Serena Williams
**FILE** Serena Williams (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Each year in the United States, about 700 people die during pregnancy or the year after.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), another 50,000 people each year have spontaneous labor and delivery outcomes with serious short- or long-term health consequences.

“Every pregnancy-related death is tragic, especially because two in three of them are preventable,” the CDC said.

In 2020, the CDC reported African American women are disproportionately affected by maternal mortality with 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women and higher than the rate for Hispanic women. The 2020 report also showed the increase from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic Black women was significant.

During Black Maternal Health Week (BHMW) in 2021, President Joseph Biden (D) acknowledged the issues affecting Black mothers.

“Vice President Harris and I are committed to pursuing systemic policies that provide comprehensive, holistic maternal healthcare that is free from bias and discrimination. The morbidity and mortality disparities that Black mothers face are not the results of isolated incidents,” Biden wrote in a proclamation on April 13, 2021. Our Nation must root out systemic racism everywhere it exists.”

Even tennis superstar Serena Williams described the undermining attitude of medical professionals when giving birth.

“I’ve suffered every injury imaginable, and I know my body,” Williams wrote in an essay for Elle magazine. “Giving birth to my baby, it turned out, was a test for how loud and how often I would have to call out before I was finally heard.”

Williams recalled enjoying a “wonderful pregnancy” with her first child, Alexis Olympia, and even her epidural-free delivery had gone well – until it didn’t.

“By the next morning, the contractions were coming harder and faster. With each one, my baby’s heart rate plummeted. I was scared,” the 23-time Grand Slam winner wrote.

“Every time the baby’s heart rate dropped, the nurses would come in and tell me to turn onto my side. The baby’s heart rate would go back up, and everything seemed fine. Then, I’d have another contraction, and baby’s heart rate would drop again, but I’d turn over, and the rate would go back up, and so on and so forth.”

In an earlier report, the CDC noted significant disparities in the birthing experiences of Black women. The agency noted that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.

The agency said that several things, such as differences in the quality of health care, long-term health problems, structural racism, and implicit bias causes these differences.

After an emergency cesarean, Williams gave birth to her daughter, Alexis.

Afterward, she said she had to fight for her life.

Already classified as a high risk for blood clots, Williams inquired whether she should receive heparin, a blood thinner.

“The response was, ‘Well, we don’t really know if that’s what you need to be on right now,’” Williams wrote.

“No one was really listening to what I was saying.”

Despite excruciating pain, Williams continued to speak out to her healthcare providers. At one point, she felt paralyzed.

“I couldn’t move at all,” she recounted.

Aching and coughing to the point where her C-section stitches burst, Williams complained that she couldn’t breathe.

After four surgeries, doctors found a blood clot in one of her arteries, a hematoma in her abdomen, and other clots.

She said the nurse she had previously spoken with told her that the medicine was making her crazy.

Had she gone along with the nurse’s assertions, Williams could have died.

“Being heard and appropriately treated was the difference between life or death for me,” Williams asserted.

Black Mamas Matter Alliance, based in Atlanta, hosts Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) to combat challenges like Williams and others have faced. The weeklong campaign is intentionally held during National Minority Health Month and begins on April 11, which the United Nations recognizes as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. As part of BMHW, the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, which draws influence from the reproductive and birth justice movements, conducts activities to elevate the voices of “Black Mamas.” This year’s theme is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Autonomy and Joy!”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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