The United States has the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world (let that one sit with you for a moment), and that’s in large part due to the high mortality rates among Black mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 700 women die each year, and within that number, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues. Yesterday, The White House issued its first proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week, which is part of the administration’s goal of drawing attention to and openly discussing the vast racial gaps in pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths in this country.
In yesterday’s roundtable discussion, Vice President Kamala Harris and Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, listened to emotional stories and shared next steps to deal with this crisis.
From stillbirths to near-death experiences from the effects of structural racism, the stories of three Black women at The White House yesterday were all too common. Heather Wilson, who became a bereavement doula after losing her own child, said, “The number one thing I hear is, ‘They’re not listening to me.’ There were times that I felt that way, too.” Simply put, many Black women report that they often feel ignored by medical providers when health concerns and symptoms arise, which can lead to a detrimental outcome.
The administration has already begun implementing measures to combat this crisis, from investing $200 million to begin implicit bias training and create state pregnancy medical home programs to offering states the option to extend postpartum coverage to one year instead of the 60 day minimum through Medicaid (Illinois has already signed on for this). In an effort to improve access to reproductive and preventative health services, $340 million has been allocated to the Title X Family Planning program.
Within all of these new programs and measures, and it is heartening to see our political leaders finally taking a stand on this issue, I hope there is also an effort to promote more advocates for Black women on their journey to becoming a mother—through doulas, doctors, community health organizations and more. And above all else, to believe Black women when they share their concerns.