By Juliet Martinez
As Black Maternal Health Week, April 11-17, approaches, advocates for the health of Black parents and babies are raising an alarm. Data the CDC released earlier this year showed Black birthing people died within six weeks of giving birth at three times the rate of White people who had recently been pregnant. Before the pandemic, a gender equity report showed that Black infants and birthing parents in Pittsburgh were already at higher risk of death than their white counterparts.
The organization Black Mamas Matter Alliance said in a statement this comes from unequal access to care, conflicting policies and outright negligence.
The Atlanta-based nonprofit promotes policy changes, research and reframing of the conversation around Black maternal health, as well as holistic care for Black birthing people. The statement calls for policymakers to commit to equitable health policies at all levels, guided by input from those most invested in the health of Black parents and babies.
“As always, we must look and listen to the many Black women doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, scholars, researchers, and organizers who are working to rebuild trust and provide quality care for Black Mamas within their communities,” the statement said.
Brandy Gentry works on that every day. Ms. Gentry is a doula, which means she is a trained support person during pregnancy, childbirth and the first months with a new baby.
Ms. Gentry became a doula to give others the support she needed and lacked during pregnancy and after her son was stillborn in 2010. She became a certified birth and bereavement doula and founded Oli’s Angels, a nonprofit offering free wraparound services to low-income and at-risk families before, during and after birth. She also runs the doula program at Allegheny County Jail.
She says interdisciplinary care for all pregnant people would help address the disparities between Black and white maternal health. In this model, community support like doulas, social workers, dieticians and therapists would be bundled with medical care.
Ms. Gentry told me during a phone call in March that doctors simply can’t do it all. Pregnant people need community support to stay healthy. And they need to communicate well with doctors who sometimes have implicit biases.
Ms. Gentry said she teaches her clients to ask questions and take their time to think things over in prenatal appointments. To interact, she says, in a way that keeps patients safe.
“They should never leave an appointment without asking at least one question,” she said. “It creates a more informed experience which keeps them so much safer.”