The American Maternal Mortality Crisis: The Hospital System is Killing our Black Birthers Despite Numerous Alarms being Sounded

Monday, February 22, 2021


Photo: Larry Crayton

The American Maternal Mortality Crisis: The Hospital System is Killing our Black Birthers Despite Numerous Alarms being Sounded 

If you are unaware of the huge racial disparities in our country when it comes to having a baby, then you’re not paying attention. These are not new stats, but they are on the rise. Which is surprising for a country of such stature, education, and resources. As a leader of the nations, you would expect that we could keep people alive when they go to have a baby—a very natural event. The most natural, no?

Getting Back to the Basics

Call me crazy, but if what we are doing isn’t working—would it be crazy to think we should pump the brakes and get back to the basics? What exactly do I mean by this? Well, should we start to have low-risk women seen by midwives? Should we stop allowing hospital-sponsored childbirth education? Should we ensure access to ALL pregnant humans? Should we make sure that doulas are considered essential to birth and not made out to be fat that’s trimmed when crisis hits? Dare I say such a radical thing as should we move birth back to the home? That’s what I mean by going 'back to the basics.’ The basics of what truly makes birth work—safety, education, and support. It was a community event that was focused on making the birthing person as comfortable and doing whatever it takes to wait for this baby to do its thing. A hands-off approach that has worked for centuries and is based in listening to the natural bodily processes. Typical births should not require as much medical attention and intervention as many American births have today. With a 33% (and climbing) c-section rate, this country is ringing in at less than ideal.

Should we stop using Pitocin outside of how the FDA recommends it be used or should we stop using fear-based tactics? Should we make it easier for people to report doctors who act inappropriately? Should we begin to expose the toxic medical culture that so many doctors and nurses fear talking about? Should we start regulating the number of c-sections that are allowed by each facility based on a variety of factors and each one over that is investigated? Should we begin to investigate every c-section? Don’t tell me “that’s a lot of investigating,” because I will say you’re right, and one way we can fix that is to stop doing so many c-sections. Can you tell I’ve thought about this a lot? It literally keeps me up at night. By the pure nature of what I do for a living, I get to see the atrocities mentioned above often. I’ve dreamed (literally, not figuratively) of running hospital L&D units and it was my personal version of Grey’s Anatomy. I have long-term goals of being involved in birth centers. How and what that will look like is yet to be written, but stay tuned.

What’s the Current American Birth Culture Like?

Not great. 1 in 3 women will deliver via c-section and up to 70% of women report feeling their birth was traumatic. Our Black birthers are 3-4 times more likely to die due to a pregnancy-related cause than white women. This means for every 100,000 people to give birth, there will be 41 Back deaths and 13 white deaths. What if someone has a college degree (or more)? It helps white birthers by lowering their chances to 8 every 100,000 births, but if you’re Black with a college degree its remains at 40 in 100,000. We’ve recently seen highly educated Black physicians lose their life to complications in childbirth. Dr. Chaniece Wallace a medical professional herself lost her life to a birth elated complication and a broken system—the very system she served every day.

According to a 2016 study, medical students in the US held incredibly dangerous false beliefs surrounding Black patients with having a higher pain tolerances and therefore this should impact the care plan (medication, attention). I suppose it’s possible, but what are the chances that medical schools across our whole nation have overhauled their curriculum in the last 5 years…? It’s concerning that Black people aren’t listened to in medical situations, but especially so in maternity care because we know that life-threatening complications like Preeclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage are more common in Black birthers than white birthers. We also have reason to believe that Black patients fair better when care is given by a Back provider thanks to a 2018 study produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research. We also know that Black babies have a higher survival rate if they are cared for by a Black doctor. Black babies are twice as likely to die by their first birthday compared to white babies and pre-term birth is higher in Black pregnancies. 

What can you do to get involved?

Donate. Write letters. Listen to Black birthers. Believe them. Call out #baddoctors. Report #baddoctors. If white women don’t take the time to report bad doctors, what makes us think that the racism ingrained in our medical system would elevate Black voices reporting bad doctors? Even worse, many Black birthers won’t live to see the day to report bad doctors. If you have had a traumatic birth and would like to report inappropriate care, you can do so here

Black Birth Matters. Black Mother Deserve Better. 

Here are three organizations that Tranquility by HeHe and The Birth Lounge proudly support in resolving the crippling racism in our maternity care system:

The Birth Sanctuary- This is the first free-standing birth center in the state of Alabama. Dr. Stephanie Mitchell (@doctor_midwife on IG) is fighting the good fight in one of the states closest to my heart! It’s incredibly important that women have choice in where they birth and if your only choice is a hospital, that’s really not a choice at all. Roll Tide, Doctor Stephanie! You can make donations directly on their site! 

Birth Equity Collaboration- This organization is making big waves (@birthequity on IG)! They do policy watch to make sure new policies proposed and current policies being revisited are representative of all birthers and take into account the unique challenges POC color face in the American medical system. You can make donations directly on their site! 

Black Mamas Matter- This organization is filled with great resources to help Black and brown birthers navigate the hospital system, know their rights, and ensure better care! Their website is one of the most informative sites! You can donate directly on their site! 

So if what we are doing isn’t working—why do we keep doing it? 

I think we know the answer to this, it's just not anything anyone wants to hear. 

Don’t forget to check out our newest adventure The Birth Lounge, listen in to The Birth Lounge Podcast, and follow us on Instagram at @tranquilitybyhehe and @the.birth.lounge!


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