The National Healthy Start Association marked Black Maternal Health Week to bring awareness to the fact that the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.9 deaths per 100,000 live births: 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women. This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic in 2020, is a reality that many Black women continue to face when considering pregnancy.“We don’t want to scare young women out of pregnancy, we want to use this as a way to empower them and to educate them,” said Dr. Valerie Newsome-Garcia, the Community Transformation Strategist at the NHSA.
“So, they know the questions to ask and to be able to advocate for themselves and it’s important to have males in this conversation too, because, in a lot of stories, we hear that the partners are the ones who are really able to advocate for those who are birthing,” said Newsome-Garcia, and a Grambling State University alumna. “We needed to bring the whole community together to hear the stories, but the next piece is to discuss what we want to do about it.”
The first-ever “Maternal Monologues,” held on April 11, 2023, allowed Black women in the community to deliver emotional birthing stories, and factual information about Black maternal health.
“I think as Black women, we think that we’re supposed to get through it and suffer through motherhood,” said Jazmin Sylva Roberson, the Director of Programs and Services at Labor and Love, who joined the panel of mothers who provided maternal stories at the event held at Xavier University’s ballroom. “In the hospital, they come to catch the baby, or they come when something is wrong. We’re [doulas] there to support women physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually.”
Roberson shared personal birthing experiences alongside Almetra Granger, a doctoral student at Louisiana State University, Meshawn Siddiq, a doula, and the Deputy Director at the New Orleans Health Department, and Asia Singleton, a graduate student in Xavier’s Department of Public Health Sciences.
“I was a senior when I had my baby and I was a medical scribe, so I didn’t really have formal paid leave,” Singleton shared. “There’s a lot of policy work that needs to be done. Maternity leave is a huge thing for me,” she added.
Using the hashtag, #blackmamasmatter and #Maternal Monologues, the doulas and Black Maternal Health Advocates hope to spread awareness on Black women’s birthing experiences throughout the month of April. Though the first Maternal Monologues forum was a start in having dialogue about the statistics, the advocates said that more work needs to be done to remove maternal disparities in the U.S.
“I think that some of the bigger things we need to talk about are those systemic things,” Meshawn Siddiq said. “In European countries, they have a year off, they have nurse home visits that are included, but we have a lot of these systemic things, which are causing stress to our minds and stress to our bodies.”
As more Black women come forward to discuss how inequalities contribute to pregnancy and birth complications, the more health advocates said they can work to create better systems to reduce Black maternal fatalities.
“What makes me hopeful about the future of Black Maternal Health is that we’re having these conversations,” Singleton said. “When I heard about this opportunity, I was like, “Wait, we get to talk about this? I get to share my experience.”