Despite all the modern advances in medical care, pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous for women of color. Massachusetts has some of the best hospitals in the worldyet here in the Bay State, black women are nearly twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.
It’s a sobering statistic, and racism is largely to blame, local experts told Callie Crossley on basic black. Black women are often overlooked and ignored when raising concerns about their symptoms.
Liz Miranda, state representative for Suffolk County’s 5th District, comprising Roxbury and Dorchester areas, had personal experience of infant mortality when her sister’s daughter was born premature at 21 weeks and died .
“My sister was sent home and told she was just anxious, so to take Tylenol and fall asleep, and she started work early,” said Miranda, who is also a candidate for the job. State Senator for Suffolk’s 2nd District.
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Miranda created a commission to study the issue of maternal health at the state level. She noted that even among black women from different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, the rates of complications and deaths have not changed.
“So what we know is that it’s about racism, right? It’s not a situation where if you’re smarter, have a partner, make more money as a black woman, your results actually improve. And so, we need to focus on addressing the racism that is structural in our institutions,” Miranda said.
Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, Ph.D., assistant dean, associate professor and founder of the Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice at Tufts University, constantly confronts maternal health disparities in her work.
Amutah-Onukagha said pregnancy is a stress test for the body, and “we still see black women not getting the quality of care they deserve.” She said that even with her job and experience, she was nervous about getting pregnant.
One thing that can help move the needle is to have more doctors of color.
“In a case where infants were treated by black doctors, the probability of infant mortality was actually halved. This is important because we know that for black infants…they are more than twice more likely to die than their white counterparts,” says Amutah-Onukagha.
Another key to helping black women and their babies achieve better outcomes is the use of doulas, who are not only professional assistants, but also emotional and psychological advocates for the patient.
Ketura’h Edwards-Robinson is a doula and nurse practitioner and manager of the Maternal and Child Health Program at the Dimock Center in Roxbury.
She said progress will require advancing policies, collecting more data, educating pregnant women and improving postpartum care. Half of maternal deaths occur after a woman gives birth, and institutions do not maintain data on these issues after 60 days postpartum.
“For women who I guess are lucky enough not to have to die after giving birth, there are still other long-term chronic issues that women still face after childbirth, such as postpartum depression. partum, pelvic floor dysfunction, or just poor health to adjust to being a new parent,” Edwards-Robinson said.
Watch: Basic Black: Black Maternal Health
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