Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17) was first launched in 2018.
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance was established in 2013 as part of “a partnership project between the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.”
These organizations produced and submitted a collaborative report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that focused primarily on Southern Black women’s experiences attempting to access quality maternal health care -- experiences which often resulted in poor maternal health outcomes and persistent racial health disparities.
The report noted that between 1990 and 2013, the rate of maternal mortality in the United States more than doubled, and it highlighted that in some parts of the country, “the rate of maternal death for women of color exceeds that of Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that roughly 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications, with Black women bearing the brunt of those maternal deaths.
A 2017 ProPublica investigation found that a Black woman “is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, ... but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.”
Although the severity of America’s Black maternal health crisis is deserving of far broader coverage, the topic often only breaks through in the context of celebrity birth experiences. For example, in 2018 two high-profile stories involving Serena Williams and Beyoncé exemplified the dire circumstances of the Black maternal health crisis, underscoring that even prominent and traditionally successful Black women are not immune from its impacts. Williams’ and Beyoncé’s experiences further demonstrated that when it comes to America’s worsening Black maternal mortality crisis, no amount of wealth or status can protect a Black woman from experiencing dangerous and potentially fatal childbirth conditions.
In March 2019, USA Todaypublished an investigation of maternal deaths at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans -- a facility which was branded as one of the most dangerous hospitals for Black women in the area to experience labor. According to USA Today, Touro Infirmary was one of 120 hospitals across the country where mothers suffered severe childbirth complications or death at far higher rates than other U.S. hospitals. In response to the piece, the hospital blamed its area’s “medically vulnerable” population, citing, “Lifestyle diseases, the high cost of healthcare, delaying or non-compliance with medical treatment, limited care coordination, poor health, high rates of poverty and high rates of morbidity are all realities of our State and community.” As USA Today noted, this was a particularly troubling response given that “a majority of women who deliver at Touro are black.” Beyond highlighting dire health conditions -- which are unfortunately representative of many Black women’s childbirth experiences.
In 2018, USA Todayhighlighted the experience of YoLanda Mention, who tragically died following childbirth as a result of hospital and emergency room staff ignoring numerous “warning signs." After giving birth, she was discharged despite having dangerously high blood pressure that only increased once she returned home. When a severe headache landed Mention in the emergency room 15 hours after she was initially discharged, she was forced to wait for hours and ultimately left unattended until suffering a stroke. As USA Today concluded, this negligence is all too common: "...YoLanda didn’t die from some unforeseen childbirth complication. What killed her didn’t take any expensive, high-tech equipment to detect and treat. Just a blood pressure cuff, IV medication that costs less than $60 a dose and a hospital adhering to best safety practices..."
Austin, TX, television station KXAN, “Black women in Texas are at the greatest risk” of dying as a result of childbirth or related complications, “an alarming rate … on par with developing countries.”
The station shared the experience of Cheryl Perkins, who watched as her daughter Cassaundra Perkins became progressively more sick after giving birth to twins via emergency caesarean. As KXAN explained, “An autopsy revealed that doctors left behind pieces of placenta after surgery, causing a deadly infection.” Both state and national news outlets covered Perkins’ case to demonstrate Texas’ Black maternal mortality crisis.