In a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans are reportedly three and a half times more likely to die during or after childbirth. The alarming pregnancy-related mortality rate is 12 per 100,000 live births for white women, and 40 per 100,000 for Black women — and growing.
There are several potential factors we already know are more prevalent in the lives of Black mothers than white mothers, as reported by Vox: stress, different (often worse) healthcare, low-income households, and prevalence in health risks such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
These statistics, while not surprising, are unacceptable. But according to a study done by the North Carolina State Center for Health and Statistics, one state has been able to close the Black-white maternal death gap.
North Carolina can credit much of its success in this area to a population health management program called Pregnancy Medical Home, which aims to tackle women’s health problems before labor procedures begin.
Black people are susceptible to inequity beyond police brutality. Considering how Black communities have been disenfranchised by medical, economic, religious, legal and political institutions throughout the history of the U.S., the facts of the CDC study should come as no surprise. The ability to birth and raise children is not solely a biological issue. People are born in societies where some are advantaged, without having done anything to earn those advantages, and others are not.
In a Black woman’s pursuit of motherhood, she comes face-to-face with systems that don’t want her to reproduce. Black women’s reproductive rights have long been a fight in this country since the days Black girls and women were raped by slave masters who treated them as property.
Programs like Pregnancy Medical Home are critical for those reasons. Since the program has been implemented, the state has also seen a decline in the rate of C-section procedures among Medicaid recipients and improvements in low birth rate among babies.
“I believe this program really helps our health care inequities that exist,” said Kathryn Menard, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of North Carolina. “If you can help people navigate through the system and they’ve got peers in their community helping with care management, that makes a difference.”
For many states, the first step would be publicly acknowledging this heart-breaking disparity Black mothers face on a daily basis. But even so, how many more Black women will have to die before we they do?