Black health professionals explain why Black women are at 3x higher risk for pregnancy related deaths

Updated: Feb. 17, 2023 at 6:20 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -We’re digging deeper into an issue we touched on Thursday--health disparities for mothers and infants in Black and Brown communities.

A Stanford study published last year found that Black mothers and their infants in the highest income brackets still fare worse than white mothers and infants in the lowest income brackets.

Black health professionals tell us one of the biggest factors that are also explained in that Stanford study is evidence of racial bias in health care, specifically, Black women feeling unheard by medical professionals when going through pregnancy.

Those we spoke to backed up that finding, not only through their own research but also through their own experience.

“The systemic issues that we’re seeing are moms and families not being heard,” said Mahogany Maternity Owner & doula Kelli Brien.

Brien says this was how she felt when she was pregnant with her first child.

“I was treated really poorly in the hospital and there was a lot of fear there because I was told I was taking too long, and that this was a problem. I was threatened with a C-section 7 times during the labor of my first child,” she said.

Her child was not breathing when he was born. While he survived, she still hasn’t gotten an explanation as to why this happened, now 25 years later. She says this is a relatable experience for many Black mothers.

“It’s a situation where Black women walk in and they know they’re going to be questioned about certain things, they’re going to be ignored about certain things, and they don’t feel safe,” Brien said.

An effort to better understand how these health disparities locally had its funding pulled earlier this week by the St. Joseph County Council due to objections with the organization that’s helping compile the data.

“The dollars are there, and we’ll happily reappropriate them to any kind of good program that actually gives women the tools they need to have healthy pregnancies,” said SJC Councilmember (Clay) Amy Drake.

One mental health expert says the health cafes these dollars were going toward are the best tool for learning why birth experiences for Black mothers can be more deadly than those for white mothers.

“This helps because it is a support group. So, it provides them with a safe space where they can talk about issues related to them and their grief and their loss, and then it provides education,” said Mental Health Professional Marla Godette.

“The understanding of how important it is to support the community on this level is just not there. There’s misunderstanding, miscommunication, and this idea that it just doesn’t hold the importance that other programs do, and we know that this impacts every aspect of the Black community,” Brien said.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women in America.

Serena Williams famously shared her near-death experience in childbirth, explaining how doctors ignored her pain and her concerns about being at higher risk of blood clots.

Doctors reluctantly tested her, only to rush her for emergency surgery moments after realizing her fears were accurate.

A high-profile athlete, who’s earned millions over her career, but still wasn’t taken seriously when talking about her own body.

As she wrote in an essay refelcting on her birth, “Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me”.

Here’s a similar scenario that happened right here in the Hoosier State that didn’t have a happy ending: