The Uncomfortable Truth of Being Black and Pregnant in the U.S. by Jennie Goosby
America, we have a problem.
Black Maternal Health is a mess, and should require immediate, urgent attention.
Avoidable deaths from childbirth complications have been a significant issue in the U.S. and have been brought into the spotlight recently, after the untimely passing of Olympian, Tori Bowie.
Tragedies like this emphasize why these disparities should be recognized as a public health crisis, and why we must continue to raise awareness and work towards improving access to quality healthcare for all women, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
It’s an epidemic at this point.
"The alarming maternal mortality rates among people of color reflect the systemic racism, discrimination, and other gaps in health care and sadly, Black women continue to be most affected."
According to the CDC, maternal deaths across all groups have increased in America since 2021 making it the highest maternity mortality rate in a high-income country. Among those, Black women are 3x more likely to die from childbirth than White women. Most of these deaths are within the first year postpartum.
I think the saddest statistic of all is that 80% of these deaths are preventable.
So, what do we do?
Most reports suggest hiring a doula or midwife and considering a home birth. Tori’s teammate, Tianna Madison, is currently building a list of resources. Tianna also suffered pregnancy complications leading her to deliver her son at 26 weeks. She was so aware of the grim statistics of Black maternal health that she made headlines for sharing that she went to the hospital with her medical directive and her will. Fortunately for her and her loved ones, she lived to tell her tale and worked to ensure other mothers have resources for a successful pregnancy.
However, those options are not always available due to accessibility, finances, or high-risk pregnancies. After losing my baby Charlotte at 26 weeks, I learned that because I had a classical c-section and a clotting issue, a home birth was not an option for me. To learn how I can achieve a healthy pregnancy & delivery, I researched ways that can happen.
Educate yourself. Just because a doctor hasn’t shared information with you, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know it. At my first prenatal visit, I was given a folder that included a list of medicines and foods that I could and couldn’t have. I was not told to stay on top of blood pressure, take note of headaches, or what was not average swelling – all signs of preeclampsia that I developed, and that Black women are 60% more likely to get. It’s important to know what is an average pregnancy symptom and what is cause for concern as these symptoms can ramp up quickly to dangerous levels.
Dr. Kiarra King has started an Instagram live series titled, “So you’ve been diagnosed with…”. She talks with other doctors that cover most things to do with pregnancy from preeclampsia to heat exhaustion. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a pregnancy complication, it’s imperative to be proactive versus reactive.
Find your tribe. There are many trying to conceive (TTC) and pregnancy groups online for every type of family and pregnancy. You may not know where to start educating yourself, but being in community with like-minded people who are in the trenches with you, can make all the difference. In these groups, people ask about tests, share various resources, propose questions to ask at upcoming appointments, and all around send good vibes to each other. Pregnancy, let alone complications, can be isolating, trust and believe there’s a tribe out there for you.
Get political. We’re living in a time where there’s been laws placed on women’s bodies, but not much about protecting them. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act has 13 bills to improve Black maternal health pre- and post-natal. When you hit the polls, consider if your representative is supporting this much-needed bill. Statistics show - Black women always show up & show out at the polls so make sure not to miss this bill!
Rest and Relaxation. It may be easier said than done, but protect your peace at all costs. Whether it be through yoga, prayer, meditation, journaling, or all the above, you must find ways to stay grounded, especially during preconception and pregnancy. Some believe the reason Black women suffer worse during pregnancy is partly because of the stressors we experience compared to other groups, so we must do what we can to keep those bad vibes away.
After losing Charlotte, I needed to find peace with my body, and it was Peloton’s Chelsea Jackson Roberts who inspired me to reconnect with myself and dig deeper into my yoga practice.
If someone told me a year ago that I’d be Dr. Google, I’d laugh. Whether it’s pregnancy or other health issues, I’ve learned the importance of educating and advocating for myself, and I urge others to do the same.
We deserve to be heard.
We deserve to feel seen.
We deserve to live.