The first annual Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) is currently underway and serves as a significant step towards addressing the challenges black mothers in the United States repeatedly face regarding their health. Led and founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) – an organization focusing their efforts on the maternal health and reproductive justice of black women – April 13 to April 17, is now a week solely for supporting black mothers and bringing to light the poor state of black maternal health.
For black maternal health week, organizers are hosting community events to raise awareness about the racial gaps in maternal health and to discuss solutions to closing them – BMMA website
The creation of this week is not without reason. The black community has been losing their mothers to pregnancy-related deaths for decades with little to no change on this. According to a CDC report in 2017, black women are up to four times more at risk of dying from pregnancy complications in comparison to white women. A five-year study discovered that black women with a college degree were more likely to face pregnancy problems compared to white women who have not completed high school.
Another study shows the infant mortality rate for black babies was twice as much as it was for white babies. In an interview with Vogue, Serena Williams mentions how she experienced health complications after the birth of her daughter. When asking for additional medication for her blood clots, Williams was denied by her doctors. This is a common experience that black mothers share, where those in medical positions disregard or refuse to address their health concerns.
The increasing disparity of maternal mortality rates between black women and white women is not a biological issue or merely a coincidence. The majority of black women are exposed to social and environmental risk factors that affect their pregnancy negatively, such as, the level of neighborhood safety, a lack of easy access to healthcare, racial and gender inequality in workplaces, and even the high rate of depression found in black women.
The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America – Linda Villarosa
The difference in the maternal mortality rate is yet another example of the systemic racism apparent throughout the U.S. and is a product of a lack of voices on this matter. Nakeenya Wilson, a BMMA member, said: “Some black women might not speak out about the care they’re receiving so as not to be labeled ‘aggressive'”.
In order to combat this issue, BMMA has activities planned all throughout the week with the purpose of creating discussion, finding root causes, and working towards solutions. There are even local events in states such as California, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Texas.
These activities include daily webinars and online activities, live conversations, yoga for those in birth and postpartum stages, workshops, panels with black women advocates, documentary screenings, and more. BMMA also provides multiple resources for those who wish to become more knowledgeable on the state of black maternal health in the U.S. This includes links and downloads to articles, reports, and key readings. The next webinar on April 16 is focusing on highlighting black/African immigrant women advocacy in maternity care.
The goal of the week is to deepen the conversation around black maternal health and amplify black women leaders who are working on the issue – Elizabeth Dawes Gay, steering committee chair of Black Mama Maternal Alliance
The creation of maternal health week is not the only notable action Black Mamas Maternal Alliance have done in support of black mothers. They are currently trying to get the United Nations to recognize April 11 as a day for maternal health and rights, in collaboration with other organizations. As stated on their website, BMMA provides training and technical assistance, multiple maternity care service providers, and support stakeholders in their own addressing of maternal health.
Black Maternal Health Week is for our black mothers across the United States. A week emphasizing the need to uplift and support them, along with creating solutions to their challenges. BMMA are accepting stories revolving around maternal health from black women on their website. The hashtag #BMHW18 is also in place as a means of sharing experiences and for black mothers to connect with one another during this week. BMMA is the stage in which the voices of black mothers will be heard, the role racial discrimination plays in the health of black mothers will be discussed, and more people will be encouraged to speak out for the better treatment of black mothers in our communities.
It is imperative that the Black Mamas Matter Alliance have as much support as it needs to help improve the livelihoods of black mothers across the states. You can donate to BMMA here, and subscribe to BMMA here.