This group is trying to stop disproportionate deaths of pregnant black women

World Today

Instead of creating new life, for an increasing number of black mothers and babies in America, pregnancy and birth means the end of life. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts and black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants in the U.S., according to the most recent government data.

These statistics were shocking to Rachel Zaslow who runs a charity Sisters Keeper Collective that helped women in Uganda, where women have a one-in-25 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth. Zaslow decided to move her charity to Virginia where she assists women in the Charlottesville area. CGTN’s Kate Fisher reports.

Latoria White’s pregnancy experience didn’t start well.

“The nurse practitioner said you know you have options, you can get rid of the baby if you want to and I know that If I was a white woman she would not have even said that as an option,” White said.

Then she met Crystal Johnson, a doula with Sisters Keepers Collective.

“As black woman going to the doctor you are looked down on. There’s stigma that I already have 3 kids, the assumption is that I already live in a poor neighborhood, that I am uneducated. So having my birth sister there helps bridge that gap,” Johnson said.

“You feel connected to her ’cause she’s someone who comes to your house, sits on your couch, plays with your other children and so you’re connected to her on another level, so you don’t feel ashamed or less than”

Sisters Keepers Collective was set up by midwife Rachel Zaslow. She had been working in Uganda where infant mortality is about 60 out of 1,000 births, when she realized the same problem was much closer to home.

“I had been looking at the statistics for this area and saw that in Nelson country which is a rural area outside of Charlottesville that infant mortality was 50 out of 1000 so that is close to Uganda right so when I saw that number I knew that something really terrible was happening and that we had to start addressing it,” Zaslow said.

The infant mortality rate for black infants in the U.S. is more than twice that of white infants, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

And the numbers are worse for their mothers. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Right now it is safer for a black woman in America to travel to our clinic in northern Uganda and give birth than it is for her to give birth in America,” Zaslow said.

How can that be the case in a rich first world country? As the New York Times reports, it has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America. 

“What’s interesting is that studies are showing that this is not about class or money or even access. That the outcomes are the same across economics and across education. So you could be a Harvard educated lawyer who lives in a mansion and you still have the same risk if you are black woman than even a poor white woman has a better chance of surviving childbirth,” Zaslow said.

“Only 5 percent of doctors in America are black and what we’ve realized when you control for class and education and you have the same outcomes then it points to structural racism or implicit bias as an actual risk factor for black women. So we can address all of the other things in the world but if we don’t address the fact that when a black woman walks into a hospital she is definitely treated differently than a white woman then we’re not actually going to change outcomes.”