The American Medical Association says that women of color are 2- 6 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white woman depending on where they live. There are many factors that can contribute to this disproportionality, including quality of prenatal delivery and postpartum care. This mortality rate has significant detrimental effects on the black community as countless mothers are lost to this vicious cycle.
Likewise, economically disadvantaged women are less likely to receive quality healthcare and are thus also less likely to receive prenatal care. This leaves black mothers more likely than white mothers to have hypertension, blood disorders, and other medical conditions that complicate their pregnancies. A recent article by USA Today explores the surprisingly high rates of hospitals blaming mothers’ preexisting conditions for high maternal mortality rates among women of color, especially black women. Before USA Today conducted a study and critically examined these shocking maternal mortality rates, these numbers have been overlooked because hospitals are allowed to keep this information private. By keeping this information away from the public, many hospitals have been excusing their poor outcomes by blaming the health of the mother.
Apart from the legal actions that can be taken to decrease mortality rates of women of color, there are organizations and individuals who, through means of advocacy, let this information come to the light and make a conscious effort to put a stop to it. Employing advocacy through visibility, Kimberly Seals Allers, is an international speaker, author, and the founder and organizer of Black Breastfeeding Week among other things. Kimberly is on a mission to “shift the paradigm, shift the discourse, shift the infrastructure, and shift the experience of womankind and motherhood for all”.
In the Tampa Bay area, Chinelle Rojas is working hard to shift the narrative. Chinelle is the birth photographer behind Dear Little One Birth Photography and is the founder of The Melanated Birth, in which she uses photography to represent women of color in birth. She believes that photography is a powerful tool, especially when u towards a powerful cause. Chinelle has observed the lack of diversity in the birth photography community and is taking steps towards solving this problem. She advocates that ultimately visibility can be an important step in reducing mortality rates for women. Photographing the births of women of color outside a hospital setting increases awareness of different birth options available apart from the standard hospital epidural birth. She is hoping to spread a message about the possibility of giving birth in alternative settings. She argues that many mothers-to-be, only know of other women who gave birth in a hospital. Seeing photographs of black women giving birth with the help of doulas and midwives in a comfortable setting can be the start of another woman’s successful journey into motherhood.
“‘Imagine a world where our little pebble of documenting births can make waves on the mortality rate of mothers across the country or the world.’” –Chinelle Rojas
American Medical Association. State-specific maternal mortality among black and white women: United States, 1987–1996. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999;282(13):1220–1222.
Young, Alison, et al. “Hospitals Blame Moms When Childbirth Goes Wrong. Secret Data Suggest It’s Not That Simple.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 9 Mar. 2019, http://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/deadly-deliveries/2019/03/07/maternal-death-rates-secret-hospital-safety-records-childbirth-deaths/2953224002/.
This article was researched and made possible by Vana Madhu as part of a service-learning internship with USF. Read more below or click the image to find out more about our student authors: