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Motherhood on the Margins

As we mark Black Maternal Health Week, it is a time not only for reflection but for urgent action. In communities across the nation, Black women are facing a maternal health crisis that stands as a stark emblem of broader systemic inequities in our healthcare system. This week amplifies the critical message that maternal health disparities must no longer lurk in the shadows of public awareness.

Black Maternal Health Week, observed from April 11th to 17th, was initiated by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. It’s a week dedicated to voicing and addressing the specific challenges Black women face during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. The harrowing statistics tell a story that cannot be ignored: Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020).

The Disparities

These statistics aren’t just numbers; they represent mothers, daughters, and sisters who face a higher risk of maternal death due to factors that are largely preventable. These risks include high blood pressure, eclampsia, and postpartum hemorrhage, which are exacerbated by underlying socio-economic conditions and biases within the healthcare system that fail to give Black women the care they deserve.

Throughout Black Maternal Health Week, stories from affected women and families are brought to the forefront in community gatherings, virtual panels, and through powerful social media campaigns. Their testimonials shed light on the personal and systemic challenges that contribute to these devastating outcomes.

These stories show the disparities that currently exist across all forms of social determinants of health. This includes economic backgrounds and other conditions of daily life as we see examples of how this crisis has deeply rooted systemic issues within the foundation of our society’s healthcare system. An issue not just due to a phantom belief that Black women have more health issues but based on unchecked racial biases that make up our healthcare system.

The Advocacy

Education and empowerment are necessary factors in leading the change for the better. This week focuses on informing both healthcare providers and the public about the importance of culturally competent care and the implementation of holistic, respectful, and community-based health practices. Workshops and seminars conducted during this week are crucial in educating about safe pregnancy practices and advocating for policy changes.

An example of this advocacy movement includes the push to hire more midwives as alternatives and to work with other medical providers. In essence, building a medical team that is in unison with the patient as opposed to ignoring their needs before, during, and after pregnancy and delivery. This form of advocacy calls for not only awareness, but also action. This may include lobbying for legislation that addresses the comprehensive health needs of Black mothers, while factoring in barriers to quality healthcare being available through postpartum, and funding community-based programs that support maternal health.

Advocacy can also play a pivotal role in changing the narrative involved in upholding racial bias within our healthcare system. Training in racial bias and implementing standardized protocols for treating high-risk pregnancies are steps in the right direction. The outcome can lead to building a healthcare environment where Black women feel supported, heard, and cared for throughout their maternal journey.

Black Maternal Health Week is more than a campaign; it's a national call to action. It's a time to stand with Black women, to amplify their voices, and to strive for a healthcare system that upholds the dignity and health of every mother. Let's take this opportunity to engage, to learn, and to advocate for a future where maternal health equity is a given.

As we remember the lives lost and the families affected, we can find our call to action and commitment to current and future generations to improve healthier outcomes. We should continue to strive to educate, advocate, and elevate the conversation around Black maternal health. This will allow communities to transform awareness into action and ensure that Black maternal health is prioritized not only in words but in effective, enduring solutions.

As we observe Black Maternal Health Week, let us renew our commitment to change. Each conversation, each story, and each piece of legislation is a step toward a future where racial disparities in maternal health are no longer the reality. As Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Sources Cited
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). "Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System."

  • Black Mamas Matter Alliance. (n.d.). “Black Maternal Health Week.”


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