By L. Samsarah Morgan, DD Cht.
The international R and B star Beyonce’ recently had a baby girl. She and her equally famous husband welcomed their child in the labor and delivery unit of a respected hospital in New York City.
In order to protect their privacy, the celebrity couple closed off and entire floor of the hospital, and mom registered under an assumed name. There was much speculation about this birth, was it planned section was she going to have a natural birth? Did she plan to breastfeed? Her fans as well critics anxiously waited for any word – truthful or gossip – regarding the first birth for this African American women.
As is often the case with celebrities – many who wrote about her had a sense of criticism and perhaps envy – envy of the presumed (and actual) privilege that her multi-million dollar status afforded her! There were even rumors that she was actually not pregnant – and that a surrogate was in fact giving birth!
In this fog of speculation – many would have been shocked to now a simple and brutal fact of African American life – and that was that Beyonce, with all her wealth and privilege has exactly the same possibility of dying in childbirth as a struggling African American single mother receiving social service assistance. Yes, you read right, the maternal mortality rate for an African American woman is 5x that of a white woman – and this remains the same, be she wealthy or poor. Whether she has access to medical care or not.
This reality brings head aches to those who follow these things and there has been much speculation as to why this is so.
Many consider that obviously in the case of poor women – there is a reduced ability to have access to prenatal care. Poor women may not be able to have access to nutrition foods as many poor neighborhoods have no access to groceries stores which might provide unprocessed, fresh foods and vegetables and proteins free from antibiotics and genetic tampering.
Many Black women have pre existing conditions, such as hypertension and obesity, which already have their bodies experiencing a state of stress, which is then magnified by pregnancy – thus putting the momma at risk of complications in labor and delivery.
There are other researchers who point to the stresses of living under racism itself as a causal factor – for the issues of obesity, high blood pressure, and hypertension. And that this pressure exists across socio-economic lines, this explaining why the mortality rate is the same for wealthy or impoverished mothers. They say that the body system of a person living under the addition pressure of racism create a situation where that body never is able to achieve a restorative place of rest – a rest that allows for cellular repair and healing, and that this 24/7 stress, makes black women vulnerable to these conditions which are high risk in pregnancy.
As a holistic birth worker and counselor, I know that although women attend all of her prenatal appointments, the way that pregnancy is handled in our county allows many mommas of all races to fall through the cracks in the system – and perhaps develop serious complications.
Let me share with you and example of this from my own family.
11 years ago my precious daughter in law Chanell was expecting my first grand child, Jazmine. Chanell was a very conscientious young woman and very much looking forward to her baby’s birth. She was well fed (by me) and well provided for by a young husband and extended family that was over the moon with joy about her pregnancy.
Although her mom in law was a birth worker and doula, she decided that she would seek her prenatal care via the OB/GYNs at the prenatal clinic at our local hospital, Alta Bates. This hospital bills itself as the premier hospital in Northern California, banner ads on our city busses encourage local mommas to allow them to provide the best in pre natal care.
When my daughter in law was approx 6 months along – she came home from her clinic appointment and shyly lets me know that she had lost 10 pounds – I tried not to lose my mind and informed my sweet child that this not ok. That she ought not to lose an ounce in pregnancy! She said that she knew that and was confused as to why no one at the clinic has said anything to her about this – she realized that she’d lost weight because just so happened to look at her chart and notice for herself her weight at her previous visit in comparison to her weight this visit – that’s right, she noticed it herself.
I asked her to please allow a licensed mid wife colleague of mine to review her hospital records and it was during this review that we found the Chanell had been anemic pre pregnancy and that this condition had worsened. This was never explained to her nor mentioned to her – though she was now many months in the care of this clinic.
