A Pregnant Black Woman

Posted on: April 11, 2023 | Doula Pregnant black woman

Way back in the late 1900’s, I was a 19 year old pregnant black woman.

My plan? I would go to the hospital, have a baby, and come home as a new mother. 

Fear regarding pregnancy or birth never entered my mind.

My mother had given birth 3 times without medication or incident. I never really heard anything about my aunts or grandmother’s birth experiences. No one was telling me stories that included birth trauma, or stillbirths, and I hadn’t heard of anyone I knew dying during childbirth… 

But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1982 and 1996, the annual maternal mortality ratio fluctuated between approximately 7-8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. 

For white women, it was 5-6 per 100,000 live births, but the ratios for Black women fluctuated between an astounding 18 and 22 per 100,000 births. 

Back then, nobody talked about it… The world wide web was still in its infancy and information wasn’t reaching the masses at warp speed like it does today.

Over the past decade, we’ve begun to talk about it, and talk about it, and talk about it. There’s even a Black Maternal Health Week; an entire week dedicated to bringing awareness to the rise of maternal mortality in the black community. 

Why? Because in the United States, one of the most advanced countries in the whole world, the maternal mortality rate is climbing at an alarming rate, rather than declining.

It is difficult to wake up and not read or hear a story of another pregnant black woman who will never see her baby reach any of their milestones, a baby who will never know their mother, and a family devastated by a loved one leaving this earth far too soon. 

And you know what? I’m tired of  talking about it! 

If I may use a cliché, talk is cheap! Fixing the problem takes investing something that is far more valuable, it takes time and resources. Unfortunately however, time is of the essence. 

Black women continue to be 3-4 times more likely to die due to complications of childbirth than their white counterparts.

In some states, like New York, a pregnant black woman is actually 12 times more likely not to survive childbirth. When it comes to fixing the problem, the powers that be seem to be happy allowing Black folks to use all of their own resources to try to remedy an issue that they are themselves victims of. 

What do I mean? 

In recent years, we have begun to see article after article highlighting the role of community doulas in the fight against maternal mortality in the Black community. While I am overjoyed to see a light cast on doulas and the doula profession, the message I hear is once again…

“It’s your problem, you fix it.”  

Doulas across the country are doing their best to educate their communities; they’re teaching about patient’s rights, advocacy, and how to navigate the system. People like Charles Johnson, who founded 4 Kira 4 Moms after the tragic loss of his wife Kira following the birth of their second child have been screaming at the top of their lungs and calling for systemic changes.

Organizations like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, who created Black Maternal Health Week, have been working tirelessly to amplify the voices of Black, women-led organizations across the nation by doing the research and providing a platform for these organizations to be seen and heard. 

While the work by Black leaders and grass root efforts is being done and progress is being made, it hasn’t been enough to stop the Black Maternal Mortality Rate from almost doubling between 2018 and 2021 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2021/maternal-mortality-rates-2021.pdf

Black people cannot save Black women and birthing persons from systems and policies that allow the use of stereotypes, outdated medical and nursing school teachings, and explicit/implicit bias against them. 

Ignorance is bliss, except when it can be deadly. 

In this day and age, no one has the privilege of feigning ignorance when it comes to the maternal mortality crisis in the Black community.

As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” 

Time for talking is over. It’s time to do something. See what’s being done and how you can help by visiting the links below and by taking the time to explore your cultural competency and understanding of explicit/implicit bias through ProDoula’s Cultural Competence Resource Vol. 1 also linked below.

Authored by: Elysia Douglas, ProDoula Trainer and Owner of Atlanta Family Doulas