Black mothers and babies are at risk

The Marblehead Racial Justice Team discussed some of the factors impacting the healthcare of Black women which cannot be explained by age, marital status, education, or class mobility. Photo by Andrae Ricketts

The Marblehead Racial Justice Team (MRJT) discussed how our healthcare system is failing women of color and their babies at an alarming and disproportionate rate this past Tuesday.

During the discussion, a TED MED video, “How the U.S. Medical Community Fails Black Mothers” was shown. In it, Maternal Care Reformer Wanda Irving discussed the tragic loss of her daughter, who died in the weeks following childbirth as a direct result of  “the covert bias of her medical provider.”

According to Irving, statistics show that Black women are nearly 300 percent more likely to die due to pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications than white women. This risk has remained steady for six decades, and 60 percent of maternal deaths of Black women in the U.S. are medically preventable. After her own daughter’s highly preventable death, Irving, who now must raise her granddaughter, has dedicated her life to challenging the systematic inequalities and racism that pollute healthcare.

“The choice to have a child should never equate to a death sentence,” Irving said.

According to the MRJT, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed nations. Black women are almost 3 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than their white counterparts. And Black infants are 2.4 times more likely to die within the first year of life than white infants.

A guest speaker who has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons shared her traumatizing healthcare experience with the team Tuesday. When pregnant with her now 6-year-old son, she was told by a specialist that she had an incompetent cervix and her only option was abortion, otherwise she would miscarry or have a severe preterm birth. She asked for another option, a cervical cerclage, to prevent preterm birth, and was denied this option.

“I felt like if I could just talk to one more person. If you could just advocate for yourself differently. If you could have just used a more compelling argument. If you could just network a little bit deeper. If you could have just been able to convince one more person because there’s a lot of research around it and I didn’t like that miscarriage was the answer.”

Four months later when her water broke early, she rushed to the hospital. She was put on bed rest and her doctor finally recommended a late-term cervical cerclage. This was the only option she had to save her baby, and delayed his birth by four weeks.

Due to her mistreatment by the medical community and the resulting trauma she endured, she faced mental health struggles for many years following her pregnancy.

“I did not medically or physically almost die, but the anxiety, the stress, and the feeling of failure almost killed me,” she said.