In a heartfelt recollection, Ebonie Karma Tudor bravely shared her near-death experience during childbirth 16 years ago. As a Black woman, the trauma she endured was unfortunately not uncommon. Tudor, then 24 years old, required two blood transfusions and was unable to see her newborn son immediately after delivery.
Research indicates that while labor and delivery pose significant risks, it is the postpartum period that accounts for the majority of maternal deaths, as highlighted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Disturbingly, 53% of pregnancy-related deaths occur within the first year after childbirth. The CDC identifies cardiac and coronary conditions as the primary underlying causes of these deaths among non-Hispanic Black individuals.
Astonishingly, even wealth does not provide significant protection for Black families. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that while increased wealth improves survival rates for new mothers, this advantage does not extend to Black women.
Motivated by her own harrowing experience, Tudor has become a doula, offering invaluable physical, educational, and emotional support to expectant mothers throughout their childbirth journey. For many Black mothers, this kind of advocacy can mean the difference between life and death.
The recent tragic passing of Olympian Frentorish “Tori” Bowie has once again cast a spotlight on the inadequacies of Black maternal healthcare in the United States. Bowie, a 32-year-old three-time Olympic medalist, lost her life due to “complications of childbirth” in May.
The autopsy report reveals she was approximately eight months pregnant and had been undergoing labor. The cause of death was attributed to “respiratory distress and eclampsia,” a severe pregnancy-related complication caused by high blood pressure.
While a recent study published in JAMA Network Open suggests a significant decline in hospital-based maternal deaths, the overall maternal mortality rate in the United States continues to rise. This study, which analyzed data from over 11 million hospital patients between 2008 and 2021, only captures deaths occurring within healthcare facilities.
Dr. Jean Guglielminotti, an assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, points out that most maternal deaths occur outside the hospital after childbirth, contradicting the study’s findings.
Of particular concern is the alarming rise in Black maternal death rates. Over the past few decades, these rates have continued to climb steadily. Shockingly, Black mothers are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their White counterparts, with a rate of 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, as reported by the CDC.
In comparison, the rate among White women stood at 26.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. The CDC attributes these disparities to a combination of factors, including underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.
Tragically, the crisis extends to Black infants as well. The CDC reveals that Black babies face a higher risk of mortality than any other racial or ethnic group. Additionally, they are more prone to premature birth, which increases the likelihood of long-term health complications.
The time for action is now. The Black maternal health crisis demands urgent attention and comprehensive reforms. It is imperative to address the systemic factors that perpetuate these disparities, including healthcare access, implicit bias, and socioeconomic barriers.
By empowering Black mothers and their infants with equitable and culturally sensitive care, we can strive towards a future where every life is valued and protected.