The threat to women’s bodies and their access to adequate health care has reached fever-pitch heights. But, for women of color, the stakes are even higher, as a new study shows that mothers-to-be are facing severe mistreatment in labor and delivery rooms.
According to Reproductive Health, while one in six women reported some level of abuse, neglect or discrimination from healthcare providers during childbirth, the mistreatment rates are higher for minority women. Researchers who surveyed 2,700 women found that participants experienced “verbal abuse, stigma, and discrimination, and having requests for help ignored,” as reported by Vox.
“This is a widespread phenomenon,” Saraswathi Vedam, a midwife and professor at the University of British Columbia and the study’s lead author, told Vox.
“Mistreatment, when you look at it in all of its aspects, certainly includes people being shouted at, scolded, or experiencing physical and verbal abuse. But there’s also … not being listened to, not being engaged in the decision, not having the ability to self-determine what care happens for you and your body.”
Healthcare professionals’ ignorance of the needs of women of color in delivery rooms can lead to fatal or life-threatening consequences, such as the onset of poor health conditions. According to HealthAffairs, non-Hispanic Black women are almost four times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related death than non-Hispanic white women.
In 2018, tennis superstar Serena Williams shared the details of her near-fatal experience while giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia. Similarly, in Beyoncé’s September 2018 Vogue issue and her Homecoming documentary special on Netflix, the “Formation” singer described the complications she endured throughout her pregnancy with her twins, Sir and Rumi.
“I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later,” she told Vogue.
For mothers like Serena and Beyoncé, the experience alone of battling toxemia or blood clots during labor can be jarring and traumatizing. However, researchers of Reproductive Health’s study see that there are plenty of “missed opportunities” to tend better and more accurately to women’s needs during childbirth.
“We have the capacity right now to really address these issues,” Vedam said. “These initiatives include diversifying the health care workforce, mandating anti-racism and implicit bias training for everyone who interacts with childbearing families, increasing access to doulas and midwives, and raising public awareness of their human rights. The road may be long and hard, but it is the only right path.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in June 2019