Why Are So Many Women Of Color Dying In Childbirth?
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Politics and Activism

Why Are So Many Women Of Color Dying In Childbirth?

Women of color are dying in childbirth far more than other demographics. The standard of care to some means the highest medical care but for others that means not walking out of the hospital with their families.

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Why Are So Many Women Of Color Dying In Childbirth?

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Resident"

Pregnancy in itself is no easy task. But black women giving birth are suffering preventable complications that may leave their families motherless. This crisis goes deeper than a failed healthcare system into a systemic racial divide that blankets our country. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), "black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women."

Why is this still happening? Why aren't there more precautions in the healthcare system to stop the preventable deaths?

While I am not a mother, I do hope to be someday and I can't help but be fearful that my cries out of pain won't be taken seriously, or that the preconceived notions that because I am African American, I am unwed and living in poverty. Take it as you will but we all do it — we all look at someone and produce assumptions on their life based on a variety of things like race, clothing, even the area where a person may live. But this shouldn't result in death.

Unfortunately, it often does. Both "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Resident" explored the issue of maternal mortality.

In season two, episode 20 of "The Resident," Lea went in for a routine cesarean section to give birth to her child but things went awry and her husband is left as a widow to take care of a newborn and toddler. Lea's death was completely preventable when a doctor disregarded a colleague's suggestion due to his own arrogant ego and quest to be right. The bleeding was detected early on after the surgery and her husband even pleaded with doctors to check on her. Lea's husband knew that something was terribly wrong but due to short staffing, budget cuts, and racial bias she was not getting the same medical care that everyone else had been.

Dr. Pravesh fought hard to be a patient advocate for Lea; racial bias was prevalent with this specific surgeon and Dr. Pravesh himself had even been inappropriately questioned about his legal status during surgery. Ultimately Lea's fate had already been decided when she checked into registration; the standard of care had failed her and she had died of preventable hypovolemic shock (a severe medical emergency in which low fluid or blood volume causes the heart not to pump enough blood to the body) Lea's death was a real-life depiction of the nightmare that Charles Johnson IV went through when he pleaded to congress to change the racial bias in maternal mortality.

In "Grey's Anatomy" Season 14, Episode 12, Dr. Avery funds a competition amongst the doctors for the most innovative medical ideas. While many doctors brought brilliant ideas to the table Dr. Robbins hit the ground running on a maternal mortality crash cart in efforts to decrease the number of mothers lost during childbirth. This idea wasn't invented by Dr. Robbins but the awareness that the show brought speaks volumes that we need to re-evaluate maternal mortality in the U.S. One of the most frequent complications that occur during childbirth is hemorrhage; this cart has standard equipment for emergencies but organized to most critical equipment needed for care, along with a blood loss monitoring machine that appropriately measures the need for replacement blood products.

This maternal crash cart is not new to maternal medicine and the mortality rate is decreasing but what about minority mothers?

Racism is alive and well but where will the line be drawn? How can women of color walk into a hospital with their minds eased, knowing that they will not fall through the cracks? Racial bias in healthcare is apparent and it is only battled with education — but I could not knowingly write this article without reflecting on a conversation I had with a colleague that left me baffled.

My colleague and I were discussing this article as I was drafting it and she said that the majority of women of color dying in childbirth die due to not seeking prenatal care. What she fails to see is that the type of care we all should be accustomed to is not available to these women due to factors like redlining. I was absolutely floored and in disbelief that a white, middle-aged woman with medical knowledge was so ignorant of the racial bias that women of color face.

Another friend presented a presentation with a similar topic to her social work class to which a white classmate commented "This literally happens to everyone."

This type of comment spews "All lives matter" and we need to put a stop to this type of commentary. This racial bias is most certainly a BLM movement situation but you will not stare into the eyes of a classmate while she is presenting hard facts in the data but fail to see that this is a racial issue.

I want to clarify that while this topic is controversial — my goal is to educate others, bring awareness and end the bias. I hope one day to bring a child in this world, but I can't help but think that I may fall victim to the racial bias that so many before me have.

So the question comes to mind: How do we stop this from reoccurring?

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