‘This is a disparity:’ Black Maternal Health week highlights disparities, proposed solutions

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 9:47 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For many mothers, welcoming their baby into the world is an exciting time, but disproportionate maternal mortality and morbidity rates make that excitement difficult.

Aignee Doyle and her husband Daquan are less than two months away from welcoming their baby girl Nova into the world.

“I’m very excited about decorating her room. I’m someone who organizes, I love to organize and then just that unconditional love from my child, I’m very excited for that,” Doyle said.

While they’re ready to decorate and love on baby Nova, there’s something that worries the Doyle family - maternal health disparities for Black women.

The CDC reports that Black women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

A 2019 study from the CDC found that Black women over the age of 30 were four to five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

The CDC says there are many factors that contribute to this such as differences in healthcare access and quality, underlying chronic health conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.

“I have heard that for a long time and that’s something I was very afraid of. I tell him now, my husband that giving birth Is one of my biggest fears that when we do come up with our birth plan that I need him to speak for me and follow it because I’m either going to be in so much pain or if there’s complications and I can’t speak he’s going to have to speak for me,” Doyle said.

April 11-17, 2021 is Black Maternal Health Week. BMHW was started in 2018 by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. This weeklong event is centered around awareness, activism, and community building.

Congressional leaders, community members, mothers, and doulas are bringing attention to issues like implicit bias, maternal mortality, and proposing solutions.

North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams is working with other state leaders to pass the Kira Johnson Act.

“As COVID-19 continues to put enormous pressure on birthing parents, I’m highlighting an important bill in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus: the Kira Johnson Act. The bill invests in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity rates overall, and especially for Black women,” said Representative Adams, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus

Lauren Bullock is a Charlotte-based Doula who provides mental, physical, and spiritual support for birthing and pregnant people.

Her goal is to be an advocate before, during, and after labor to ensure her clients are listened to and treated properly if they have any complications.

“We listen to our clients when they tell us what they’re feeling and what they need and so I think that’s a big part in addressing the Black Maternal Health crisis,” Bullock said.

Bullock also works with the mother’s partner to make sure they are prepared to be an advocate if the doula cannot be at the hospital.

Black maternal health is personal for Novant Health’s Doctor Ebony Parson.

“I am a mother, I’m a mother of two,” Parson said.

Parson agrees that communication is vital especially if a patient experiences complications like pre-eclampsia or seizures.

Parson says it’s imperative healthcare providers look at social determinants as well as personal choice determinants.

“That is also talking with the patients, listening to the patients, striving to make sure you have a good relationship with your patients so that when they do have concerns or they have questions that you take the time to listen and to hear them,” Parson said.

Another issue that congressional leaders are discussing is implicit bias in the medical field. Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes and stereotypes.

Both Doyle and Bullock say a big part of this is listening to act so that a patient’s cries for help don’t end in further complications or death.

“I’m very fearful of them sending me home and something like that happens where my organs start to shut down and now I’m admitted and I can’t speak or I’m in a coma or something like that, when in fact they could’ve just heard my concerns and tried to see what was wrong and try to fix it right then and there,” Doyle said.

Bullock says she had a patient who believed they were in labor but when they expressed Their concern they said the doctor dismissed it for Braxton Hick’s contractions but the patient went into labor shortly after.

“These stories are common and they’re deeply concerning because just because it only takes someone believing you and trusting you to prevent these deaths because most of these deaths are preventable,” Bullock said.

Bullock also suggested that birthing mothers consider free-standing birth centers. There is currently one in Gainseville, Alabama.

The read more about the birth sanctuary in Gainseville, click here.

Parson says communication is key when taking care of patients but more importantly, Novant Health’s diversity inclusion and equity program is addressing cultural differences. Novant Health also has continued education on implicit bias for health care workers.

Parson also agreed that mothers should have a support person in the hospital while they’re in labor.

Novant Health has a verified Doula program to ensure mothers can have the support they need and want in the hospital.

Parson says this is more than just a conversation and that there should be a systematic approach in all health care facilities to combat this health disparity just like any other illness.

“Understanding that this is more than just a conversation, this is a health disparity that needs to be looked at and researched,” Parson said. “Taking out the data for the Black women and comparing it to the total, so doing the same thing you do for any other medical condition, applying the same research and then having targeted efforts in place to reduce those things.”

Bullock is an independent Doula in Charlotte and works alongside her partner-Doula Brooklyn Covington. They can be contacted at and their venmo is @brooklynandlo.

They can be contacted individually on Instagram at @sadeselestine (Brooklyn) and @thebookoflo (Lauren).

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