The Stream

What’s killing pregnant black women in the US?

Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes in the US than their white counterparts.

“I think that you have to be vocal. To be honest, this is one of the things I am haunted by. I think so much about what else I could have done or what I could have done differently. Maybe if I flipped over a table or grabbed somebody by the collar; there is nothing I would not have done to save my wife. My stance was, if I escalate I would be seen as a threat and if I am removed from the hospital, who would be there to advocate for my wife? … She was my primary concern, I was doing my best to assure her everything would be okay even when I wasn’t sure that was the case.”

Charles Johnson IV’s wife Kira Johnson died on April 13, 2016 — just eleven hours after a scheduled cesarean section to deliver her second son. A medical investigation found massive internal bleeding caused by medical negligence.

Kira is one of thousands and statistics in the United States on the maternal mortality rate of black women are astounding. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines a pregnancy-related death as a woman who dies while pregnant or within one year of the end of her pregnancy. The US ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations on  infant mortality, and those numbers are largely due the deaths of black babies. Some 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States each year, and there are about 50,000 preventable near deaths.

Among 46 developed nations studied, the World Health Organization says only Serbia and the United States had maternal death rates that deteriorated between 1990 and 2015. This rate includes mothers who die of complications within six weeks of the end of the pregnancy.

So why is black maternal health in the US so bad? Researchers have identified two major areas. First, toxic stress that racial and ethnic minorities, including African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, experience – regardless of economic or social success – can damage their physical health. And the second? Medical bias from doctors.

On this episode, we’ll hear the stories behind the statistics, and find out what is being done to reverse the trend.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Briana Green @MamatotoVillage
Director of operations, Mamatoto Village

Dr. Joia Crear-Perry @doccrearperry
Founder & president, The National Birth Equity Collaborative

Charles Johnson IV @4kira4moms
Husband of the late Kira Johnson

Read more:
Why giving birth in the U.S. is surprisingly deadly – National Geographic 
Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis – New York Times Magazine

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