Why Black Maternal Health Week is Important

This week is Black Maternal Health Week. It hits at an interesting time for me. I am a new mother, and in three weeks my daughter, Olivia, will turn one. It’s a time of celebration and reflection.

Ellen Freeman
Ellen Freeman

My pregnancy experience is one that I wish every mama could experience. Being pregnant is so special but also terrifying. And as a Black woman, there are constant thoughts and reminders that being pregnant comes with a lot of high risks. According to the CDC, the mortality rate for Black women was three times that of White and Hispanic women in 2020. Studies show us that clinicians take our pain less seriously. You’re always trying to shake off the nagging feeling that something can happen to you and your baby. Every news story, such as Shalon Irving’s, is heartbreaking and a reminder of a potential of the fate to come.

I live in North Carolina. The statistics for pregnant Black women are bleak. As a planner and a person with anxiety, I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that my baby and I made it back home safely. Before I became pregnant I listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos, read articles, and talked to moms about their experiences to find the lessons learned.

But then I began working for Upstream. Working here placed me around women and in rooms where I learned things that I had never heard of such as preconception appointments, the difference between OBGYNs and midwives, and the importance of going to your 6-week checkup.

My goal was to surround myself with as many black women as possible. My therapist, a black woman, set herself up to make sure I was mentally okay every step of the way. I secured my doula, a black woman, six months before I became pregnant. A doula was important to me after learning that doulas lowered the risk of traumatic births and contributed to happier and healthier pregnancies and babies. In the corner of a donut shop, we discussed my wants for pregnancy. As a black, plus-sized woman I really wanted to pick the right doctor. Someone who I knew would listen to me. That night my doula sent me a list of doctors and midwives who had great reputations for treating black and plus-sized women with care and actually listening to them.

From that list, I met with a black midwife for my preconception appointment. We sat down and came up with a plan for minimizing my fibroids and getting my body in a good place to be prepared for a child. She followed through with that plan by meeting with me throughout the summer to check in on how I was doing.

I had a hard pregnancy, one filled with pains that would confine me to the couch, food aversions that would cause me to lose weight my entire pregnancy, and perinatal depression that sent me to the hospital. I had a hard birth. Labor lasted 30 hours and I experienced some scary moments when Olivia’s heart rate dropped, and she came out silent. But soon those lungs were definitely working (and never stopped!). I had a strong team behind me watching for the health of myself and my baby, and I know that’s why I had a great postpartum experience as well.

Every mother should be able to experience that. One thing that I appreciate about Black Maternal Health Week is the time that everyone takes to spotlight the way that black mothers are treated from pregnancy to postpartum. The theme for this year “Building for Liberation: Centering Black Mamas, Black Families and Black Systems of Care” connects directly with my experience. It is something that I want so strongly to happen for every Black woman, to experience pregnancy in a way that frees them from the worry of the journey.

As my daughter approaches one, I’m still using my personal and professional time to share resources and knowledge gained throughout my journey into motherhood. I am glad to work for an organization that is helping ensure that everyone gets equitable access to the full range of birth control options. Birth control access gives women the time to fully plan out what they want their own pregnancy to look like, if they’re interested in having children. There are many things that need to happen to ensure Black women and their babies thrive. It took a village to see me through my pregnancy, and will take a strong community to solve Black maternal health inequities in the U.S.

To learn more about Black Maternal Health Week and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance follow the #BMHW22 hashtag or visit https://blackmamasmatter.org/bmhw.

Ellen Freeman and her daughter, Olivia
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