Inside the Black Maternal Health Crisis And the organizations seeking change.

By Caroline Tell | Illustration by Ana Hard

Did you know that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women? Did you know that the pregnancy-related mortality rate for Black women with a college degree or higher is five times that of white women with similar education? Did you know that breastfeeding rates among Black infants are more than 10% lower than white infants, and that one in five Black women is likely to experience postpartum depression? The reality is that we don’t all have the same access and privilege to proper maternal and reproductive healthcare, and that even in 2020, racial, social, economic and geopolitical inequalities are the root of major maternal health disparities. “We need voices to advocate for Black women, because a traditional hospital setting is not always a safe place for them to give birth,” says Brandi Sellerz Jackson, doula and founder of Moms In Color. ” It’s not because they’re uneducated or don’t have money. They are in danger because they are Black. It’s bias, simple as that.”

Our job at Babe is to shed light on the joys, the struggles and the heartbreak that comes with pregnancy and parenting, but the single biggest issue weighing on our minds is racial injustices in the maternal healthcare system. Tackling these inequities continues to guide our work on the site by showcasing the very people and organizations who are working tirelessly to educate providers on bias, give a voice to Black mothers and mothers-to-be and lobby to make our government recognize and change these gross inequalities. We outline just a few of them, below:  

National Birth Equity Collaborative: Because Black women in the United States are dying in pregnancy and childbirth at unprecedented rates, founder Joia Adele Crear-Perry, MD, FACOG, started this organization to create solutions that “optimize Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy and community-centered collaboration.” NBEC works with organizations, communities and stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to achieve health equity goals and provides training and assistance for organizations that value community voices and strive to improve the lives of Black families.

Ancient Doula Song Services: This Brooklyn-based international doula certifying organization was founded in 2008 and seeks to offer quality Doula Services to Women of Color and Low Income Families who otherwise can’t afford Doula Care. It trains a workforce of full spectrum doulas to address health inequities within the communities they want to serve, with the goal of eliminating the Infant Mortality and Maternal Morbidity Rate among the Black community. Its approach stems from a holistic and traditional foundation spliced with modern technology. Ancient Song is committed to addressing implicit bias and racism within the healthcare system by providing evidence-based education in birth and reproductive justice, advocacy and training, and direct doula services to all regardless of their socio-economic standing. 

Commonsense Childbirth Inc: This non-profit organization was founded in 1998 by Jennie Joseph who has spent her life aiding women and families to have better birth experiences. She also speaks nationally and  internationally in sharing her positive outcomes on low birth weight, prematurity,  infant mortality, and maternal mortality rates that remain particularly high in minority and disenfranchised populations in the United States. Commonsense Childbirth’s mission is “to inspire change in maternal child health care systems worldwide, re-empower the birthing mother, father, family and community by supporting the providers, practitioners and agencies that are charged with their care.” 

Black Mamas Matter Alliance: BMMA developed out of a partnership between the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The alliance helps advocate for better legislation to reduce black maternal mortality as well as spotlights necessary areas of research and shares information regarding social determinants of health that influence outcomes like traumatic birth or maternal and infant mortality. To bolster its efforts, BMMA created a robust toolkit that offers a thorough exploration of factors contributing to black maternal health outcomes along with potential solutions. The organization also urges legislators and health care providers to center the work of community groups both historically and today.

The Black Maternal Health Caucus: Congresswomen Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus (BMHC) in 2019 to improve health outcomes for black pregnant and postpartum people. The caucus “aims to raise awareness within Congress to establish black maternal health as a national priority and explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies and best practices for health outcomes for black mothers.” The caucus is in its early stages, but several politicians (including 2020 presidential hopefuls) have stated their support. On July 12, the caucus held a stakeholder summit where 32 different organizations focused on black maternal health convened to discuss their recommendations.

Mama Glow: HATCH community member and doula Latham Thomas launched this maternal lifestyle brand to support women along the childbearing continuum, from fertility to pregnancy, to after birth and into new motherhood through holistic wellness. Mama Glow also offers a globally recognized doula immersion program, educating doula-trainees from around the world to help transform the modern health care system to create a safe birthing experience for Black women and their babies. Having cultivated partnerships with some of the nation’s leading health organizations, Mama Glow is deeply committed to education, advocacy and impact.