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In 1908, Black physicians, dentists and pharmacists met and organized the Oklahoma Colored Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Association.
Founded in 1908, they assembled to improve health services for Black Oklahomans in a segregated society. Much like other states, Black people were denied access to quality healthcare for nothing other than their melanin.
Back then we came together to help one another, and today is no different.
Though Oklahoma’s and American segregation ended long ago, established unequal practices and systems remain. This is painfully obvious in the healthcare industry’s approach to maternal women of color.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women experience pregnancy-related deaths at 3-4 times the rate of White women. In Oklahoma, that rate is even higher. In Oklahoma, Black women account for 10% of the births statewide but make up over 22% of all maternal deaths, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Over one hundred years after Black health care leaders came together to achieve better outcomes in the state, Oklahoma’s Black maternal mortality remains above the national average. It’s unclear why “pro-life” lawmakers and advocates ignore this issue.
A 2021 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association report looked at severe maternal morbidity in 2020. It found majority Black communities had a 63% higher rate of maternal morbidities than women in White-majority communities. And women in majority Hispanic communities had a 33% higher rate. The rate of severe maternal morbidity increased by 9% for all women between 2018 and 2020. But Hispanic women saw the biggest increase of 19%.
According to Public News Service, it’s even worse in the Big Apple. Their Black residents of NYC are eight to 12 times more likely than White residents to die from pregnancy complications.
It’s because of outrageous statistics like this that many Black women opt to give birth by a Doula. This alternative practice has become so common that organizations such as the National Black Doula Association exist with a national directory.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams wants Congress to pass the national Black Maternal Health “Momnibus” Act of 2021, which would direct agencies to address and improve maternal-health issues. “We’ve got to get it done this year, with – and for – Black and Brown women, in honor of those we have lost,” Williams said. “Birth equity is a social justice issue.”
Though the problem persists for over a century, now our government states they would like to lend a helping hand.
Giving birth shouldn’t be a death sentence.
Sharon Rose is the founder of Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign. Rose said a higher number of pregnant people her group works within Brooklyn aren’t giving birth naturally, which puts their health at risk.
“Normally they would spend time in the clinic,” she said. “Now, we’re seeing that they’re being rushed through, and more C-sections have been opted for – not by the clients, not by the participants, but by the physician, to be able to hurry up the birth so that it doesn’t flood the system.”
Black Mamas Matter Alliance is a Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance. They “center Black mamas to advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice.”
Black maternal health is also a key component of the “dead” Build Back Better Act, which would have expanded access to maternal care for those who need it most.