Rising Above Inequities in Maternal Health

Black Maternal Health

March 11, 2021

Facing Maternal Health Challenges

When Jewel found out she was pregnant, she wasn’t expecting it. In fact, she didn’t think it was possible. Due to her medical history, doctors had told her it was unlikely she’d be able to conceive. She was 21 years old, had just finished her associates degree and was working three jobs. After an accident at work, her mom and grandmother took her to the doctor, which was when they found out she was pregnant… with twins.

Jewel had several pre-existing conditions that placed her at a higher risk for pregnancy complications. But as soon as she heard those two heartbeats, she knew that she’d do anything to protect her babies. As a young Black woman, Jewel would face an uphill battle against a system that has, historically, excluded her and other people of color. Even at her first appointment, doctors brought up abortion. She says that every time she saw a new specialist or doctor, they kept bringing up abortion.

After she miscarried one of the twins, doctors continued placing doubt in her mind about her body’s ability to deliver a healthy child.

 

“Because of my health, they said. It made me feel like they were saying my body wasn’t good enough for my baby. But I said as long as he is strong, I would fight for him,” recalls Jewel.

The Best Advocate for Her Baby

Jewel found Any Baby Can’s Nurse-Family Partnership program and was connected with a nurse, Eunice. Only a few weeks after meeting Eunice, Jewel went into pre-term labor when her water broke at 18 weeks pregnant. Abortion, again, was offered to her. Time and again, her wishes were ignored. Her worries dismissed.

Jewel is a strong woman, not hesitant to speak her mind and hold her ground. She was able to stay on bedrest and monitor the health of her son until his birth. Having Eunice by her side gave her a sense of continuity and personalized care. She was better able to monitor her preeclampsia and stay healthy the rest of her pregnancy.

Five weeks later, at 23 weeks gestation, Jeffrey was born. He spent months in the NICU, where Jewel was actively involved in her son’s care.

“Jewel is always looking to learn more. Very resourceful. She thinks, ‘What else can I do for myself and my baby?’ She has become better at allowing herself to accept support. It’s amazing to see her resilience and growth as a parent,” says Eunice a nurse in Any Baby Can’s Nurse-Family Partnership program.

Race and Health Outcomes

Many women of color don’t have the opportunity to speak up for themselves. And even if they do, they aren’t heard. Black women are at a higher risk for pregnancy complications, pre-term labor, low birth weight babies and maternal mortality. The reason is not race, but racism.

Women of color are more likely to have high-risk pregnancies, exacerbated by pre-existing conditions resulting from structural inequities and discrimination in healthcare. Any Baby Can is committed to supporting moms through healthy pregnancies, births and post-partum periods, especially in more vulnerable populations.

Jewel is now an advocate for new moms. She is part of a breastfeeding support group and has helped other NICU mothers by sharing her story and advice.

Jewel has big dreams for Jeffrey and for herself. In 2020 she began an online Bachelor’s program in forensic science and dreams of working for the FBI.

For Jeffrey, Jewel says "I just want him to be great. There’s no stopping him. He deserves all the good in this world after what we’ve been through."

In many ways, Jewel’s story is unique. She’s one-of-a-kind, facing many obstacles that no one could have predicted. However, her story is also indicative of what many of our clients go through, what many Black mothers go through to accessing services. Regardless of race, no woman should have to go through what Jewel went through.

Any Baby Can works with individual mothers to build their confidence, their network and health practices to improve family outcomes. We also advocate for the overall wellbeing of our Black moms and community members, and implement anti-racist practices as an organization. Any Baby Can is actively working to improve the systems and policies that bring lasting change for our client populations.

 

Social Determinants of Pregnancy-Related Mortality and Morbidity in the United States: A Systematic Review. Wang E, Glazer KB, Howell EA, Janevic TM.Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Apr;135(4):896-915. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003762.PMID: 32168209

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