Changing the Maternal Health Narrative for Women of Color

Maternal health is a foundation of a healthy, productive society. And, yet, with attacks on reproductive health at an all-time high, women are struggling more than ever. This is especially true for black mothers, whose maternal health outcomes are significantly worse than for their white counterparts. In a glimmer of hope, communities are seeing a rise in services and organizations aimed at supporting these mothers. By offering prenatal and postnatal services, their main missions are to empower black mothers and to support, care for, and affirm those mothers, babies, and families throughout their maternal journey.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Black Maternal Mortality

According to the CDC, black mothers are 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. With these dire maternal health outcomes for women of color in our medical system, Birth Sisters and other doula organizations around the country represent a groundswell shift of women of color reclaiming their birth experiences and maternal health.

In 2020, the CDC launched the Hear Her campaign, aimed at improving communication between patients and their healthcare providers, especially women of color. It also raises awareness of urgent maternal warning signs during and after pregnancy and has a series of personal stories about pregnancy complications that are moving and educational. One of the most famous of those stories is that of Olympian Allyson Felix.

Video courtesy of CDC

Voices of the movement

There are many powerful voices that are speaking up to change the outcomes for black mothers. It’s important that they are amplified and honored. As a lover of poetry, I found this poem by Camille Dungy especially moving:

Expectant; or, What the Transition Phase of Labor Confirmed about Being a Black Woman in America

by Camille Dungy

I thought I would say, now!

and a new life would suddenly crown—

another beautiful, ordinary head

driven to split me wide open.

————But look at me. Still

on my hands and knees—still pushing.

Afterschock The Documentary. Filmmakers are also focusing their talents to raise awareness. Directors Paula Eislet and Tonya Lewis Lee teamed together to make the documentary, “Afterschock” which follows two families that grapple with the preventable deaths of their loved ones due to childbirth complications. In the process, they galvanize activists, birth-workers and physicians to reckon with one of the most pressing American crises of our time – the US maternal health crisis. Available on Hulu.


Learn More and Connect

There are many organizations, locally and nationally, that are making strides at improving maternal outcomes for black women. If you’re interested in learning more or supporting the efforts, please take a look at the following resources.

Black Mammas Matter Alliance (BMMA): The founders of Black Maternal Health Week (this year it’s April 11-17), this organization works to advance black maternal health, rights, and justice through policy, advocacy, and research. They also have an excellent catalog of literature to learn more.

Birth in Color RVA: A Richmond, VA organization that “provides pregnant people services to ensure a safe journey to parenthood and make better decisions for their children, linking maternal justice to reproductive justice.” They have an excellent calendar of community classes and events, including a Black Maternal Health Summit on April 14, 2023.

Black Women Radicals: This organization is “a Black feminist advocacy organization dedicated to uplifting and centering Black women and gender expansive people’s radical political activism”. Among their many resources, they have an excellent reading list on reproductive justice: Reproductive Justice: A Reading List.