The Black Maternal Mortality Crisis: Are We Setting our Mothers Up to Fail?

Jordan Millar, Managing Editor

Do you think you’ll want kids someday? 


Whenever I hear that question, I just say “maybe,” and it’s usually met with “you’ll change your mind.” While I am not completely opposed to having children, the idea of giving birth is scary. I remember my cousin Dinelle coming home after having her second child – when she had a stroke, was rushed to the hospital, and died just hours later from an undetected blood clot in her brain. As a 16-year-old Black girl, though it seems so far away, I often question motherhood. Truthfully, my uncertainty comes down to one thing: having children as a Black woman could potentially cost me my life. 


But Dinelle’s story is not unique– the Black maternal mortality crisis is real and causing younger generations of Black women to avoid starting families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the United States, about 700 people die during pregnancy and another 50,000 have unexpected severe short or long-term labor and delivery complications. Within these tragic pregnancy-related issues, are deeply-rooted racial disparities: a New York Times article explained that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. 


Racial and ethnic minorities are among those most affected by low health literacy – the extent to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others according to the CDC – especially women. As stated by Everyday Health, 58 percent of African Americans have basic or below basic health literacy, compared to 28 percent of white Americans. While awareness surrounding the maternal crisis has increased, more emphasis must be placed on improving health literacy, which will help Black women feel confident in navigating the flawed healthcare system, advocating for themselves, and even starting families. 


One can argue that maternal health legislation should be prioritized over health literacy because they have a more direct impact, and the fact that health literacy is a new concept may cause people to disregard it. But this lack of research is exactly why health literacy should be prioritized. According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, studies have shown that after health literacy education, mothers displayed positive changes in nutritional behavior, physical activity, and prenatal care. Laws alone cannot equip Black women with the tools needed to understand potential pregnancy and post-partum outcomes. 


Medical officials should be responsible for recognizing and combating racism and bias in the healthcare system, creating robust maternal health resources and guides for Black women, and ensuring that they are actively communicating with and listening to their patients. While Black women shouldn’t have to worry for the safety of themselves or their children, individual actions and self-education will create change, ensuring that they feel supported.