My colleague spent 3 hours discussing in depth everything she found on her chart, explaining how anemia was a condition that worsened over time – especially as her blood volume increased in her pregnancy. She prescribed a whole food iron supplement and reviewed with me what Chanell had been eating – she and our family developed a plan to increase the nutrients in Channels diet – especially Iron, which is was clear that her body was crying out for. In that period of time she also encouraged Chanell to share with her some of the inter personal stresses she was experiencing a young woman experiencing a new marriage and a new pregnancy – she spoke of concern about her changing body and fear that my son might find her un attractive – she also admitted that she was not feeling hungry (a symptom of anemia) and not eating all of the food prepared for her. With the support of my collogue and myself – she had a good cry and got love and support that she was indeed beautiful and would always be so – perhaps even more so after a birthing a healthy child!!
Bust hospitals and clinics are sometimes not able to provide the extremely personal and individual care that pregnant woman need – with a system which is meant to move rather large numbers of women through the system quickly – there simply isn’t time to spend walk through the emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological rite of passage which is pregnancy…
It is no wonder that for all American women – childbirth is a challenging and for some, a life threatening time. The US is number 40 in maternal mortality!!! This is unacceptable!
In other countries in the industrialized world – a pregnant woman does not see and OB/GYN unless she is ill. All other women are seen by midwives who are skilled in the process of education and supporting women through a healthy and low risk pregnancy.
It’s important to realize that only about 1 per cent of American children are born at home – so the crisis of infant mortality isn’t striking that population. These abysmal mortality rates are coming out of a highly medicalized , corporate hospital care system.
How do we correct this? How do we make it safer of all American women in labor in delivery? Here are my suggestions:
A systematic program to reduce this society’s fear of childbirth, and to truly empower women to know the workings of their body – how to holistically achieve or prevent pregnancy.
Realistic information about nutrition – not based on fads or the desires of corporations of make profits. Access for all women to organic and hormone free foods. All humanity has the right to foods which have not been genetically tampered with – foods that can be truly digested and used by a pregnant woman’s body to build a new human being from scratch, as well as maintain the healthy functioning of the mother’s life. Not to mention give her the reserves needed to support her through the rigorous and profound journey of labor, delivery and a healthy postpartum and breastfeeding.
These resources should be available to all woman rich or poor because we as a great nation make the lives of all mommas and babies a priority – we decide that our next generation and their parents need and deserve our support to be health and whole – and that we as a world leader can no longer stand the shame of so many mothers and babies dying in our country.
Another healing balm to this scenario is the normalizing of out of hospital birth in the US. Midwives are a vital gift to pregnant women – they are trained and they have the heart to walk beside a birthing woman and her family she has the time to trouble shoot potential problems and ensure excellent birth comes.
Women deserve and need access to doula care if they are delivering in the hospital – for there again the constant one on one presence of a doula. Especially a doula who has invested time and who has built a report with the birthing woman’s family is invaluable support in reducing the amount of medications used in childbirth and drastically reducing the numbers of c-sections performed on birthing women.
It would also help to have an on going realistic, non defensive and non judgmental exploration of Race and Racism in America. The numbers don’t lie, we are NOT living in a post racial America! We need to listen and learn about how the stresses ,conditions and of the effects of racism with regard to individual self esteem, body image, ability to earn and income and to provide for ones self and family affect communities of color, and poor families, and then commit finally once and for all as a nation to heal these conditions.
I pray that we cease to allow medical corporations and Big Pharma to continue to make money while our mommas (and babies) die! It is the work required of us the, 99 per cent to take the reigns and create the country we wish to live in – one that truly allows liberty and justice for all!!!
Better outcomes are absolutely possible – we have to as country decide that healthy children are more important than profits to medical corporations.
When I saw the gorgeous photos of Beyonce’ holding her oh so perfect little daughter, my eyes welled with tears. Because I was well aware of the amazing odds this young woman had overcome, and because I am angry that this reality exists in what is advertised as the most powerful country in the world.
Baby blessings to Beyonce, and to all mommas of all races and incomes. I pray for that you will have all you need to joyously birth and raise your babies – I pray that one day, very soon – it will be very rare matter for any mother in any country to die in childbirth.
I firmly believe and know that nature wants babies – and nature wants their mommas to be there to raise and love them.
Let us all work to make this our reality.