Let us truly appreciate our mothers, caregivers and queens, overall, who hold deep spaces in our lives by reflecting on and ultimately confronting one of the major elephants in the room, or our community— the stark disparities as it relates to maternal mortality and its profound impact on black mothers and mothers of color.
In February of this year, I attended the Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas’ Community Café, where data was given on how service providers and community organizations are doing to address the apparent disparities that exist in most, if not all, of the data points presented.
I noticed how many of the suggestions made around how to address these disparities had a common thread. Whatever the suggestion, there was an underlying assumption that it is something these mothers must be doing (or not doing) that is jeopardizing their maternal health. Maybe these moms could take their healthcare more seriously; perhaps they could be more educated around contraception options and “planned” parenthood; and so on.
Another clear theme was ever present—no explicit analysis of the roots of this matter. The report was not only unclear but virtually nonexistent. The “preponderance of evidence” was in our faces as we reviewed each and every statistic on the PowerPoint presentation, but no one really put a name to it.
We all gathered together at what was ultimately a pretty significant and even eye-opening event for most to brainstorm solutions to be put to the test over the years to come, yet no one named or called out the huge elephant that was glaring at us throughout the entire convening. Why not?
To paraphrase our most recent “speaker who inspires,” Dr. Gail Christopher, said data and statistics about certain communities of people could be dangerous. One runs the risk of perpetuating harmful “single stories” or false narratives when such information is not provided within context.
For example, when sharing how sporadically pregnant black women may visit their doctors, we may also want to share the American history that has made black women and many others mistrustful of the healthcare system.
We may also want to consider and believe the frequent narratives shared by black mothers and mothers of color in which they are disrespected, dismissed, and even “gaslit” (causing women to doubt and question their own reality) by professionals that are supposed to keep them and their babies alive (literally) and well.
Once again, in the spirit of celebrating and valuing our mothers and women in our community, let us ask ourselves why we have such a hard time naming “it” and also consider the following:
Black women are reportedly four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth in the same communities in which such rates of their white counterparts are virtually nonexistent.
Black mothers are also twice as likely to experience their child’s death before their child reaches his or her first birthday. These rates are similar for Native and Latinx/Hispanic women.
Even black women from middle-class backgrounds experience similar rates of complications and death during pregnancy and birth. That is, despite attaining social currency such as higher education, economic and housing stability, and even having a village surrounding them (emotional and social support), black women are still dying in the process of creating new life.
Dr. Shalon Irving, a black epidemiologist who worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention specifically studying and addressing this phenomenon, could not even escape such a fate despite her accomplishments and status; she passed away due to birth complications just a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter.
So much for our perpetual tendency to ignore the roots of our issues and instead focus on the symptoms (i.e., poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc.).
During her 2016 Ted Talk, doula, journalist and activist, Miriam Zoila Perez, examined how “racism is making people sick, especially black women and babies.” That is correct. The constant stress of a woman merely existing while black is a prevalent kind of “toxic stress” that very few even want to acknowledge, much less name.
As a result, black mothers and mothers of color are dying. And, so are their babies. These issues are evident even in our local data. So, what gives?
Naming “it” makes it real. How do we fix a problem that continues to remain unaddressed, invisible and therefore nonexistent to most who claim a strong desire to right the community’s wrongs? How do we get to a place in which we are able to acknowledge this root, this elephant, and collectively say its name?
Kayla Nembhard is a licensed psychotherapist, budding writer and community warrior. Her mission is to use words and narratives or stories through therapeutic practice and simple everyday conversation to remind people of their inherent magic and power to transform not only their individual lives but their communities as well. To contact Nembhard, email firstname.lastname@example.org