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Why Don’t More People Care About Black Maternal Deaths?

Posted by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 10:50 PM
  • 43 Replies


This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Strong Families project.

In September, 19-year-old Ayaanah Gibson bled to death in her Benedict College dorm room after delivering a stillborn child. Gibson was within walking distance of the campus health center and a few miles from multiple health facilities in Columbia, South Carolina.

Gibson, a first-year student from Sacramento, had survived a battle with brain cancer to die alone a month into her college career. Her death is a cautionary tale about how seriously the United States needs to take its maternal mortality problem and, secondly, how barriers to adolescent sexual and reproductive health care can turn a common event—an apparent unplanned pregnancy—into a preventable tragedy.

What kept Ayaanah Gibson from getting life-saving care for herself and her child? We can only speculate. It’s unclear that Gibson was aware she was pregnant, whether she was in denial or concealing her condition for some reason.

In California, Gibson may have been taught a comprehensive sex ed curricula, though districts vary when it comes to the information they offer. But for many American adolescents,abstinence-only programming means they lose a critical opportunity to hear evidence-based information about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy prevention, and their body’s development.

We can’t assume that void will be filled by accurate information, and neither can we assume that adolescents will get this information in their families. In the case of Ayaanah Gibson, her family was stunned to learn that she was 32 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. Manystudies show that supportive families and frank discussions with parents or trusted adults can help delay sex, reduce risky behaviors, and increase condom use. But stigma about adolescent sexuality and pregnancy remain profound barriers to meaningful parent-child communication. While it’s impossible to discern what Gibson knew about sexual health and from what source, her cross-country move for school removed her from the family and social networks that could have supported her during her pregnancy.

Transitioning from California to South Carolina, from her family home to a college campus, Gibson was likely responsible for her own medical care for the first time in her life. Adolescents often struggle to find low-cost, nonjudgmental, and confidential reproductive and sexual health services. According to its website, the Benedict College health center offers pregnancy testing, reproductive health counseling, and online resources for emergency contraception. But given the battles of Sandra Fluke and others to obtain contraception at Catholic universities (Benedict is Baptist-affiliated), it’s not certain that many higher-education institutions extend the full range of reproductive health services to students in a life stage marked by change and experimentation.

With the right care, it’s very possible Gibson and her infant would have survived. But without a skilled birth attendant, Gibson’s delivery played out in a way that is all too common among women around the globe who give birth: death by hemorrhage.

In the United States, a nation that spends more on health care than its industrialized peers, Black women die from pregnancy-related causes at rates three to four times higher than their white counterparts. Though they generally have less access to prenatal care and health insurance, Black women also have more frequent and longer antenatal hospital stays. They are more likely to experience pregnancy loss or complications when compared with whites and Hispanics.

Safe motherhood is clearly elusive for U.S. Black women who, by virtue of their residence in the world’s most developed country, have access to more medical advances than women in Bolivia or Zambia. As Amnesty International pointed out in its 2010 report Deadly Delivery, Black women’s maternal death rate has been shockingly high for decades, with few voices outside public health communities calling for action. What will it take to get people to recognize not just the racial disparity in death rates but the disparity in concern over U.S. Black women’s health and lives?

In the United States, we continually cycle through valuing and devaluing Black women’s reproductive health. Black women are disproportionately criminalized for drug use or decisions made during pregnancy. In these cases, we see a culture that no longer commodifies Black reproduction, as in slavery, but nevertheless subjects Black female sexuality, reproduction, and mothering to harsh, public scrutiny. Yet Black women’s maternal death rates garner little comment.

We have the language and political will to address global maternal deaths—defined by the World Health Organization as any fatality of a woman who’s pregnant, in childbirth, or whose pregnancy ended within 42 days. Donors fund safe motherhood programs around the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa; in July, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone gave $8 million to a University of North Carolina maternal and infant health program in Malawi. Safe motherhood kits—usually consisting of sterilized umbilical ties, gloves, soap, sheeting or a clean surface for birthing, and newborn clothing—are important staples in the public health arsenals of developing countries. And Millennium Development Goal 5 asked countries to reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent by 2015, and some countries have made considerable progress.

The United States is not one of them. In fact, its overall maternal mortality rate is rising, a distinction the world’s most developed country shares with war-torn Afghanistan.

But at least Afghanistan seems to know it has a problem.


http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/10/25/why-dont-more-people-care-about-black-maternal-deaths/

Follow Cynthia R. Greenlee on twitter: @CynthiaGreenlee

by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 10:50 PM
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Replies (1-10):
AtiFreeFalls
by Silver Member on Oct. 26, 2013 at 11:11 PM
2 moms liked this

 I care a very great deal.  I don't know what is broken, though.  Poor black women and poor white women have access to the same medical care via Medicaid.  Is it income disparity?  Black women have less ability to obtain medical care, perhaps, because of transportation limitations, for example?  Is it provider indifference?  I would like to think that any person educated enough to be caring for pregnant women wouldn't have racial biases, but I know that cannot possibly be the case with every doctor, nurse and midwife in the country... but are enough of them racist that it accounts for a 300% higher maternal and infant mortality rate?

