There are plenty of shortcomings in our healthcare system today. When it comes to women’s health specifically, you don’t have to look far to notice stark disparities in medical care. But there have been long standing silent racial disparities in healthcare that we also need to confront: how the healthcare system as we know it has poorly treated and even dismissed black women.
I recently interviewed Dr. Adeiyewunmi (Ade) Osinubi who’s the producer and director of Black Motherhood through the Lens (you can watch the trailer here). In her film and in our interview, she shares some of the top challenges faced by black mothers, with the hopes of starting important conversations we need to have if we are to demand a better way.
Keep reading to learn about these issues, and what action steps we can all take to advocate for mothers who face racial inequalities in women’s healthcare.
Listen to the full episode here: Black Motherhood through the Lens with Adeiyewunmi Osinubi
Black Women Health Disparities in Birth and Maternity
Here’s what we know, and what countless women of color can share via firsthand experience. Black women may be twice as likely to experience reproductive complications such as infertility, childbirth injuries, lack of proper support during pregnancy and delivery, and higher rates of postpartum depression (PPD).
One of the focuses of Black Motherhood through the Lens is to shed light on real women and their racial experiences through the process of conception through motherhood.
Black Maternal Mortality Rates
Data from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has shown for over 60 years that the maternal mortality rate is 3 times higher in black women than in women of other races. This is still the case even though the overall maternal mortality rate has decreased significantly in recent decades.
As an example, obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury that can result in death for women with limited medical resources, also remains a more prevalent experience for women of color. On average, 90% of laboring women who develop obstetric fistula have a stillborn delivery. According to the United Nations Population Fund, skilled care during birth is the surest way to prevent obstetric fistula. Equitable birthing resources, from informed doctors to access to emergency C-sections, can reduce black maternal mortality and morbidity.
Postpartum Mental Health
Aside from equality issues in childbirth settings, black women have faced historical socioeconomic and educational limitations when seeking postpartum mental health support. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) affect 12% more black mothers than white mothers, and yet they tend to receive less care. Inadequate postpartum screenings, lack of medical follow-up, and social/emotional stigmas toward minority women all contribute to a lack of postpartum mental health options.
Many new mothers of color admit they’ve been made to feel it’s their duty to “stay strong” or stay silent so they don’t have to face risks of discrimination as new moms. One woman with PPD in the Black Motherhood film claimed she hid her mental health medication because of the stigma that’s associated with it.
“Some people don’t feel comfortable discussing their postpartum situations because they fear their child could be taken away from them— which historically has happened disproportionately to black families.” - Adeiyewunmi (Ade) Osinubi
Menstrual Health Equity
Even pre-pregnancy, the inequality in our healthcare system is becoming more apparent. With menstrual health inequity worldwide, perhaps the health disparities black women face begin in puberty. Whether a woman struggles with infertility, chooses not to have children, or plans to have a family someday, we all have one thing in common: the need for period care and better access to reproductive resources.
“Our healthcare system is such that in a lot of cases you have to have lots of dollars, excellent healthcare, and hard-to-find experts or technology that not everyone has access to.” - Georgie
How to Support Black Mothers and Women
What can we do about these challenging issues? If women's health disparities are ever going to change, we need to start with ourselves and with the institutions that lack equity. Whether you’re involved in the healthcare system or you care about making maternal care more accessible to all women, here are some things you can do.
Encourage DEI in medicine. Open up conversations and special training about the experiences of black women and families.
Adopt a zero-tolerance for racism in healthcare. If you work in healthcare, stand up for equal treatment and access to resources while leaving no room for bigoted actions.
Listen to black women. Stop dismissing the voices and concerns of black women in maternal care.
Use your voice and vote. Continue to push for better legislation such as expanding Medicaid coverage for one year postpartum granted by the Build Back Better Bill.
Work alongside doulas. With more women choosing to receive birthing support from doulas and midwives, doctors and nurses can be available for necessary responses while respecting the birthing mother’s delivery wishes.
Increase awareness about health disparities. No one can fix a problem without first being aware of it. Share the facts and learn more about maternal health disparities.
Prioritize postpartum mental health. Postpartum care providers can be more proactive with black mothers by ensuring detailed follow-ups, running postpartum screenings, and discussing options such as therapy for postpartum mood disorders.
“We all matter. And whether it’s conscious or unconscious bias, we need to do better.” Georgie
Learn more about Ade’s documentary by scheduling a private screening of Black Motherhood through the Lens.
Learn what other "Breaking Taboos" topics we are covering on Fempower Health.