California maternal health-care system urged to address abuses of black women

California maternal health-care system urged to address abuses of black women

Oakland, CA—October 23, 2017

A report released this week documents human rights abuses in California’s maternal health-care system and calls for corrective action by practitioners, health insurers and policy-makers. Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis in California is the result of a five year community-based research project documenting the pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences of over 100 African American women ages 17 to 46.

Black women in California are roughly four times more likely to die of pregnancy related causes than white women, black infants are twice as likely as white infants to perish during their first year and are more likely to be born too soon or too early. Maternal health initiatives fail to involve black women in crafting solutions and have thus made little impact on this apparently intractable problem. With this report, Black Women Birthing Justice (BWBJ) seeks to build a grassroots campaign to transform birth experiences.

The research reveals that pregnancy and birth is often a battleground between black pregnant women and their health-care providers, creating stress, anger and distress. Lack of respect for women’s boundaries or bodily autonomy, stereotyping due to race, class, age, sexual orientation and marital status and attempted suppression of self-advocacy are primary sources of conflict. Participants reported being pressured into unwanted medical procedures, being denied full informed consent, and being denied basic needs, such as needing to move, squat or push during labor.

Researchers uncovered a culture of fear and coercion, fueled by media images of childbirth, racial disparities and maternal deaths, that leaves women vulnerable to control and coercion by medical professionals. They also revealed a deep lack of trust of our hospitals, underpinned by fears about unwanted medical interventions and unnecessary C-sections.

Over 1 in 4 women in the study expressed a preference for home birth, but cited barriers due to cost, lack of access, and pressures from loved ones and medical practitioners. Researchers also discovered a significant and overlooked network of black community midwives, homebirth mothers and doulas working to create alternatives to a broken maternal health-care system.

“Too often, public health policy is created without listening to the voices of those who are most affected” said Chinyere Oparah, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Mills College and co-author of the report. “Black women know what’s wrong with our maternal health-care system, but no-one is listening to what they have to say. This community-driven research aims to change that.”

“When Black women try to stand up for what they need during pregnancy and labor, they are told ‘You don’t want a dead baby do you?’,” says Linda Jones, a doula for over 20 years and founding member of BWBJ. “That kind of coercion has to stop.”

With the release of Battling Over Birth, Black Women Birthing Justice are launching a campaign to transform the maternal health-care system in California and to ensure that black women and pregnant individuals have the right to birth with safety and autonomy, where, how and with whom they choose.

The report details recommendations for medical professionals and hospital administrators; community birthworkers; policy-makers; partners, families a

nd friends; community organizations and black pregnant women. These include community accountability boards to hold hospitals accountable, increased access to midwifery and doula-care, recruitment and training of more health-care professionals of color, culturally-competent, empowering prenatal and postpartum care,; greater access to home birth and birth centers, and a sharp reduction in cesarean birth (C-sections).

A community launch of the report will feature readings of birth stories from the report, performances by Sistahs of the Drum, and the launch of a social media campaign to #LiberateBlackBirth.

Launch details:

When: October 26, 2017, doors open 6pm, program 6.30-8.30pm

Where: Mills College Student Union, 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland CA 94619

Free and open to the public

For a full copy of the report, please visit:

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