Black People Are More Than Twice As Likely As White People To Die Due To Childbirth

Illustration for article titled Black People Are More Than Twice As Likely As White People To Die Due To Childbirth
Photo: ULISES RUIZ / AFP (Getty Images)

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing examining the serious issue of maternal mortality, specifically focusing on the racial disparities in maternal outcomes. Not only does the U.S. have the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths of any industrialized country, but that number has actually been on the rise for the past three decades, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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In 2019, the U.S. maternal mortality rate was 20.1 per 100,000 live births. It’s estimated that one-third of the people who die due to childbirth do during pregnancy, one-third die while giving birth or during the week after, and the last third die because of complications in the year subsequent to giving birth. The CDC estimates that three out of every five of those deaths are preventable.

Black people account for a disproportionate number of those deaths related to childbirth—the maternal mortality rate for Black women is 44 deaths per 100,000 live births, over two times the rate of white maternal mortality (17.9 deaths per 100,000 live births). “How does one of the most medically advanced nations in the world continue to fail Black birthing people at such high rates?” asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, during Thursday’s hearing. “To understand, we have to take the blinders off our history and acknowledge that our healthcare system — including reproductive healthcare — was built on a legacy of systemic racism and the mistreatment of Black people, and that this legacy continues today.”

And it’s not just Black people who give birth who have a higher mortality rate than their white counterparts—the same disparity is present in Black infant mortality. According to the latest data, the U.S. has an infant mortality rate of 5.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, but for Black newborns that rate jumps to 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births for white newborns. In other words, Black babies are three times more likely to die than white babies.

During Thursday’s Congressional hearing, Rep. Cori Bush testified about her personal experience in childbirth, sharing a truly harrowing story about going into preterm labor at only 23 weeks while pregnant with her first child after her doctor dismissed her reports of severe pain and nausea. When she gave birth to her son, Zion, he was only one pound and three ounces.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans responded more strongly to Rep. Bush’s choice to use the gender-inclusive phrasing “Black birthing people” instead of “Black mothers” than the heartbreaking story she was telling about her own experiences with medical racism that nearly led to the death of both of her children.

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Congressional Democrats are reportedly planning to include legislation focused on maternal health in Biden’s infrastructure and tax bill that expected to pass later this year. The Democratic package of bills would invest in training more doulas, midwives, and OBGYNs, as well as improving access to maternal mental healthcare, telehealth options, and community health centers. The legislative package is also expected to include additional funding for racial bias training, specifically in relation to healthcare disparities.

“Every day Black women are subjected to harsh and racist treatment during pregnancy and childbirth,” said Rep. Bush during her testimony on Thursday. “Every day Black women die because the system denies our humanity.” She continued, “I am committed to doing the absolute most to protect Black mothers, to protect Black babies, to protect Black birthing people, and to save lives.”

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.

DISCUSSION

silencetheadvocate
silencetheadvocate

Aside from it simply being too expensive where we are now, this is the BIGGEST reason why my wife and I are not planning on having kids anytime soon. We’ve already had a run-in with the casual racism so prevalent in hospitals and it has already nearly cost her her life.

A few years back, I woke in the middle of the night, realized my wife wasn’t in bed beside me and could see the bathroom light on. I was about to go right back to sleep, thinking nothing of it when I heard the slightest of whimpers. I called out to her and got no response.

I found my wife, barely conscious stuck between the tub and the toilet, a pool of blood under her and the smell of vomit so powerful I felt began to gag myself. She was cold to the touch and could barely keep her head up.

I rushed her to the hospital myself, not content to wait on any ambulance. They gave her fluids, dismissed my concerns as I watched her still barely able to express herself. I already felt utterly helpless as it was, so I couldn’t imagine how my wife must have been feeling in those moments, provided she could even comprehend what was going on.

A little while later, they released her. I asked them what had happened.

“She was probably just dehydrated,” one of the staff told me so nonchalantly I seriously considered punching that woman square in the jaw. Last I checked, a little dehydration doesn’t cause a pool of blood to come flooding out between a woman’s legs.

Needless to say, we got a second, and a third opinion because of course the second was just as dismissive. The third, a doctor who incidentally has a black wife himself, listed to the symptoms from my wife’s own mouth, sent her for scans, and gave her a proper diagnosis. I won’t go into detail about what the issue was, but it did involve surgery and bedrest for several weeks.

Had he not taken her seriously, he wouldn’t have recommended those tests and eventual surgery, the insurance wouldn’t have covered it, we would still have no idea what was going on, and my wife would very possibly be dead right now.

The casual racism and prejudice in hospitals are killing black people and black women especially. I’m just so incredibly thankful my wife has not contributed to that statistic.