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Black moms are dying from a maternal health crisis. Why aren’t we talking more about this?

Updated: Feb 27

In recent years, maternal health outcomes for Black women in America have garnered widespread attention, particularly amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. These alarming statistics, highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), paint a distressing picture; Black women face a maternal mortality rate nearly three times higher than that of white women, with 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021.

The situation is equally concerning in Virginia, where the Virginia Women and Family Support Center has helped 78 women and 55 families in the last year alone. The Virginia Maternal Mortality Review Team (MMRT) documented 170 pregnancy-associated deaths from 2018 to 2020. During this period, the pregnancy-associated death rate soared from 37.1 to 86.6 per 100,000 live births. Black women bear the brunt of this disparity, experiencing significantly higher rates of pregnancy-associated deaths compared to their white counterparts, with rates of 89.5 versus 53.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively. Shockingly, Black women consistently face higher rates of natural pregnancy-associated deaths, with the 2019 rate over three times that of white women.

Image description: A black woman gently cradling her pregnant belly with both hands, showing affection and care towards her unborn child.

Behind these stark figures lie complex systemic issues, including disparities in healthcare quality, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. Disturbingly, biases persist within the medical community, as evidenced by a 2016 study revealing misconceptions among medical students regarding pain perception in Black individuals, rooted in historical atrocities.

Further exacerbating these challenges, a 2019 study found that Black patients were significantly less likely to receive adequate pain management, illustrating pervasive racial disparities in healthcare delivery. These systemic issues underscore the urgent need for multifaceted interventions to address maternal mortality disparities.

Even within our own community at the Virginia Women and Family Support Center (VAWFSC), we witness the stark realities of these disparities often. One current resident, a Black mother who gave birth prematurely, experienced excruciating pain during childbirth, only to receive inadequate pain relief from the nursing staff. It was only after the intervention of a doctor, who recognized the insufficient dosage of pain medication, and increased it by four times the amount, that her pain was adequately addressed.

The complexities of this issue are compounded by three central factors: pre-existing cardiovascular morbidity, increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes leading to long-term cardiovascular disease, and pervasive racial bias impacting patient-provider relationships. Reducing Black maternal mortality demands a comprehensive approach involving patients, healthcare providers, and public health policy initiatives.

Black women face elevated risks of perinatal complications and life-threatening conditions such as preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, and blood clots, as well as higher incidences of preterm birth and low birth weight infants.

Image description: A Black woman lovingly cradles her pregnant belly, expressing maternal care and anticipation

In the face of these challenges, Virginia Women and Family Support Center (VAWFSC) has been a source of hope since its founding in 2016. Led by Director Frances Robin, our center is dedicated to providing safe housing, support, and resources to homeless pregnant women through a comprehensive two-year residential program. We prioritize mental health support, trauma care, and education, offering women a nurturing environment to address their emotional struggles, heal from trauma, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Through individual and group counseling, therapy sessions, and workshops, we empower women to rebuild their lives and nurture healthy futures for themselves and their babies. By offering long-term housing, life skills training, counseling, and medical assistance, VAWFSC provides the necessary foundation for women to overcome adversity and thrive.

As we continue our mission to support vulnerable mothers and families, we are committed to advocating for systemic change and addressing the root causes of the maternal health crisis impacting Black women. It is imperative that we confront the pervasive issues of structural racism and bias within healthcare systems to ensure equitable access to quality care for all mothers, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Together, we can work towards a future where every mother receives the care and support she deserves, and no mother is left behind.

Join us as a Cycle Breaker and change lives of women and their families forever

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