Studies conducted in the U.S. and UK show that Black women are consistently much more likely to die from complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. Some have pointed to systemic problems within healthcare and assumptions made about patients based on race. Research has found that Black mothers in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications. So, why are Black mothers at more risk of dying?
On July 15 the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) set up a Race Equality Taskforce, formed to get to the bottom of why there are racial disparities in women’s healthcare and to better understand the racism that workers experience. Statistics released during Covid-19 highlighted that 55% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with the virus were from Black, Asian or other ethnic minority backgrounds. However, these racial disparities in healthcare long pre-exist the pandemic.
According to the UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, the chance of a Black woman dying from a pregnancy-related complication was one in 2,500. This risk was five times higher than white parents-to-be. Similarly in the U.S., pregnant Black women are three to four times more likely to die a pregnancy-related death. Some have pointed to social factors contributing to this but a study found that Black middle-class women were more likely to die in childbirth than white working-class women.
Serena Williams and Beyoncé are two women who have opened up about the trauma they experienced through pregnancy and childbirth. Writing about her experience giving birth to her daughter Olympia, Williams said on CNN, “I’m so grateful I had access to such an incredible medical team of doctors and nurses at a hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. They knew exactly how to handle this complicated turn of events. If it weren’t for their professional care, I wouldn’t be here today.” She suffered a number of complications including a pulmonary embolism and hematoma in her abdomen.