Pregnant and Privileged: A Discussion on Racial Disparities in Maternal Care

I was almost 40 and I was sure my life was perfectly full. We had gotten well past our first year as a married couple (even though we’d spent near six years prior “playing house”). Our eldest children, now teens, were more than capable of managing themselves around the house and our youngest children were really growing into self sufficient little grade schoolers. Life was a beautifully blended ball of chaos and joy.

Happy as I am, I drank a little too much wine on my birthday and sometime near September, Two Pink Lines. A baby? BUT, I’m almost 40!

That was nearly two years ago and my life has been upside down and inside out but, full of absolute joy since those lines on that test changed the course of our lives! My partner and I had five children together, blended from previous relationships, this child would be our sixth. Could we? Yes. Was it a challenge? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Having a baby was full of many challenges, I had hyperemesis, which landed me in the hospital for a week, strain in my lower back from a herniated disc and a slew of other challenges that come with being pregnant.

She came fast and furious into this world, a perfect child. My last child. Our last child. The kids were excited, they have proven themselves to be amazing older siblings, no surprises there.

She was born vaginally, with no epidural, because there was no time. The way my life is set up, I did most of the laboring at home. By the time I arrived to the hospital we had 45 minutes to get me in a room and ready to push.

I still shudder over the pain but, my delivery team, who happened to be mostly women of color, got me through and got her here safe and sound. I know I am fortunate. I wanted to come here and talk about the whole ordeal and lament over missing my epidural and then halfway through some of my research I came across a chilling reality.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a statistically disproportionate percentage of preterm deliveries are born to non-Hispanic Black women, more than 545,000 out of the 4,265,555 births registered in the United States in 2006.

This changed the course of my story and pushed me to do some digging.

Dr. Joia Crear Perry, an obstetrician and mother, writing on the subject in an article for The Root says,

The United States is the only developed country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. Black women in the South are acutely at risk. Black women in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white women.

The truth is, my pregnancy was privileged. I had a team of health care providers who supported me. Our journey, though wrought with challenges, has been beautiful. “Normal” by all standards. My baby’s latch was instant and official. I didn’t even need to see a lactation consultant. It’s been a year and a half and we are still nursing for naps and comfort.

Aside from my experience with D-MER – Depression or other negative emotions upon milk let-down – a topic I will be discussing in a separate post, my journey has been wonderful.

Instead of centering my journey, I decided instead to center the disparity.

Recently, Sherronda J Brown, writer, friend, and the brilliance behind WerdBrew, discussed reproductive rights. A discussion that sprung from her piece regarding white feminism. The hashtag #beyondprochoice was created.

The discussion centered the many complex and intersecting issues Black and Brown women face in their reproductive journeys. The discussion highlights the fact that pro-choice is about so much more than just to be allowed the decision to have or not have a child. It is also the right to be given a choice of and access to quality care should life bring them down that road. It is the right to have unconditional support through their pregnancy and delivery, that includes appropriate postpartum care.

In 2014 Huffington Post reported that , “62 percent of American black babies were breastfed at birth, compared to 79 percent of white babies.

Turns out, certain hospitals that serve black communities are failing to fully support breastfeeding. In its most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC reported that hospitals may play a role in the racial discrepancies. The CDC found that facilities in zip codes with more than 12.2 percent black residents were less likely than hospitals in zip codes with fewer black residents to meet five of 10 indicators that show hospitals are supporting breastfeeding.

Most of the information surrounding this disparity puts the blame on Black mothers and therefore lectures to them. Assuming they don’t know the benefits, assuming the failure is on them. This couldn’t be further from the case. I place the blame squarely on anti-blackness and inherent bias in the healthcare system that assumes Black women and children are not entitled to thrive.

I place the blame on an anti-black society who sees the Black mother and child as expendable and disposable. I place the blame squarely and wholly on white supremacy.

The truth is Black women do breastfeed if they choose to and they have entire communities built to support their feeding journey whatever they choose. Our own Asia Renee is a lactation consultant and expert in Black motherhood. There are many resources and communities committed to changing the disparities that exist.

If you are in need of support on your own journey here are some resources:

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For those who might be of with post partum depression, you are not alone.

Near 20 percent of women can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), which can include, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or even, in very rare cases, psychosis, either during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth.

It’s ok to ask for help.

Black women are twice as likely to develop a PMAD postpartum.

In a study, examining racial and ethnic disparities in postpartum care among women in low income communities, only 4% of Black women sought care for a PMAD, as compared to 9% of white women.

If you are a Black or Non-Black Woman of Color, depressed or in need of emotional and mental support there are resources available:

Post Partum Progress

The Post Partum Stress Center

Post Partum Support International

Seleni Institute

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