Maternal health for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) women — particularly Black women — has fallen short in the quality of care this demographic of women receives.
“This challenge is urgent and it is important and it will take all of us. To put it simply, in the U.S. in the 21st century, being pregnant and giving birth should not carry such great risk,” Vice President Kamala Harris said.
“But the truth is, women in our nation, and this is a hard truth, are dying before, during and after childbirth. Women in our nation are dying at a higher rate than any other developed nation in our world and when we know that the risk for some women is much higher, when we know that, we should do something about it,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The CDC also noted that “social determinants of health have historically prevented many people from racial and ethnic minority groups from having fair opportunities for economic, physical and emotional health.”
Earlier this month, the Harris hosted a summit at the White House for the first federal Maternal Health Day of Action. During the summit, she issued a call to action to improve maternal health outcomes in the U.S. Alongside Harris were panelists representing members of Congress and advocates for maternity health, one of whom was Olympic athlete Allyson Felix.
“I remember my time in the hospital and just feeling like I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t know what to expect and hearing what other people went through and that hope that they gave me was huge. I think also sharing those stories lets women, especially women of color, know that they are at risk and what they can do to prepare themselves,” Felix said.
As an athlete, Felix’s health has always been something she’s taken seriously. Yet, her complications throughout her pregnancy came as a surprise as did her diagnosis with a severe case of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia counts as a complication during pregnancy whereby individuals develop high blood pressure along with high elements of protein in their urine, according to Medline Plus.
During her routine appointment at the 32-week mark of her pregnancy, Felix explained there were “concerning things that were happening.”
“I ended up having an emergency C-section and my daughter was born two months early. I’m so grateful I was able to walk out of the hospital even though my daughter spent time fighting for her own life in the NICU. But we all walked out together. There are many women who have different endings. Now my eyes are open and it’s my passion to do more work in this area and raise awareness,” Felix said.
The issue of maternity health, Felix said, remains an issue that doesn’t discriminate.
She discussed how her circumstances of having quality healthcare did not help her avoid the experience.
“I’m very fortunate and blessed but I still found myself in this situation. [I was] hearing from other women that their pain wasn’t believed [and] that they had concerns that weren’t heard and I think that is so unfortunate. What I think is so shocking is that 60% of the number [of women who experience this] can be prevented – that’s huge,” she said.
“When we know that today Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we should do something about that. When we know that Native American women are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we’ve got to do something about that. When women who live in rural America, which has many maternal care deserts, and when we know that women in rural America for that and other reasons are about 60% more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, we need to do something about that,” Harris said.