As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, we are constantly being reminded of the systemic inequities Black mamas face in our health-care system.
Amber Isaac’s death in April is one glaring example of the ongoing Black maternal mortality crisis in the United States. The pregnant 26-year-old New Yorker tweeted about her “incompetent doctors” before she died during an emergency cesarean section at a hospital in the Bronx. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the maternal mortality rate among Black women in the United States is nearly three times that of non-Hispanic white women.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase these numbers: A recently released pre-proof study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that there will be an additional 52 maternal mortalities in the United States this year due to COVID-19—which we know is disproportionately impacting Black communities across the country.
Here are several ways you can support Black mamas this Mother’s Day, whether it’s directly or through organizations actively working to address the racial disparities that cause these outcomes. These are also actions you can take year-round; Black mamas deserve our support even after Mother’s Day.
Support Black doulas and midwives
Due to negative experiences and a distrust of the medical system, Black pregnant people often turn to the services of midwives to help them deliver in or outside of a hospital setting, or doulas to guide them through the process and provide care and support. Black women and low-income women are the most likely group to want a doula but to lack access to such services.
In New York, organizations such as Ancient Song, a doula collective that provides resources for pregnant people and parents while addressing racial health inequities in communities of color, have been working to fill that gap in resources. During the pandemic, the organization has continued to support patients via virtual visits. You can donate to support their work here.
The National Black Doulas Association is one resource to find other organizations, collectives, or individuals to support. It provides a doula directory on its website.
Donate to birth centers and reproductive health clinics that center Black mamas
Freestanding birth centers are homelike facilities that provide pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum through the care of midwives. These spaces, especially those located in communities of color, are crucial alternatives to hospital care for Black mamas. During the pandemic, these spaces are critical as people seek to avoid hospitals, which may be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and as cities are closing maternity wards.
Help fund organizations addressing Black maternal health
The National Birth Equity Collaborative works to improve Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaborations. The organization’s founder and president, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, has been at the forefront of discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect Black reproductive health. You can donate to support their work here.
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) is a Black women-led organization that works to advocate for black maternal health. Every year the alliance organizes the Black Maternal Health Week campaign in April to raise awareness about the maternal health issues Black women face in the United States. You can donate to support their work here.
One of BMMA’s member organizations, SisterSong, is a Southern-based reproductive justice collective that organizes across communities of color. Along with mobilizing people to advocate for abortion rights through trainings across the country, the organization also centers the right to give birth and parent children in safe, sustainable communities—which is a vital part of the reproductive justice framework. In order to assist families struggling with the financial impacts of the pandemic, SisterSong has created a Birth Justice Care Fund that will provide essential items like formula, diapers, and car seats to new parents, as well as providing financial support to pay for the services of a midwife or doula. You can donate to fund here, or donate to support SisterSong here.
Bail out Black mamas
For the fourth consecutive year, the Black-led and -centered National Bail Out Collective is running its #FreeBlackMamas campaign, which raises bail money for Black mamas and caregivers so they can spend Mother’s Day with their families. People who are incarcerated are particularly vulnerable during this pandemic, as prisons have been the site of some of the largest outbreaks of the virus.
The People’s Paper Co-Op, a Philadelphia-based organization that works with formerly incarcerated women, is also selling artwork to support the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund’s #FreeBlackMamas campaign. All of the proceeds will go directly to the bail fund.
Support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus of 2020
In March, Sen. Kamala Harris and Reps. Lauren Underwood and Alma Adams introduced S.3424, the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2020, which aims to address preventable maternal mortality in the United States and close existing racial disparities. The comprehensive bill would provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes for Black women, improve data collection processes, and improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated women.
Moreover, it would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to convene a task force to address social determinants of health for prenatal and postpartum women and would create grant funding to address those issues. This is significant, as a recent study published in Health Affairs found that social determinants of health—mainly income, levels of neighborhood segregation, and hospital quality—are directly correlated with maternal mortality rates.
The bill is worth monitoring so that you can lobby your elected official when it comes up for a vote. As much as we need to support our communities, really supporting Black mamas will require systemic change, and sometimes that requires concrete policy action.