Stacey D. Stewart
President and CEO, March of Dimes
Today, mothers and babies are facing an urgent health crisis. The United States remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth — a problem that has only been intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sad fact is that about every 12 hours, a mom dies due to pregnancy complications, and two babies die every hour. It is no surprise that this crisis is disproportionately affecting mothers and babies of color. Black moms are three times more likely to die from pregnancy compared to white women, and women of color are up to 50 percent more likely to give birth preterm.
There is no one simple cause to this crisis. Multiple health, societal, and economic factors are all contributors, including unequal access to maternity care. According to research from March of Dimes’ recent report, seven million women of childbearing age live in counties without access or with limited access to hospitals or birth centers that offer obstetric care. That’s unacceptable.
For moms and babies of color, the statistics are even more alarming. Our 2020 March of Dimes Report Card highlights the factors that contribute to adverse health complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including systemic racism, access to care, poverty, and a mother’s preexisting conditions. We found despite declining infant mortality rates, two babies die every hour in the United States, with the highest rate of infant mortality seen among Black infants. It also shows that preterm birth rates have been increasing for five years. While we don’t know the root cause, there are a variety of medical and environmental factors that may be contributing to the rise.
This is affecting far too many people in our communities — people like Amber Rose Isaac, a 26-year-old Black, Puerto Rican New Yorker. Amber died just four days after giving birth via C-section, despite expressing her concerns in the months leading up to her death. Her story shines a light on what’s fueling this crisis today: lack of proper care, mistreatment, and implicit and explicit biases.
The system is failing
The fact is, the United States healthcare system has historically failed people of color, including during the crucial time of pregnancy. The COVID-19 pandemic is unveiling the devastating racial and ethnic disparities that have existed in our society for centuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of COVID-19 cases is 2.6 times higher in Black Americans as compared to their white counterparts, and Black Americans are two times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared to white Americans. We can’t allow this to persist.
This is why March of Dimes’ fight for the health of all moms and babies is more important than ever. We’re demanding #BlanketChange, in honor of the 700 women who die each year from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes. With our supporters, we’re working to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, improve access to healthcare, and end preventable maternal mortality and morbidity by expanding research.
Despite the challenges we face as Black moms, we have a powerful opportunity to affect change and advocate for a healthcare system that meets the needs of all moms and babies by holding our public officials accountable for creating it.
Stories like Amber’s paint an all too common picture. It’s time to reverse these disturbing trends in birth outcomes for moms and babies of color. A mom’s zip code and skin color should not determine the level and quality of care her and her baby receive. As 2020 has taught us, we’re in this together. We can fight to improve maternal and infant health, and together ensure that every mom and baby gets the care they deserve.