OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On Tuesday, the White House recognized this week as Black Maternal Health Week, drawing attention to the health disparities that Black mothers face when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth.
Local advocates are working to bring attention to the issue in Nebraska and close the gap in maternal healthcare.
Following a C-section, Latasha Willis had to be rushed to emergency surgery when she began losing too much blood. She woke up a day later, having missed her daughter’s first day in the world.
“Every year I say on her birthday, it can be kind of a down moment for me," Willis said. "But at the same time, it makes me happy that it’s a blessing to still be here. Because it could have been something totally different.”
Stories like Willis' are common among Black women who on a national scale are 2.1 times more likely than white women to suffer severe complications in childbirth. Black women are also 2-3 times more likely to die during delivery.
Christian Minter, the Black Maternal Health Organizer for I Be Black Girl, says this disparity is less about biology and more about society.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with a Black woman’s body," said Minter. "So the risk of death has nothing to do with race or the skin color, but everything to do with the lived experience of being Black in the United States.”
Things like severe stress have actually been shown to age Black female bodies faster, creating greater risk in pregnancy.
Inconsistent access to healthcare also plays a large role in these disparities. In Nebraska, only 60% of Black women will receive care in their first trimester compared to 76% of white women.
Shannon Maloney, Ph.D., with UNMC's Department of Public Health, says the pandemic could add another layer to maternal health disparity, but time is still needed to compile that data.
“There have been a few studies that have been done that look at this," Maloney said. "We’re not tracking it consistently enough to be able to say what are the implications of coronavirus on pregnancy outcomes.”
And when healthcare is available, implicit bias is still finding its way into the birthing room.
Inaccurate stereotypes about Black Women having a high pain tolerance are still widely believed in the medical field, leading to many concerns going unheard.
That’s in part why the Omaha Black Doula Association was created. Co-founder Aledia Mikale says she had an experience in which a doctor denied the level of pain she was experiencing during an afterbirth procedure.
She's also seen incidents in which a woman had her legs held together to prevent her from giving birth when a nurse felt it was too soon.
“It is sickening, the things that happen to these African American women, including myself," Mikale said. "We are in these rooms to advocate for them and to say like ‘We’re not being listened to. We just want to live and thrive like everybody else.'”
A bill (LB416) has also been introduced by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh in the Nebraska Legislature that would require medical providers to be trained on implicit bias and the health risks that affect Black women and make access to doulas more affordable.
Willis says, looking at the work being done for Black mothers, she is hopeful for the future.
“I have a daughter now," Willis said. "She’s five, and she has a long way to go. But just knowing when her time comes, she’ll have those options and she won’t hopefully feel the way I felt or had the same experience I had.”
- Learn more about I Be Black Girl's efforts to bridge the maternity gap in Omaha.
- Learn more about Black Mammas Matter's national efforts to address maternal disparity.
- Learn more about the Omaha Black Doula Association.
- Read the 2020 Nebraska Health Disparities Report.
- Read LB416.