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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Too many black mothers are dying in Texas


Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

The United States is home to one of the highest mortality rates for mothers in the developed world. Despite the fact that the United States spends an estimated $98 billion per year on hospitalization for pregnant women during pregnancy and childbirth — twice as much as any other country in the world — its MMR has more than doubled in the past 23 years, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

A country that claims to be one of the most powerful and influential forces in the world can’t even take the necessary steps to protect its new mothers.

Every year in the United States, almost 1,200 women die from pregnancy or childbirth complications, and another 60,000 have near-fatal complications. And black mothers have lower chances of surviving after giving birth than any other race in the United States.

This has to change. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women in the United States are more than three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than white women. It’s scary to realize that new black mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan.

Tennis superstar Serena Williams nearly died after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia. Williams noticed she was having trouble breathing and notified nurses immediately. After identifying her health problems and letting the doctors know exactly what was wrong with her, Williams was able to receive the proper care that assured her survival.

The fact that Williams had to insist on being properly checked is unsettling. Had she not voiced her concerns and demanded proper care, Williams would have died.

Giving birth to a child is already worrying and stressful enough, so it makes you wonder: “If a celebrity like Serena Williams wasn’t given the proper medical attention and almost lost her life, what will happen to someone like me?”

A 2016 analysis of five years of data found that black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.

The fact that black women with a college education, social and economic advantages can still die or be at a higher risk compared to an average white woman shows there is something incredibly wrong with our system.

It’s not surprising that racism is the star of this morbid show. Black mothers-to-be and new mothers often say that doctors and nurses don’t take their pain seriously. The stereotypical belief that African-Americans have higher pain tolerance and don’t need to be treated with as much care has its roots in slavery, yet still manifests itself today, even in hospitals.

Existing health issues heighten the chances of suffering from complications during and after giving birth.

An average of 7.6 percent of black women suffer from heart disease compared to 5.6 of white woman. In 2016, nearly 46 of every 100,000 black women died from strokes, while 35 of every 100,000 white women did. Women who lack health insurance are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complication than those with insurance. While insurance is a benefit of living in a first world country, the survival of a mother and her newborn child shouldn’t depend entirely on the assumption that they have such a luxury.

I spoke with a family friend, Ruth Tessfaye, who shared her own horrifying experience. After giving birth to her fourth child, she found herself constantly in and out of the hospital for dizzy spells, shortness of breath and constant bleeding beyond the normal six-week period. Known as lochia, tissue from the lining of the uterus sheds and produces vaginal discharge including blood during the postpartum period.

Despite being reassured her body was just healing, she knew something was still not normal. It wasn’t until she stormed into the hospital and demanded her doctor fully check out what was wrong with her body that they found the issue and immediately performed a surgery that would save her life.

“There’s nothing more depressing, more terrifying than the thought of not being able to see your children again. Not being able to be there as they grow up, especially for your newest born,” she said.

It shouldn’t have to take more suffering and a near-death experiences for black women to receive proper medical care. It’s not in a doctor or nurse’s criteria to decide who can and cannot endure a certain amount of pain, especially based on skin color. The strong black woman trope not only harms black women socially and mentally but medically as well, impacting and threatening lives forever.

Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. Who you are or where you are from shouldn’t be the deciding factor for whether or not you and your baby get to live or die.

Ruth Tessfaye’s name was changed, at her request, to protect her privacy. 

Assistant opinion editor Bethel Biru is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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