Its very upsetting to me.  But I don't know how to make it better, because I don't know the cause.

heresjohnny
by Bronze Member on Oct. 26, 2013 at 11:14 PM
1 mom liked this
I've been around the block enough to know statistics can be misleading. You can take a stat, and tweak it to fit your agenda. Before I comment, I'd like to know WHY black women have more complications. A lot of times statistics are spun as racial, when in fact, it's economical. What do the maternal death rates look like when race is taken out of the equation? What are the stats for the poor and underinsured?
Mommabearbergh
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 11:20 PM
I have seen the mortality rates and the care for black women statistics in more southern states then northern states.
Sadly when it comes to black women giving birth in general to much is assumed. It is sad this women didn't think she could go for help and ended up dying in such a manner.
jllcali
by Jane on Oct. 27, 2013 at 12:47 AM
2 moms liked this
It's apalling that the US's maternal death rate is the same as Iran's. (overall) With all the resources our country has, our maternal death rate should be amongst the lowest in the world.
Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Oct. 27, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Even if you assume thus is about poverty, the working poor, underinsured women, etc, it is still a huge problem in the USA with no excuse.

Quoting heresjohnny:

I've been around the block enough to know statistics can be misleading. You can take a stat, and tweak it to fit your agenda. Before I comment, I'd like to know WHY black women have more complications. A lot of times statistics are spun as racial, when in fact, it's economical. What do the maternal death rates look like when race is taken out of the equation? What are the stats for the poor and underinsured?
stormcris
by Christy on Oct. 27, 2013 at 1:01 AM
1 mom liked this

Oh this probably won't be taken well but people really do not care about others. They pretend to care because it is what is socially acceptable but the bottom line is it is the all against the all. This is in general for the population but not necessarily reflective of any one person. When you hear those people who say you cannot save the world the person they are referring to will care but they in general won't. So the fact is they may care for the five minutes that it takes to recognize and respond to a certain problem but then it is soon forgotten. They will chalk stuff up like this to well we cover this for all women so why single out any group. Perhaps even they will post something to create awareness but beyond that it is soon forgotten because their life in general has so much they must take care of in it. Many times such people as mentioned are overlooked because they also take the stance that with all the information out there should she have wanted help she would have found it. There are so many of these who fall by the wayside because it doesn't hit home with the majority. Then again for some of the population apathy is their preferred recourse. (Please note this is not saying absolutely everyone because nothing is ever true of everyone and this is just my thoughts on it)

Bookwormy
by Platinum Member on Oct. 27, 2013 at 1:01 AM
1 mom liked this
This is horrifying. Just dreadful.

Canada has made huge advances is my understanding when it comes to childbirth, postpartum care, etc, but they have universal healthcare, so of course they have & of course we can't learn from them.
heresjohnny
by Bronze Member on Oct. 27, 2013 at 1:26 AM
1 mom liked this
I agree, but my point was this probably isn't the racial issue the author is making it out to be. It's unfortunate, but a lot of issues are labeled as racial when they're economical. I've been there myself. I didn't have health insurance when I was pregnant with my third child. The first time I saw a doctor was 30 minutes before giving birth. I didn't even have time for an epidural. If I had died, it wouldn't have been because of my race, it would have been because I was too poor to see a doctor. Hell, the only reason I went to the hospital to give birth was because I managed to get health insurance in my last trimester. I very well could have given birth at home. Thankfully, there were no complications. The only thing the hospital provided was a nice hot shower.

Quoting Bookwormy:Even if you assume thus is about poverty, the working poor, underinsured women, etc, it is still a huge problem in the USA with no excuse.

Quoting heresjohnny:I've been around the block enough to know statistics can be misleading. You can take a stat, and tweak it to fit your agenda. Before I comment, I'd like to know WHY black women have more complications. A lot of times statistics are spun as racial, when in fact, it's economical. What do the maternal death rates look like when race is taken out of the equation? What are the stats for the poor and underinsured?
LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Oct. 27, 2013 at 2:21 AM
3 moms liked this

Far as I can tell, no one cares very much about maternal or infant mortality much at all, regardless of colour, race or religion... if they did, there would be outrage and public outcry about the pressure for intervention-filled hospital births and planned surgeries at the convenience (and for the profit of) the medical staff...

AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Oct. 27, 2013 at 5:54 AM
1 mom liked this
A lot of it is prenatal health problems. Diabetes and high blood pressure are rampant. A friend lost a baby at thirty seven weeks in August due to gestational diabetes, though she is white. It's too common here. Poverty leads into bad diet usually which leads into sickly pregnancies even if the woman is trying to be good after she discovers her pregnancy.

Quoting AtiFreeFalls:

 I care a very great deal.  I don't know what is broken, though.  Poor black women and poor white women have access to the same medical care via Medicaid.  Is it income disparity?  Black women have less ability to obtain medical care, perhaps, because of transportation limitations, for example?  Is it provider indifference?  I would like to think that any person educated enough to be caring for pregnant women wouldn't have racial biases, but I know that cannot possibly be the case with every doctor, nurse and midwife in the country... but are enough of them racist that it accounts for a 300% higher maternal and infant mortality rate?

Its very upsetting to me.  But I don't know how to make it better, because I don't know the cause.

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