Theme: Healthcare Systems
Throughout this article, I will be exploring the imbalances found in the medical treatment of Black women, specifically those seeking to fall pregnant and to those due to deliver. Investigating infertility and maternal mortality in Black women is of pronounced importance to us, we believe every woman is deserving of a supportive healthcare system, therefore we choose to speak out against one of the many systems that continually fail them.
Discrepancy starts before the announcement of new life, Black women are double as likely to experience infertility compared to their white female counterparts. It all stems from a difference in attitude, tracing back to the slavery of Africans and African-Americans that existed in the United States. For hundreds of years, there has been a predisposed notion that Black women are most fertile. A 400-year-old stereotype brought from the times of auction blocks, where women of “fruitful” age were handpicked as slaves far more often than older women . Because of this stereotype, countless women that face infertility today also face a stigma. The topic is still very difficult to discuss, even with a healthcare professional, leaving only 8% of Black women reaching out for pregnancy assistance compared to 15% in their white female counterparts . In addition to this, there is a distrust between members of the Black community and medical professionals. A study shows that invasive procedures such as the many required for in-vitro fertilization are best conducted with a doctor that is similar to them. ‘Similar’ could describe factors such as gender, sexual orientation but also race! This is an issue when diversity in the medical field of the United States is still far behind, in 2016 there were less than 10 Black reproductive doctors in the whole country .
However, just as alarming is the risk of death in Black women when labouring. As claimed by the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy compared to white women . Two of some of the most prosperous A-list celebrities, Serena Williams and Beyoncé Carter, have been vocal about their near-death experiences during childbirth. Both of their stories correlate to the fact that Black women are not as supervised as white women in hospitals, when presented with symptoms, they are more often dismissed than we think. Despite having told doctors her history with pulmonary embolisms, Serena’s symptoms were not prioritised until she alerted the staff about what she thought was happening . The Hematoma found in her abdomen after pleading for a CT scan could have caused tragedy if left mistreated . Soon after, Beyoncé similarly opened up about her sudden increase in blood pressure, leading up to her diagnosis of pre-eclampsia while being pregnant with twins . Except these are examples of some of the highest profiled celebrities out there, many Black women do not have access to hospitals decorated in “state-of-the-art equipment” or medical professionals who can handle “a complicated turn of events”. A survey was conducted by the National Partnership for Women, in which a third of Black mothers did not feel that the delivery room staff supported and encouraged decisions about their own labour progressions. More than 10% of these mothers reported feeling unjustly treated just because of their race or ethnicity . Why are medical staff still able to treat people unfairly because of their skin colour? This should not be commended under any circumstance, but especially not in a situation such as a global pandemic, where a countless number of hospitals are requiring women to give birth alone.
Even if the media and uproar have died down, it is still important for us to be reminded of the oppression certain groups face up until today. Although we may never understand or fully comprehend, we are able to recognise clear injustice and act upon it, even if it is just educating ourselves more around sensitive topics. On this note, I would like to reiterate a quote said by Martin Luther King Jr. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal”.
Infertility: A disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
In-vitro fertilization: A process of fertilisation where an egg is combined with sperm outside the body, in vitro.
Pulmonary embolisms: A sudden blockage in a lung artery. It usually happens when a blood clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs.
Hematoma: A solid swelling of clotted blood within the tissues.
CT scan: An X-ray image made using a form of tomography in which a computer controls the motion of the X-ray source and detectors, processes the data and produces the image.
Pre-eclampsia: A pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys.
Advanced Reproductive Medicine. n.d. Study Shows Black Women Stay Quiet About Infertility. [online] Available at: <https://infertilitydocs.com/black-women-stay-quiet-about-infertility/> [Accessed 28 August 2020].
Michel Carter, C., 2020. Why Is Infertility Still Taboo In The Black Community?. [online] Parents. Available at: <https://www.parents.com/getting-pregnant/infertility/why-is-infertility-still-taboo-in-the-black-community/> [Accessed 28 August 2020].
Khullar, D., 2018. Even As The U.S. Grows More Diverse, The Medical Profession Is Slow To Follow. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/even-as-the-us-grows-more-diverse-the-medical-profession-is-slow-to-follow/2018/09/21/6e048d66-aba4-11e8-a8d7-0f63ab8b1370_story.html> [Accessed 28 August 2020].
Heart.org. 2019. Why Are Black Women At Such High Risk Of Dying From Pregnancy Complications?. [online] Available at: <https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/02/20/why-are-black-women-at-such-high-risk-of-dying-from-pregnancy-complications> [Accessed 28 August 2020].
Williams, S., 2018. Serena Williams: What My Life-Threatening Experience Taught Me About Giving Birth. [online] CNN. Available at: <https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/20/opinions/protect-mother-pregnancy-williams-opinion/index.html> [Accessed 29 August 2020].
Sowemimo, A., 2020. Why Are So Many Black Women Still Dying In Childbirth?. [online] Independent. Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/black-maternity-deaths-women-childbirth-mary-agyeiwaa-agyapong-a9625276.html> [Accessed 29 August 2020].
Shannon-Karasik, C., 2019. Beyoncé Reveals More Details About 'Extremely Difficult Pregnancy' In Netflix's 'Homecoming'. [online] Women's Health. Available at: <https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a22654228/what-is-toxemia-preeclampsia/> [Accessed 29 August 2020].
Listening to Mothers California. 2019. Listening To Black Mothers In California. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/health-care/maternity/listening-to-black-mothers-in-california.pdf> [Accessed 29 August 2020].