A Life for a Life: Black Women and the Rising Maternal Death Rate in America

By DaiJhah Owens

“The U.S. is the most dangerous country in the “developed” world to give birth.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the news cycle lately, you’ve been hearing this quoted over and over. On Monday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) came out with a scathing report about the state of maternal health in America. According to the CDC report, maternal death rates in the U.S. have been consistently rising every year, while declining in other “developed” countries. On average, 700 women die a year, simply from being pregnant. Is that number shocking? COMLETELY! But, what’s even more shocking is that black women are more than three times as likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women. THREE TIMES!

Now, I don’t mean for this to read like a boring research paper, but my goodness, these numbers are staggering and we can’t afford to ignore them! One might ask, how can the richest and most advanced country in the world be so dangerous to give birth in? Well, several factors have been linked to maternal death rates including poorly equipped hospitals, lack of access to health insurance and medical care, and less focus on postpartum care. If not daunting enough, black women have to also navigate racial bias in the health field.

From the Tuskegee Experiment to Henrietta Lacks, there is a very long history of distrust between the black community and medical doctors. The reasoning is evident today in the way medical doctors serve black women who are pregnant. Black women are seen as the image bearers of pain. We are expected to endure more therefore are discounted when we speak up about our bodies. Medical doctors overlooking our despair as being dramatic or normal pregnancy pain is the reason so many of us are dying while bringing life into the world. Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes alive, hemorrhaged and almost died because her doctors didn’t take her concerns seriously enough until it was almost too late.

Once again, the life of black women hangs in the balance because our voices aren’t valued. Simply based on the numbers, of those 700 women who die each year in the U.S. from pregnancy complications, more than 1/3 of those women will be black, and that breaks my heart.

As a black woman who desires to have children of my own more than anything, I don’t feel safe to do so in my own country. I feel scared and disregarded for regarding my future maternal health. With every rise in maternal death rates for all women, there is an even greater rise for black women. We must make it safe and equitable for black women to give birth in the U.S.. Now, that’s what I call pro-life!

DaiJhah Owens is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. DaiJhah is passionate about shifting political power to oppressed groups through education. She believes there is nothing more powerful than an educated black woman who can smell political BS a mile away! Connect with her on Instagram at @d_nakhole!

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