It’s time to offer our mothers the health care they deserve

May 7, 2019

May offers an opportunity to thank, appreciate, and celebrate our mothers, but it can also give us the chance to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to support the health of mothers in our country. Despite the global maternal death rates dropping by more than a third from 2000 to 2015, United States maternal death rates have more than doubled, with the overwhelming majority being black women according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The data is clear, structural racism in our health care system is killing black women at an alarming rate.

As reported by the CDC, black mothers are three to four times more likely than their white counterparts to die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. This disturbing racial disparity cuts across age, education, and income level though the CDC does cite some significant differences in geography and workplace environment. A-list celebrities such as Serena Williams and Beyoncé have recently shared their own, almost tragic, birth stories proving that no matter who you are the color of your skin will decide the quality of care you receive.

Structural racism is at the epi-center of every individual component that may lead to a pregnancy-related complication. Structural barriers to fair wages make it much more likely that black women will use federally funded healthcare programs, such as Medicaid. While, on the other hand, well over a million black women fall in to the “coverage gap” – earning too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase insurance for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) market - leaving them unable to access services which contribute to a healthy pregnancy.

Additionally, Black women experience more maternal health complications then white women. Largely, researchers attribute to the disparity to the higher levels of stress on the body that result from being black in the U.S. Higher stress levels can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, and preeclampsia – all potentially deadly complications for an expectant mother.

As a country, we can do better. We must work together to call attention to these horrifying statistics and look for comprehensive solutions that ensure better health for black mothers.