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Centering the Health of Black Mothers

There are a lot of discussions going on about healthcare. Most of them center around Universal Health Care versus Medicaid for All versus continuing the private health care system. There are opinions, facts and figures regarding each of those options and much can be said about each of them. But today, let’s center ourselves. Let’s center Black women, discuss the work they are doing on this issue and the impact it can have on the lives of everyday Black women.

The United States of America has the worst maternal death rates in the “developed world”, with 18 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. For Black women, the statistics are even worse. The Black maternal death rate stands 37 deaths per 100,000 live births. Meaning 37 Black women die for every 100,000 babies we bring into the world. Many things play into these deaths - environmental factors, lack of access to prenatal care, institutional racism in and around the health care industry.

Honestly, when the world’s best tennis player almost dies after delivering her baby due to doctors and nurses ignoring her descriptions of pain, we know there’s a problem. Serena Williams literally had to recognize and diagnosis her own post-birth blood clots and then demand treatment to save her life. Black women shouldn’t have to diagnosis themselves and fight for reasonable treatment anytime they enter a medical facility, much less after giving birth.

Recognizing these painful truths and shameful statistics, Congresswomen Alma Adams of North Carolina and Lauren Underwood of Illinois founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus in April 2019. Since the founding of the caucus, whose mission is to 'improve black maternal health outcomes', now boasts seventy-five members of the United States House of Representatives. One major development that has come from this caucus is the creation of legislation known as the 2021 Momnibus Act. This act builds on maternal health legislation and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus of 2020, which was spearheaded by then-Senator Kamala Harris.

Originally nine bills, the most recent version includes twelve bills which aim to address Black maternal health disparities directly and comprehensively. The current proposed legislation will aim to:

1. Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.

2. Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.

3. Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans and support VA maternity care coordination programs.

4. Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives culturally congruent maternity care and support.

5. Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it.

6. Support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.

7. Improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.

8. Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.

9. Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and continuity of insurance coverage from pregnancy through labor and delivery and up to 1 year postpartum.

10. Invest in federal programs to address the unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy and to advance respectful maternity care in future public health emergencies.

11. Invest in community-based initiatives to reduce levels of and exposure to climate change- related risks for moms and babies.

12. Promote maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies.

Black women are integral to the foundation of these United States. Our time, work and investment in every corner and sector of this nation is invaluable and indispensable. Yet, routinely Black women are failed in those same corners and sectors. Health care systems and the industry itself stands as a stark example of the disparities in the treatment of Black women – and the lethal results of those disparities. This legislation is an opportunity to protect a crucial sect of Black women.

Black mothers are important, they are necessary, they matter. Let us commit ourselves to following and supporting this legislation until it becomes law. That is equitable justice for our ancestral mothers who lost their lives giving birth in fields and our contemporary sisters who slip into eternity while surrounded by the most modern medicine this world has ever seen.

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