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I am currently 39 1/2 weeks pregnant. And I'm terrified. Not because of the pending labor pains of childbirth (although that is a very real fear at times) but because I am a Black woman and I'm three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.
Earlier this week Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote an op-ed for Essence highlighting her plan to resolve maternal mortality rates among Black women in the United States. For Black moms, particularly those living in rural areas, it's an epidemic.
Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, says, "The vast majority of maternal deaths are preventable, but decades of racism and discrimination mean that, too often, doctors and nurses don't hear Black women's health issues the same way they hear them from other women."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted research between 2011 and 2014 discovered "considerable racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality exist, with 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women compared to 40 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black women."
Personally, I didn't experience any complications with my first child and I never felt racism was a factor during my stay at a New York hospital almost three years ago, but that hasn't been the case for other Black women. In fact, some of my friends have experienced these issues during labor and delivery. One friend in particular felt belittled and undervalued by the nurses on staff.
"These are structural problems that require structural solutions, and as they have so often in the past, Black women and activists are leading the way," Warren writes.
Her plan is simple: Hold health systems accountable for protecting Black mothers. If health systems are able to reduce maternal death rates for Black women (and increase survival rates) then they will earn a bonus. If they are unable to decrease the rates, "money will be taken away from them," says Warren.
Women of all races deserve proper childbirth-related care and shouldn't have to pay extra money to ensure their needs will be met. I'm thankful Warren (along with senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris) is on the front line demanding better outcomes.
It's time we take care of our Black mothers and children.