Disproportionate mortality rates for Black women in childbirth

The rise in Maternal deaths in Black women. Photo courtesy NBC News

Simone Childs is a 20-year-old Tallahassee resident who is pregnant for the first time. She is acutely aware of the higher fatality rates during childbirth she and other women of color must face.

“When I give birth, I don’t want to think of the possibility of not living to see my child grow,” Childs said. “I want to be heard and reassured during my birthing process, not pushed to the side like my feelings do not matter.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study from 2007-2016 concluded that Black women are more than two times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

For Black women, the leading cause of maternal death is preeclampsia/eclampsia followed by postpartum cardiomyopathy, embolism and hemorrhage.  For white and Hispanic women, ectopic pregnancy was not the leading cause of death, whereas for Black women, that is the fifth-leading cause right after hemorrhage.

“The AMA acknowledges that, although the primary drivers of racial health inequity are systemic and structural racism, racism and unconscious bias within medical research and health-care delivery have caused and continue to cause harm to marginalized communities and society as a whole,” American Medical Association President Susan R. Bailey wrote in a recent AMA leadership viewpoint column.

The elevated risk of African American maternal death reflects on systemic racism in healthcare in the United States. Countless women are not being heard while they are giving birth and that can cause major damage in the birthing process as well as post-birth.

Tennis superstar Serena Williams, the winner of 23 grand slams, knew her body well enough to know something was wrong a day after giving birth. While having to have an emergency C-section for her daughter Olympia, the next day Williams felt it was hard to breath and tried to get help while she was still in the hospital. The nurse told her the pain medicine from giving birth must have her confused and everything was fine. After finally getting someone to listen to her, it was revealed that she had several blood clots in her lungs.

If celebrities as prominent as Williams can experience not being heard, it’s a wonder what ordinary women such as Childs could possibly go through.

To move forward and to tackle these biased standards, the health-care world has to come up with alternatives for helping Black women and improving patient to provider interactions more than they are now. The CDC suggests implementing standardized protocols in quality improvement initiatives, especially among facilities that serve disproportionately affected communities.