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Why we must protect black mothers

27 August 2020

To have a child is something that many people yearn for, a special experience to grow a small cell into a developed baby is beyond beautiful. Yet, we understand the elements of pregnancy aren’t always pleasant as its typically portrayed in film and TV. Many women experience their own hardships, from morning sickness to complicated medical conditions and even miscarriages. All these elements place both mothers and babies at very rare but familiar risks. Such a beautiful process of growth requires a lot of attention and management by providing a healthy process for both mothers and babies. 

However, there is a grave problem that many have neglected to focus on, which is the battle that many black women face when it comes to the healthcare system, especially black mothers. Pregnancy and childbirth are already a laborious process, so to add further risk to that is unjust and disheartening. There is a great battle with systematic racism today in many different institutions that results in the mistreatment and death of black people, but having that battle within the healthcare system is directly affecting the lives of black women – they’re literally fighting to be alive and this is a discrepancy that needs to be changed.

Black mothers are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than any mothers from other backgrounds.

 

According to Marmot’s review of the Health Equity England’s February 2020 report, black women in the UK are five times more likely to die during and after childbirth, in comparison to white mothers. The statistics differ for other groups that fall under the BAME umbrella; women with mixed ethnicity have three times the risk and Asian women are twice the times likely to have a fatal result in pregnancy or childbirth.

The biggest concern with this information is that it’s not new, there have been major complaints and requests made throughout the last decade, for the rising figures of fatalities in these circumstances, but it’s taken until 2019/2020 to finally form and release data that supports these complaints.

Though the report focus’ on the maternal deaths between 2014 and 2016, the data still confirms current concerns around the healthcare system and its approaches to caring fairly for all ethnic groups. The report explains the country’s maternal mortality rates and acknowledges that it is among the lowest globally, but the increasing gap between black and white women within these statistics are what raises the concerns – why is this happening and how do we stop it?

There are few medical conditions that black women are at a higher risk of developing, Pre-eclampsia, Fibroids etc. but these are more reasons as to why thorough care needs to be taken when caring for black women. There are many concerns around some of the reasons these issues ‘go unnoticed’, prejudice being a major issue - the that black women are able to hold pain and are ‘stronger’ mentally and physically, in comparison to their counterparts. I can assure you that this is beyond ignorant and incorrect, anyone who appears to be experiencing pain, difficulties or any other expression of emotions should be believed. There is a huge fear of coming across ‘aggressive’ or ‘angry’ that results in black women either silencing their pain and or being wrongfully dismissed when they’re actually in valid need of treatment.

In an interview with ITV that discusses the death of a young woman D’Lissa Parkes, who unfortunately died due to pregnancy complications, her family expresses their beliefs that she would still be alive if she was cared for properly, but due to her being black, many things were ignored.

There are many other black women who share similar experiences or thoughts, even high profile celebrities, Serena Williams and Beyonce, express the difficulties they’ve experienced and their ‘luck’ for having access to ‘high quality medical care’ that many black women never typically have access to, Serena Williams in particular instigated a viral conversation around this topic.

I’m a black woman and currently pregnant, so knowing and understanding the risks I may stand against during my pregnancy is definitely alarming. Having reached the halfway mark of my journey, I’ve already experienced some of these moments of neglect at such an early stage in my pregnancy. I’ve been to the hospital on six occasions outside of my antenatal and midwife appointments and its only at my last visit (31st July) that I was tested accurately and given the time to be fully assessed, to finally received the results of having severe thrush, Group B Strep and Trichomoniasis. All treatable conditions, but still alarming. Imagine if I hadn’t gone to the hospital six times to make sure I understood what was wrong with my body.

Many influencers have used their platforms to speak on their experiences with the healthcare system when it came to their pregnancies and childbirth. Candice Brathwaite stated she was a victim of racial bias during her pregnancy and birth to her daughter. This triggered her to start her platform ‘Make motherhood diverse’ and write her Sunday times bestselling book ‘I am not your baby mother’. Many other women have used their platform like Kelechi Okafor who constantly speaks on racial injustice and her own experiences in pregnancy and as a mother.

There have also been many platforms that have been created in light of these issues, Fivexmore is a campaign that aims to raise awareness of these maternal disparities for black women in the UK, while supporting and championing mothers to educate themselves on how they can avoid being a victim to this. Other platforms like; Mums and tea, The positive birth company etc. all aim to encourage women in general to share their experiences with pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, while creating a safe space for them to share and educate themselves. The positive birth company have created a digital pack that contains an intensive hypnobirthing program, which is an extremely helpful guide for women who want to understand how they can take a bit more control of their bodies during their labour.

This article isn’t to shame or disregard the amazing work the NHS has provided everyone over the years, especially during this pandemic - amazing heroes that have worked endlessly round the clock to make sure the population are healthy and safe. However, the racial inequalities revolving around the healthcare system has been a disputatious topic as the pandemic has grown. It has highlighted major concerns of BAME groups being disproportionately implicated by the covid-19, especially the front-line medical professionals (who are predominantly Black and Asian). This has caused an alarming concern that black men and woman are four times likely to die from covid-19.

This is all to say, that it is important for all men and women to speak up on these issues, understand them and be aware of black women who may be struggling with this. The Black Lives Matter movement have received support from all over the world in its response to racism and police brutality, so I believe this issue can get the right support too. It doesn’t mean that we need to go out and protest or pick battles with the NHS, but it does mean that we can make sure we are at the very least, having these conversations with black mothers alongside all mothers from all backgrounds. Starting these conversations is the very beginning of a bigger change in the ways the healthcare system cares for women as a whole.

 

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