greatly improved here in New York State since 2006 when the disparity was 6:1; the current number is still unacceptably high at 3.4:1.

I don’t do much work directly related to birth, as you know. However, I do tend to see people before and after their births. Many babywearing consultants are working with families during this time. One way I try to support my families is to talk about birth doulas and the need for another person to support and advocate for the birthing parent. I discuss how babywearing will help bond the family and increase their chance for calmness and peace during the postpartum. Babywearing can be a critical part of postpartum recovery. If a woman has a calm baby, she can focus on what is happening with her and her body. 

Unfortunately, what I can do is not enough. I teach about bias, specifically implicit bias, in relation to working with families as a babywearing consultant. I’ve spoken to several hospital administrators and asked how they combat implicit and explicit bias and overt racism on the floors of their hospital. Currently, there is no clear and proven path to creating permanent change for healthcare providers. I believe this is partly because working on recognizing and then changing your biases is hard work. It requires a person to be reflective and have the desire to change their thoughts and subsequent behaviors. That personal work never ends either. It is not ‘one-and-done’ type of work. 

If you think I am making a mountain out of a molehill: here is another statistic to ponder. When comparing the USA to other industrialized nations, we consistently rank the WORST(!) in overall maternal health outcomes. We have a higher risk of death and severe outcomes for all birthing people, but that is TRIPLE if you are birthing while black. 

I am pleased with any improvements but remain outraged at the lack of uproar by a consensus of our population. Black families are an integral part of our communities, and deserve to be heard, seen, and treated with dignity and respect. 

I know action is important, and here are a few ways I have thought of that you can help this week. 

  • If you live in the USA, your letter, call, email, or in-person visit to your representative to ask what they are going to do to improve these numbers is the minimum you can do. 
  • You can ask hospitals about their maternal mortality rates and let them know you will be sharing it with the families you serve
  • You can find the organizations in your community that offer sliding scale and no-cost services to families in need, especially those serving Black families. 
  • You can donate to those organizations, too, if you can. 
  • You can consider your own biases and spend time understanding how they might impact others.
  • You can reply to me and share additional thoughts that we, as babywearing educators and consultants, can make a difference in the lives of the women and birthing parents in your communities. 

This topic is tough, and I know the desire to help and make a difference is part of your DNA. Perhaps the most important thing you can do today is remember all families want to be able to love, snuggle and thrive throughout their pregnancy and postpartum, just like you wanted. However, you can support them - I encourage you to do so. 


Get more information: 

Statistics: CDC Reproductive Health Statistics

Bills to support: 

HR 959 Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021