Why I’m Spreading Awareness of Maternal Mortality

by Yvonne Harris, Chair, Awareness Committee, Improving Maternal Health
March 2, 2020

Harris County has one of the highest rates of maternal morbidity in the United States.  The statistic is primarily comprised of African American women and other women of color.  This issue has largely flown under the radar for years.

The topic of maternal mortality is not something that has received a lot of national or local news coverage. In recent months news stories on this topic have surfaced, primarily when a celebrity like Serena Williams is directly impacted with a maternal health crisis, or the daughter-in-law of Judge Glenda Hatchett loses her life. 

Hundreds of women across the US die annually during or after childbirth from conditions that are largely preventable. Harris County has one of the highest rates of maternal morbidity in the US. The rate of maternal morbidity in our area increased by 53% from 2008 – 2015.  When a mother dies, the DNA of that family is forever altered. However, the cause of these mothers’ deaths often goes unreported. On some level, I feel that our society and our micro-communities have remained eerily silent on this issue. We do not appear to fully acknowledge the impact that the death of a mother (during or after birth) has on the newborn child, other children, the spouse or partner, and the entire family unit.  Again, these deaths are the result of conditions that are preventable. It is as if these mothers’ live did not matter, and that their children (who will never know their mothers) will somehow not be impacted by these tragic deaths, and it is not our concern if they are. 

I choose to give my time to the Improving Maternal Health (IMH) initiative because I want to increase awareness about the issues related to maternal health, and hopefully in some way, be a part of a solution to this health crisis.  As such, I am honored to serve as the Chair of the IMH Houston Awareness Committee.  The mission of the Awareness Committee is to drive targeted messaging, create communication tools, and share resources related to maternal health issues with the following audiences:

  • Women and Their Support Systems
  • Places of Worship
  • Healthcare Providers and Their Staff.

To date, the success of our efforts can be attributed to the time and dedication of the committee comprised of:
Diane Arms – Avenue 360 Health and Wellness
Heather Butscher – March of Dimes
Kara Hill – Mental Health America – Greater Houston
Essi Havor – City of Houston Health Department
Esther Liew – Houston Food Bank
Debbie Marino – Avenue 360 Health and Wellness
Christy Serrano – First 3 Years
Peggy Smith – Baylor Teen Health Clinic
Kathryn Tees – Community Health Choice
Renae Vania-Tomczak – Mental Health America – Greater Houston
Amber Weed – Harris County Precinct 1

The reality of losing a mom became a part of my life experience in 2019, when my mom passed away suddenly and expectantly. Even as an adult, my life will never be the same. I was blessed to have my mother for as long as I did, yet I am still forever changed. I am now a daughter with no mother.  I am a mother without a mother.

While my mom was alive, she was a huge supporter of my efforts to expand the awareness of maternal (and women’s) health issues in our community. She attended events focused on maternal health with me, she saved newspaper articles to for me to read, and encouraged me to get involved in any way that I could to make a difference for women in our community. Since her passing my work with the initiative has taken on new meaning. I can only hope that my continued efforts will honor her memory and the memory of all the moms who left us to soon.

Call To Action: Increasing awareness about maternal health issues is a priority for our community, and everyone can play a role. After reading this blog post, take moment to visit the Improving Maternal Health Houston website. There you can learn more about the areas of focus, and how you can offer support through volunteering or donations. And most important, you can share your personal experience with a maternal health issue, and why this topic is important to you.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Carol Yvonne Plummer Harris.
Wife, Mother, Daughter, Friend, Warrior.
August 17, 1951 – August 16, 2019.