It’s Black Maternal Health Week.  It’s a time to reflect on the joys of motherhood for some.  While it’s a time to reflect on unnecessary sorrow for others.  According to NPR, Black Women are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.  Even in the year of 2021, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rates.  While many have their own challenges and stories of conception, the blessing of motherhood is often overshadowed due to high mortality rates and overlooked concerns.  These horrific statistics often are due to racism, ageism and even a lack of communication.  The Biden-Harris Administration has even committed to addressing these health outcomes for Black women.  Our current Administration even proclaimed April 11-17 as Black Maternal Health Week.

“I remember feeling as if some of my doctors ignored me due to my age and race.  I was a senior in high school and expecting twin girls,” says Shauna L.  “Before being discharged from the hospital I felt lightheaded.  While in the hospital shower, I had to call for help due to passing out.  Despite this, they still discharged me,” Shauna continues.  The doctors knew I needed more blood but decided to send me home while telling me to eat liver and leafy greens.  One week later I was back in the hospital and needing blood transfusions while being put on a ventilator,” she continues.  Unfortunately many mothers have concerns that aren’t fully addressed in their maternal care.

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“When presenting concerns be very clear and detailed! Mothers have a natural God given instinct that can detect when something is wrong. Do not doubt yourself. Stand firm in your gut feeling to articulate yourself in order to have the physicians understand that you are looking for and demanding a proper solution for your child/care,” suggests Latoya Reno.  Improving Black maternal health is also a job for minority healthcare professionals as well.  “Minority healthcare professionals can advocate for pregnant or postpartum moms due to the fact that many of us will feel safer with a minority professional. Many believe that minority doctors will have our best interest at heart when it comes to our health,” explains Karlise of The Neighborhood Talk. 

To fully understand the maternal disparities we need to seek reflection from current healthcare professionals.  Aneesha Smith is a Maternal Child Nurse who offers this advice:

How can moms to be or recent moms ensure that they receive valuable healthcare?

In addition to proper diet and activity, moms can ensure they receive valuable healthcare by identifying what is important to them in terms of obstetric care. Then find a provider that most closely matches your value system when it comes to prenatal care and childbirth. When picking hospitals, please try to tour the hospital and research patient satisfaction scores to help you gain insight into where you would feel most comfortable. Social media mom groups have amazing tips as well.”

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How can parents and health providers have better communication when presenting concerns?

Communication and transparency is so important when developing relationships with your prenatal practitioners. Be mindful of how your initial concerns are addressed in your early visits. If your practitioner can speak openly and honestly while addressing your concerns, then that is a strong start to having a solid open door relationship that allows you to feel comfortable asking questions about your concerns throughout the pregnancy and delivery.  In the hospital setting, these 2 things will help facilitate positive interactions and communication between the new mom and her team. The first is to understand your rights as a patient. This places you in direct control of your care and outlines your rights while under the care of your physician when you are admitted to the hospital.  Many times we sign off on these documents but we aren’t fully reading and understanding everything as it pertains to the hospital stay and what happens when we are there.  Second, be comfortable asking for clarification if you do not understand processes like your plan of care or medication regimen. Every interaction you have in the hospital should be thoroughly explained to you and to get your verbal consent before anything is done. You should never feel rushed into a decision or that you are holding up progress if you don’t fully understand the plan.

Aside from traumatic tales of poor maternal care, many mothers are also not fully equipped with knowledge, emotional support and resources once they return home either.  “I did struggle a little on the third night because my Mom wasn’t able to stay in the hospital with me that night. My daughter’s Dad never came to the hospital so here I was as a first time mom; young; in pain and with no help. However, once we were released from the hospital, my family was extremely supportive and helpful,” expresses Breona Larmore. “My Mom went back to work after my daughter was one month old.   I remember when she left out for work the first day and I cried so hard because I felt alone. Eventually things got better and I got used to doing things alone,” she continues.

Similar to Breona, many new mothers also feel alone.  In some cases there can be a communication barrier in explaining what a new mother can expect once they return home.  From feelings of postpartum depression to simply needed guidance in planning and time management; a new mom can feel sudden shocks of motherhood.  “Motherhood can become overwhelming and we will need an overcoming sense of peace that can cause us to shift gears. Creating a more calming and healthy environment for the child to connect to someone or something higher will help as you are not alone,” encourages Latoya Reno. 

photo by @Brit

A positive and important way to adjust to postpartum as a new mom is to make sure that you take care of yourself as well! Making sure that you get plenty of rest and also not hesitating to ask for help from family and friends,” Karlise explains. “It’s okay to take a break and have some time for yourself. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself as motherhood is a big learning experience so just always be patient and be kind to yourself,” she encourages. Despite these disparities, communities of color can remain proactive in creating awareness, advocacy and support for families. To learn more about various community efforts and advocacy please visit The Black Mamas Matter Alliance, The National Birth Equity Collaborative and Sisters in Loss.  Together, we can change the narrative while demanding equitable maternal care.

Writer, C. Scott, is a mompreneur, social worker and literacy advocate.  Follow her online as @curls_coils and @beautifulshadeslc.

Featured Image by @_dahc of