By Chinyere Eigege, Clinical Social Worker and Doctoral Student
December 2, 2020
My passion for maternal health stems all the way back to my early teens. I remember a season in my household when my mother was pregnant and her pregnant sister came to live with us. Most people avoided them, but I always wanted to be around them. I was drawn to their energy and in awe of the miracle that their bodies were performing bringing life into the world.
Fast forward many years later when I was now pregnant with my first child. I knew that maternal mortality was a serious issue in developing countries around the world, but it never crossed my mind that it would be an issue in this developed nation with the largest healthcare spending in the world. In my third trimester, I had to do a research paper for my graduate degree. It felt natural for me to combine my interest in maternal health with my own experiences, so I decided to focus on pregnancy and disparities in outcomes. However, I could not have anticipated where this research would take me.
Not only did I find the disparities in maternal mortality rates along racial lines to be stark, but I experienced the nuanced struggles that pregnant Black women face firsthand. As I was conducting research, I realized that many of the gaps in terms of prenatal care and navigating resources were happening to me in real-time. It opened my eyes and propelled me into the field further.
The statistics facing Black women are abysmal. Black women are about 4 times more likely to die from birth-related outcomes than white women; and babies born to Black women are about 2 times more likely to die than babies born to white mothers. In recent years both of these fronts have been gaining some much-needed attention; however, I still believe there is more we can be doing to address this crisis. After all, I was in my third trimester before I knew how urgent and dire the struggles facing pregnant Black women are.
I’ve become particularly passionate about supporting the “in-between”: Black women who are surviving but losing pregnancies and losing babies. Whether it is loss by miscarriage, stillbirth, or a number of other experiences, as a society, we have failed these women by not normalizing and holding space for them to grieve.
As a clinical social worker and current doctoral student, I have dedicated my work to hearing the stories of Black women, especially as it relates to perinatal health. For Black women who have experienced some form of perinatal loss, I hope to hold space for them to share their stories of grief and resilience in the face of one of the most difficult experiences anyone will ever go through. History has shown that Black women are a resilient bunch. In spite of previous and current oppressions, they continue to rise and build futures for our communities. We need to do more to support them, to amplify their stories, to validate their experiences, and to advocate for their future.
Call to Action
It seems like such a huge, daunting issue—how do we stop Black women and their babies from dying just because they’re trying to bring life into the world? In addition to academic research and impacts in medical systems, there are actions that the everyday person can do, such as educating themselves about the issues. Where there is knowledge there is power. Black Mamas Matter is a great place to get started.
We can also do a better job of recognizing that there are leaders who are passionate about maternal health issues at local, state, national levels and already pushing for bills to get passed. Whether it’s related to implicit bias training for healthcare providers, access to healthcare before, during, and after pregnancy, or especially for our state of Texas, insurance coverage—we need to support leaders who are prioritizing these issues on and off the ballot. It is also crucial that Black women have access to providers and birth supports that are respectful, and also reflective of them. Opportunities need to be provided for more providers of color to receive quality perinatal training so they can serve these women.
We have silenced the experience of pregnancy loss, and we have done grieving mothers a disservice by not giving them the space to grieve and talk about their lost babies. We need to do better because there are good odds that if you live long enough, you will know someone who has lost a pregnancy or lost a baby. Of course, it has to be if they’re willing but—hold space for them to talk about their lost baby, name their baby, etc. Come alongside women, do not let them go through this experience alone. The more we do, the more we help them recover. Not just them but also their partners and their living children who have lost a sibling. There are so many people who are impacted by this type of loss, and we can do so much for all of them by being there for the women who are affected the most.
For more information about Chinyere’s work and/or research, you can contact her directly.