Maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States, and we are the only developed country where this is the trend. As problematic as this is, the rate is even worse for black women. As the old saying goes, "When America catches a cold, black America catches pneumonia." Black women are dying at a rate that's 3 to 4 times that of white women, a statistic that is particularly present in the South.
As I watch more and more of the women in my own life announce plans to become moms, the implications of these stats are deeply felt. When we hear the term maternal mortality, many of us think of women who have succumbed to complications during pregnancy or childbirth, at least this has been the case for me.
But Dr. Joia Crear Perry, who runs the National Birth Equity Collaborative, paints a very different picture. She told The Root that:
“Deaths among mothers extend beyond the period of pregnancy or birth. Nine months of prenatal care cannot counter underlying social determinants of health inequities in housing, political participation, education, food, environmental conditions and economic security—all of which have racism as their root cause.”
Structural and systemic racism are attacking black folks from all angles, and the snapshot of maternal mortality in our country makes this glaringly clear. A reproductive justice framework highlights the intersections of oppression and how they impact the lives of women of color. However, Dr. Perry calls for a human rights framework and has joined Black Mamas Matter, which is adapting the United Nations document on maternal mortality which “shift[s] the discourse on maternal mortality from a solely public health or personal-responsibility problem to one of women’s rights.” This approach is necessary in a culture that insists upon shaming black women who choose to parent outside a context of heterosexual marriage, or otherwise classifying them as burdens to the state.
These are dire times for black people across the board, but access to affordable healthcare, housing, and quality food are basic fundamental rights that should not dictate whether or not mothers live or die.
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