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What You Need to Know about the Black Maternal Health Crisis


The racial disparities within maternal health are stunning – non-Hispanic Black women in the United States are three times more likely to have a maternal death than white women.

When a woman dies during pregnancy, during delivery, or soon after delivery, it’s called maternal mortality. Every year in the United States, 700 people die a pregnancy-related death and health experts say two-thirds of those deaths are considered preventable.

Some of the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths include cardiovascular conditions, hemorrhage, and infection. Leading causes of death for non-Hispanic Black women include cardiomyopathy, preeclampsia, and eclampsia. Additionally, many non-Hispanic Black women have severe maternal morbidity.

Research suggests Black women should be screened for social determinants of health, such as stress, trauma, neighborhood violence, food insecurity, and access to prenatal care, which can contribute to these disparities.

Maternal mortality

Nurse practitioner and entrepreneur Rita Mitchell wants to educate other Black women and healthcare providers about the Black maternal health crisis. She says the more people know about these racial disparities within maternal health, they’ll be empowered to make changes.

A mother of four, she experienced the crisis herself during her last pregnancy when she had two complications: placenta previa and a severe form of placenta accreta where her placenta grew into her bladder, which required extensive bladder surgery during her C-section. Both conditions put Mitchell at risk for hemorrhaging during pregnancy and during birth.

“During my scheduled C-section, I immediately started hemorrhaging and needed five bags of blood,” said Mitchell, an author and CEO/Founder of Onyx Family Brands, an enterprise that includes videos, books, music, podcasts, and more. “After my surgery, I was placed in the recovery room and given my son to hold for the first time, where I passed out. Luckily, my husband was there to grab my son. Upon waking up I knew something was very wrong because I was short of breath, my heart was racing, and I was extremely weak.”

Mitchell told the nurses and doctors what she was experiencing but she says they brushed off her concerns as tiredness after birth. But she knew something was wrong since she hadn’t felt that way during her other three C-sections.

A few days later, the specialist who performed the C-section examined Mitchell and ordered four more bags of blood. That doctor reprimanded the nursing staff and his residents for ignoring Mitchell’s clinical signs and symptoms.

“I was treated with a lack of respect, empathy, and professionalism,” she said. “This happens to us as Black women regardless of our degrees, money, or fame.”

Raising awareness

While she self-advocated during and after delivery, Mitchell wishes she’d known earlier that Black women face greater maternal risks.

“Not one of my doctors ever mentioned the risks and mortality rates for women, especially for Black women,” she said.  “Had I known then what I know now, I would have approached pregnancy differently.”

She knew she was at high risk for hemorrhage but she wasn’t prepared for the nursing staff and residents to not be adequately educated when patients are at risk for further complications.

“Their job as medical professionals is to be prepared and empathetic, both of which were severely lacking,” she said.

These days sharing her story and increasing awareness about maternal health on her platforms, including YouTube and other social media, as well as her The Onyx Life podcast. 

She wants other Black women and healthcare providers to be aware of the crisis, “so that they understand that this happens way too much in our community and we need change.”

Click here for more information, ways to donate or get involved.

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