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America's Black maternal health crisis and how to fix it

a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds racial health disparities around motherhood impact Black women regardless of income. (Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images)
a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds racial health disparities around motherhood impact Black women regardless of income. (Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images)

Women in our nation are dying of a higher rate of pregnancy related causes than any other developed nation in our world.

During the pandemic that rate only went up, especially for one group of women.

Black women are two to three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

According to the CDC, 80% of maternal deaths are preventable.

Lawmakers have been pushing for legislation to ensure that pregnant women of color and new mothers get the care they need, such as the Momnibus legislative package in Congress.

The medical profession has a role to play too.

“It’s not race, it’s racism and that is what doctors have been failing to recognize,” Dr. Leslie Farrington, co-founder of the Black Coalition for Safe Motherhood, says.

Today, On Point: The country’s Black maternal health crisis and how to fix it.

Guests

Helena Grant, president ofNew York Midwives. She’s been a midwife for 27 years.

Kimberly Seals Allers, award-winning journalist and author. Podcast host of Birthright. Founder of the Irth app, the only review and rating app for Black and brown women to find and leave reviews of maternity and pediatric physicians and birthing hospitals in the U.S.

Congresswoman Alma Adams, Democratic representative from North Carolina. Co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. Co-sponsor of Momnibus, a 12-piece legislative package in Congress addressing Black maternal health.

Also Featured

Anthony Wallace, who lost his wife Dr. Chaniece Wallace to pregnancy-related issues in Oct. 2020.

Dr. Neel Shah, chief medical officer of Maven Clinic.

Listen: America’s Black maternal health crisis and how to fix it

ANTHONY WALLACE: I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you that I know what to do. But it’s like we put our trust in the health care system, that these individuals are skilled, are competent, they know what they’re doing. But in this case it’s hard to believe that they made this many mistakes. It’s heartbreaking.

TIZIANA DEARING: Anthony Wallace is a social worker and counselor at an elementary school in Indianapolis, Indiana. He moved here from Alabama with his wife Chaniece in 2017 to complete her residency in pediatric medicine.

A few years later – they decided they wanted to start a family.

WALLACE: Chaniece came off of birth control. And then the early part of 2020, it was around Valentines where we actually realized that we were pregnant. It was just like, Oh wow, we pregnant already. So we were very, very, very excited.

For the most part, our pregnancy process was pretty smooth. But went to another routine appointment and they had found protein in her urine and so protein in the urine is a sign that you’re high risk for developing pre-eclampsia.

That’s one of the signs. She was telling me she was having headaches which is also a sign. And so the doctors should have had a more sense of urgency and tell her. Instead, they told her, you know, you’re fine. Even though there is protein in your urine, it’s not that much. So you should be okay.

It was October 20th when she went for her routine doctor’s appointment. And they tell her she had developed high blood pressure. They tell her they are going to admit her to the hospital. She was complaining about pain, you know, in her body. And it was kind of dismissed.

Not kind of – it was dismissed. To hear from the physicians, them saying, you know, you could be experiencing some anxiety and stressing out and things like that is what they were saying to her. And she’s telling them like, no, like I’m hurting. Her voice was still dismissed, even though she was a physician herself.

With her developing high blood pressure. They tell her, you know, we’re going to do an emergency C-section because the pre-eclampsia is just developing really fast. So we end up having a C-section and our beautiful daughter is born to us on October 20th, 2020.

They told me that the delivery went well. But her blood pressure was really, really high. But after the C-section, her blood pressure went really, really low. And so from there, they were trying to get her blood pressure, you know, back to normal.

I was able to visit the ICU. I was told that I would have to leave every day at six. Because of COVID I was ripped of being able to just sit with her. Hold her hand. Comfort her. There is one text message that she sent her mom, that I still read it. And she was like, ‘Mom, I’m really scared. Anthony had to leave. He couldn’t stay.’ You know. I just wish I could have stayed with her.

It was just a middle of the night phone call saying that they think she potentially may have had a seizure, but that she was unconscious. And so, they just told me to get to the hospital. And when I got there, that’s when they told me she was brain dead.

Even in the midst of this, I was just like, you know, things can’t be so bad that she’s going to die. And I never thought that, not once through the time we were in the after delivery in the ICU. I’m just like, you know, they know what to do to get her blood pressure back to normal. I trust that they know what to do. This is this is something that’s simple, right? This is something that’s easy.

From a human being perspective, I don’t understand why. But if we just speak in terms of realistically the world we live in. Being that she was a black woman. And we know that black women in this nation experience a high rate of maternal mortality. And so, that’s the only thing that I have to go off of because she should be here. Dr. Chaniece Wallace should be here. This was definitely preventable.

DEARING: That was Anthony Wallace. His wife — Dr. Chaniece Wallace — died on October 24, 2020. She was 30 years old. Her daughter Charlotte turned two last Fall.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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