A recent study shows Black women are at higher risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes than white or Asian women.
Black women are more at risk for gestational diabetes, hemorrhage and hypertensive disorders, and they are three times as likely to die during pregnancy than their white counterparts.
Black women are sharing their stories of perfectly healthy pregnancies experiencing traumatic births and, in the worst cases, ending tragically with death of the parent or the baby.
Actress and advocate Tatyana Ali, shared her own deeply traumatic and life-threatening birth at the BlogHer Health 2021 event in January.
She closed out BlogHer Health 2021 in conversation with Sugaberry Founder Thai Randolph about the birth inequality crisis.
"I lived a very privileged life," Ali said, citing her background as a Harvard-educated former child actor. "The birth of my son and my pregnancy was really my first interaction with a type of racism that could kill me and affect the health of my child."
The 42-year-old actress said her privilege didn't protect her from the systemic racism in the medical community.
She detailed the traumatic moments from her first birthing story — experiences of being ignored, coerced and traumatized at such a vulnerable moment that resulted in an emergency C-section and her newborn spending the first few days of his life in the NICU.
"When we left the hospital it felt like we were running," Ali said.
It wasn't until she was really able to connect and talk with people in the reproductive justice space — in her case, a lactation consultant — that she says it fully clicked how valid her feelings of trauma and violation were.
"When we were healing our wounds the best we could, not even knowing our story fit neatly in the statistics, a lactation consultant asked what happened," Ali said. "When I told her, the look on her face let me know that what I was feeling was real — and that something needlessly horrible had happened."
Ali started to connect with other organizations in the reproductive justice space — like Black Mamas Matter — and she said "the paradigm shift started to take place."
"The guilt is something I carried with me for a very long time, until I started to hear similar stories and realized there's something bigger happening," Ali said. "That my story is one piece of it. And it didn’t have to be that way."
For her second pregnancy, Ali said, "I wanted a black midwife who I felt connected to. [Finding her] was not easy to do and there are historical reasons for that and there are corrections for that too."
"At my [male] OBGYN I had a pelvic exam every time, he was always in it," she said. "My midwife asked me 'can I touch you? can I touch your belly?' She always asked. If I didn't need a pelvic exam, she didn’t give me a pelvic exam."
And this second birth? It was exactly the experience she wanted and needed: "My second birth, for both my husband and I, it completely changed, it cleared up the trauma."
To other women who are scared about their pregnancies or processing their own trauma from birth inequality, Ali urges them to feel empowered to take charge of their and to reclaim the joy of giving birth and being a new parent.
"Share your story, share it, share it, do not stop digging. You can have the type of birth that you want, the kind of support that you want. We are often talked about as a needy community, that we have more needs than anyone else. Any mother of any ethnicity knows, we need community, we need support, we need help when things go wrong. Unfortunately our systems are such that some people get those needs met and some don't. Remember that and let that empower you to get what you need."