As the COVID-19 pandemic presses on, the U.S. healthcare system continues to fail Black and brown women and birthing people. According to a recent study released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), pregnancy-related complications have worsened 9% since 2018, and particularly during the pandemic. Of those complications, women of color are at a nearly 70% higher risk of pregnancy-related complications than white women, and maternal health disparities are still to blame amidst a myriad of health system and societal issues — including but not limited to chronic health conditions, racial inequities, and healthcare system biases.
"When it comes to racial disparities in childbirth complications, the pandemic has only sent us further in the wrong direction, and we were in a bad place to begin with," Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA, said in a statement. "We have a bold goal of reducing racial disparities in maternal health by 50% in five years, and BCBS companies are taking action through advocacy, partnerships and local programs to support mothers at every stage of their pregnancy. Every mother deserves to have a healthy pregnancy, deliver a healthy baby, and live a healthy postpartum life. We invite everyone to join us in making this a reality."
Unfortunately, that reality doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. In 2019, the CDC reported that Black folx in America are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white people, and as this latest study shows, things don’t seem to be getting much better. BCBSA examined childbirth complication rates in close to 11 million U.S. births and found that Black, Latina and Asian women have higher rates of severe maternal morbidity (SMM) than white women do. This is regardless of their age or the type of health insurance they have.
“One’s race or ethnicity should not determine how likely you are to suffer from pregnancy-related complications. We must address deep-rooted issues like implicit bias and systemic racism that cause these disparities in the first place,” Dr. Adam Myers, senior vice president and chief clinical transformation officer for BCBSA, said in the same statement. “To achieve better outcomes, we need to make sure care before pregnancy is easily accessible and equitable for all women, in addition to robust prenatal care, and ongoing postpartum care to ensure the safety of future pregnancies.”
Achieving better outcomes also means continuing to support those in our community who are addressing these issues, especially organizations fighting for Black maternal health. Some of them include Washington D.C.’s Mamatoto Village, which provides perinatal support for Black women and families, New Orleans’ Sista Midwife Productions, a birth advocacy organization, among many others. The Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative (TBEI), a community-based doula program that provides doula services to expecting parents, is another example of those doing work to change what’s happening. “It is not just a maternal health issue when we think about the disparities that exist with historically marginalized groups; it’s a racial equity issue that seems to span many sectors, like education and the criminal justice system,” LaBrisa Williams, Tulsa native and director of TBEI, told Unbothered last year.
If we are to shift the trajectory of what’s happening to Black and brown birthing people, we must hold accountable the systems that are responsible, and we also need to bolster community-centered solutions. This moment is crucial, and we need each other now more than ever.