Black women are no stranger to different health complications, with statistics showing that Black women are more prone to breast cancer, heart diseases, and high blood pressure. It has been proven that there are limited resources and options for a healthier lifestyle within communities that are primarily Black-American demographics. The maternal mortality rate for African American women is 42 per 100,000 live births. For non-Hispanic white women, the rate is 12 per 100,000. The disparity in this rate has remained unchanged for six decades.
Eyebrows were raised in September 2017. When icon and tennis champion Serena Williams shared, she suffered significant complications during pregnancy—describing what is supposed to be a miracle moment as a near-death situation. The 10x U.S. Open champion opened up about the traumatic experience in her 2018 HBO doc series, Being Serena. Wearing an oxygen mask to be able to breathe after just giving birth. She had to fight for her medical staff to perform a cat scan, which resulted in her finding a pulmonary embolism in her lung and multiple blood clots in her leg. Serena’s story caused an uproar for a conversation and more awareness of the issue. But, Serena’s 2017 was only the beginning of the conversation.
Serena’s story isn’t the only story to catch the attention of many. On July 2, 2020, the death of Sha-Asia Washington, a 26-year-old at Woodhull Medical Center, went viral and caused an uproar. The 26-year-old was suffered complications and was past her due date. After seeing that her blood pressure was abnormally high, the hospital ended up giving her Pitocin, a medication that causes uterine contractions. She was hesitant to receive the epidural and or any medication at this point. But, she finally agreed after being assured she would be fine. Shortly after receiving the drug, she was rushed to an operation where there was no choice but to perform an emergency c- section. Her heart had stopped, but with some miracle, they were able to save the baby. During the emergency c-section, she died from cardiac arrest. She had no history of heart problems and complications before the epidural she was receiving from the hospital. Heart attacks caused by epidurals are sporadic and are usually caused by a local anesthetic overdose or adverse internal reaction, according to a 2017 study. The hospital admitted faults and apologized to Washington’s family, but is that enough? Not everyone has the star power or team to advocate for them. As we see more Black women dying during birthing, we ask, why is there no advocacy for Black mothers?
Researchers and policymakers are diving into what could be the issue and what potentially plays a role in these high risks:
- America’s fragmented health system, which can leave some women without access to prenatal and postpartum care
- Racism in healthcare, either conscious or unconscious
- More women with health problems; chronic health issues, particularly heart disease, are increasingly prevalent and can lead to pregnancy complications
- Lack of awareness of signs of trouble among women and their providers
- Cumulative stress, often higher in African American women, takes a physical toll, including pregnancy and childbirth.
With numbers on the rise and conversation focusing on the mortality rate for Black women, we hope to see a wake-up call as protestors and advocates are rallying for Black mother’s voices to be heard. To get more involved and information, you can subscribe to https://blackmamasmatter.org/ for more news as well.