Maternal mortality disparities in the United States

Despite being quite good with children, I have never desired or felt the urge to have children of my own. However, when the prospect of giving birth crosses my mind, I am terrified and helpless—not necessairly of giving birth, but of giving birth as a black woman in the United States. When someone close to me or anyone I know gets pregnant and that person is black, my mind wanders to a cruel world more like a wilderness. I ponder what their experience will be like—  Will the individual return from the hospital alive, will they survive their aftermath, and will they be able to raise their children? I contemplate the doctor’s character, perhaps he or she will be kind enough to do their job with integrity. Perhaps! Perhaps! This is a state of limbo,  a state of doubt and  complete uncertainty. This wilderness is a dark realm riddled with raw sores and agony. It is frightening and the absolute worst place to be. How does one ease their State of mind when this notion occurs?

What are the statistics on the maternity mortality rate?

Before childbirth, during labor, and after childbirth, black women are two to six times more likely to suffer and die from prenatal complications than white folks. According to the National Library of Medicine, which evaluated data from 1979 to 1992, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women was 25.1 per 100,000, for Hispanic women it was 10.3, and for non-Hispanic white women it was 6.0. According to the American Medical Association, these rates have not improved, and bleeding, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and embolism are the leading causes of maternal death. Black women are nearly three times as likely as white women to die from a hemorrhage.

This is a recent 2020 report on maternal death rates from the CDC. The maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 per 100,000 live births, which was 2.9 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic White women. Significantly higher rates were observed among non-Hispanic Black women than among non-Hispanic White and Hispanic women. Significant increases occurred between 2019 and 2020 for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women. The increase recorded between 2019 and 2020 for non-Hispanic White women was not statistically significant. The following graph from the CDC illustrates the aforementioned information.

When you read something theoretically, it doesn’t hit you as hard as when you use numbers—that is to say statistics. Numbers hit different— it’s as though your mind recognizes the enormity of the problem in plain sight. I was browsing the CDC website when these statistics blew my mind. It’s like, what the f**k is going on in this country.  Numbers certainly don’t lie.  And, to make matters worse, these rates continue to rise. This is bad—and bad is a nice term at the moment. This is cruel. 

Although statistics on the maternal mortality rate in Black women existed, it wasn’t until recently that this topic received national attention. According to Dr. Neel Shah, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, until recently, medical practitioners did not systematically track maternal death rates. There are several approaches to comprehending these large disparities. Racial disparities are to blame for the rising number of mothers dying in childbirth in the United States. Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die during childbirth.

Being wealthy or famous makes no difference given your skin color. Take into account Beyonce, Serena Williams, and Olympian Allyson Felix, all of whom have come forward to share their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth.  Even if you are the world’s best athlete and have a deep grasp of your own body, advocating for yourself might be harder than anticipated. Serena Williams was diagnosed with a clotting condition. She had previously experienced a blood clot in her lungs, so she was familiar with what it felt like. After giving birth, she got a blood clot in her lungs, and she was compelled to push vehemently for care. Because the professionals did not initially believe her, treatment was delayed. Blood clots are potentially fatal. As a result, it appears that education and social standing do not shield Black women from racism in healthcare.

There are countless examples of black women who have suffered unnecessary injury, death, and suffering. When these women described their symptoms and showed concern about what was happening to them, particularly with regard to their pain, the medical professionals believed them less. Reserach shows that medical professionals are more slow to respond to and address the pain of black individuals. Aren’t medical professionals trained to profile people and determine who is sick and who isn’t? Perhaps they are explicitly instructed to treat people differently based on their skin color?—I’m eager to learn what happens educationally during med school.

“There are systemic traces of racism that are built into this practice, and the way doctors are trained and some of that has roots that go back to slavery.”

Dr. Neel Shah– Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School

Among developed countries, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate. In most other countries, midwives outnumber ob-gyns, and primary care is fundamental to the health care system. As can be seen, medical experts play an important part in every healthcare system. Despite the fact that our country has a scarcity of medical professionals, this does not excuse the reality that the system is flawed and biased. Furthermore, the United States is the only country among developed countries that does not guarantee access to postpartum provider home visits or paid parental leave.

I assume that some doctors are doing everything in their power to treat each patient with equality and integrity. Nonetheless, our system is so broken and defective that other doctors are oblivious of their inappropriate and especially brutal behavior resulting into a high number of premature mortality.

References

Flanders-Stepans M. B. (2000). Alarming racial differences in maternal mortality. The Journal of perinatal education9(2), 50–51. https://doi.org/10.1624/105812400X87653

Behind the Headlines about Maternal Mortality. (2019, March 14). Behind the Headlines about Maternal Mortality; http://www.ihi.org. http://www.ihi.org/communities/blogs/behind-the-headlines-about-maternal-mortality

Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020. (2022, February 23). Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020; http://www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2020/maternal-mortality-rates-2020.htm

CDC. (2016, January 1). CDC Newsroom. CDC; http://www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html

NATAL podcast series gives voice to Black birthing experiences. (2021, August 19). Every Child Thrives; everychildthrives.com. https://everychildthrives.com/natal-podcast-series-gives-voice-to-black-birthing-experiences/

Maternal Mortality Maternity Care US Compared 10 Other Countries | Commonwealth Fund. (2020, November 18). Maternal Mortality Maternity Care US Compared 10 Other Countries | Commonwealth Fund; http://www.commonwealthfund.org. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/nov/maternal-mortality-maternity-care-us-compared-10-countries

3 thoughts on “Maternal mortality disparities in the United States”

    1. Thats so disheartening and cruel. Healthcare is supposed to be safe haven— where any one goes to get help and comes out better. But the fact that some go into medical institutions to seek for help and come out worse…what have we become as humans:(

      Liked by 1 person

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