In 1962, Malcolm X said the most unprotected person in America is a black woman. This statement was made 58 years ago and is still relevant today. Black women are more susceptible to unfair treatment in American hospitals and doctor’s offices due to racism, sexism, and other systematic barriers ingrained in American culture. In recent years there has been research on unfair treatment regarding maternal health.
Stereotypes have led to detrimental events occurring in labor rooms and prenatal wards.
The facts prove black women are more at risk during pregnancy and while giving birth. According to American Journal of Public Health, Black women in America are more likely to have more birthing complications than any other race. In 2018, Researchers found that out of the 658 women who died during childbirth, black women took up 37.1 percent of the chart. African American women are suffering and concerned with the outcomes of delivering in hospitals. Although this is no specific explanation, there are systematic factors that play a part in wrongful practices.
Black women are less likely to have access to quality prenatal care because of a lack of resources for family planning services and insurance. For example, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology did a study on women enrolled in Medicaid, “Black women were less likely than white or Latina women to receive postpartum contraception, and when they did receive it, they were less likely to receive a highly effective method.” In addition to the lack of health care measures, black women have limited access to abortion. They are more likely to have delayed prenatal care or increased cost of having care because of abortion restrictions.
Stereotypes due to racism have played a factor in the safety concern as well. The stereotypical image of a black woman is physically strong and without vulnerability. These stereotypes are believed in hospitals around the country, putting African American mothers and babies at risk. Outside of contraceptive help, there have been enormous stories of African American women being ignored or dismissed by doctors and nurses, because of the pain they have faced. Time magazine posted a story by Tressie Cottom, who faced this issue. She has suffered two tumors while carrying her child, the nurses did not take her pain seriously enough. Sadly, she lost her baby at 4 months. “When my butt hurt, the doctors and nurses did not read that as a competent interpretation of contractions and so no one addressed my labor pains for over three days. At every step of the process of having what I would learn later was a fairly typical pregnancy for a black woman in the United States” (TIME)
The racial bias in pain management is dangerous but also being taught to nurses. A textbook: Nursing: A Concept- Based Approach to Learning, contained advice for nurses when handling pain for different ethnicities. “Blacks often report high pain intensity than other cultures. They believe suffering and pain are inevitable” This was published in 2017.
Serena Williams, an African American world-renown Tennis player, spoke out alot of her experience with her pregnancy. According to an interview she did with Vogue Magazine, Williams was at risk for a pulmonary embolism and was experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath after an emergency C-section. She asked for a CT scan and blood thinner, but the medical staff didn’t take her seriously. Blood started pooling inside her, which eventually led to another emergency surgery, where she almost lost her life.
Doctors have used vague facts to continue on the stereotype about black women and their weight, leading to critical outcomes. Black women are more prone to having conditions such as obesity and hypertension that complicate pregnancy. Although after reading articles and stories about problems within hospitals, doctors often dismiss black women’s pain as a correlation to weight issues. Medical professionals have a tendency to blame black women’s health concerns on weight. From the Time magazine story, the doctors first said the patient should lose weight. Some might say we should blame these occurrences on a faulty healthcare system instead of race. There are a lot of nurses and doctors overwhelmed by patients, although medical staffs everywhere are facing pressures, under pressure people are more likely to revert to stereotypes.
African American women should receive quality and respectful care when it comes to pregnancy. The government can take measures to ensure this happens. The National Partnership has an article on what can be done to decrease the mortality rate of black women in labor. One option mentioned was to expand access to quality patient-centered reproductive health care. This will improve the status of maternal health and provide contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancies. Black women need to be treated with the same amount of care as any other woman while in pregnancy. Its time health care professionals took this into account.