Why do these disparities exist?
Social determinants of health play a role. These social inequalities include differential access to the following: healthy food, clean drinking water, safe neighborhoods, good schools, decent jobs, reliable transportation, quality care providers & facilities/insurance. Increased rates of chronic illnesses, such as obesity, hypertension & diabetes, are also an important factor.
All of the above are amplified by a healthcare system rooted in systematic racism & the unconscious bias implicit within that system. Over time, the chronic stress & associated accelerated aging, coined “weathering” that comes from the daily navigation of this system as a black woman in American society takes a toll that has been shown in several studies to be a contributing factor in adverse black maternal outcomes. In fact, it has been suggested that “weathering” may be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes. This system often leaves us feeling devalued & disrespected by medical providers. This system often dismisses our concerns, particularly in regards to pain. Lack of diversity often leaves us feeling alienated. Black females represent only 2% of physicians. Furthermore, education & class have not been shown to make one exempt. The concept of “weathering” has been demonstrated on the cellular level. In a 2010 study by Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, telomeres (chromosomal markers of aging) of black women in their 40s & 50s appeared 7.5 years older on average than those of white women.
What does this all mean?
Failure to account for the early onset increased health vulnerabilities of black women regardless of education & social economic class leads to poor maternal outcomes.
Let’s take a closer look.
The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is defined as the number of maternal deaths/100,000 live births. In the United States this ratio increased from 16.9 > 26.4/100,000 from 1990 to 2015. Meanwhile, the global MMR decreased by 30%. The United States has the highest MMR among developed countries.
When it comes to disparities in women’s healthcare, the following details how black women compare to their white counterparts.
- Black women are 2x more likely to suffer from issues related to infertility.
- Black women are 2-3x more likely to experience unintended pregnancies.
- Black mothers are 2x more likely to deliver preterm.
- Black gestations are 2-3x more likely to result in fetal deaths.
- Black gestations are 3-4x more likely to result in maternal deaths.
Dr. Woodus, a reproductive justice advocate, established Woodus Obstetrics & Gynecology to further her commitment to provide ALL women with the rights
necessary to thrive in every aspect of their healthcare.
We are dedicated to doing our part to end women’s health disparities through Education, Elevation, and Empowerment.
- We will do the work to ensure No mama is left behind.
- We hold firm to the belief we are only as strong as our sister beside us.
So what can you do about it?
Success in improving black maternal health outcomes requires a partnership. Do not take a back seat. Be an active participant.
- Partner with us. We understand the issues & unique risks that inundate black women in our healthcare system.
- Use your voice. Be persistent. Don’t stop until you are heard.
- Educate yourself. Don’t just take our word for it (or anyone else’s for that matter). Find out everything you can about your health from reliable resources.
- Communicate. Be open & honest with your providers about your concerns.
- Don’t be afraid to switch providers. You have options. Find a provider who sees you, hears you, & has a plan to optimize YOU.
Enough is enough.
Sources: CDC, ACOG, SMFM, SSM, Propublica, NPR