My college roommate and I both have three children. We grew up in the same city, attended the same summer programs, graduated from the same elite college. We both found good jobs, married accomplished men (who also went to that school), and had three kids. But when it was time to have her third baby, my old roommate was worried. Because unlike me, who could march into a third pregnancy feeling safe in the medical system, she knew that her risk of death was three to four times higher than mine. She wasn’t sick. She didn’t have a complication. She is black.
Black mothers are dying in pregnancy, birth and postpartum at three to four times the rate of white mothers. During the second Black Maternal Health Week, I read the stories of black mothers. Black mothers who had died. Black mothers who had almost died. Black mothers who had horrendous complications.
Every week, I hear stories from women about pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Sometimes I hear good stories, but mostly I hear about the tough parts. I hear about the times when moms were not heard. When no one was listening. I hear about the times their concerns were brushed aside. I hear about the insensitive comments made about their bodies or their choices. I hear about times they felt abandoned by medical providers. I hear about times they were ignored. Mostly, these stories come from white women.
How different would they be if they were the stories of black mothers? My limited experience and statistics tell me they would be worse. That comments like, “you don’t need to worry about that,” and “you should stay off Google.” would have a different tone. That judgments about choices would be more severe and come with ten times more assumptions. That medical questions would meet with even more patronizing responses. That complaints of pain would be taken even less seriously.
If I hear the stories of upper middle class, white women with advanced degrees, what are the stories of black mothers? What are the stories of poor, black mothers? What are the stories of black mothers with limited education? What are the stories celebrity black mothers and of upper middle class black mothers with advanced degrees that speak five languages? We are hearing about Kira Johnson and Serena Williams. What are the other stories? I came away from Black Maternal Health Week, wondering, “what can I do?” Maybe it is listen. Maybe it is encourage others to listen. Because the unique stories of black mothers matter. And we cannot hope to change unless we hear them.
Black Maternal Health Week was April 12th through 19th 2019