Health Experts: Black women face different issues with maternal mortality

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 5:36 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - The most recent data from the Indiana Department of Health indicates that the leading cause of death in women within a year after given birth is overdose. About 80 percent of pregnancy associated deaths happen within a year. For women of color, health experts say they are not dying of drug addiction. The leading cause of death is for different reasons.

The story hits home for Ariana McGee. She is the mother of four children ages five and under. She started the organization Navigate Maternity, after realizing many black moms need support after her own traumatic birth experience. McGee said she almost died on the table after going into labor.

“This doctor did not listen to me,” said McGee. “She was dismissive, and she tried to send me home.”

McGee was considered high risk after already having multiple cesarean sections.

Ariana McGee, Founder, CEO of Navigate Maternity “We had to really argue her down and thank goodness we did because when my doctor found out she immediately came in, rushed me back to the ER and when they opened me up, I had a uterine window.”

That means her uterus had a thinning in its lining.

“It was so thin it looked like a water balloon about to burst,” she said. “You could see my daughter’s hair. When that happened. Everything changed. It became real for me.”

Although statistics from the Indiana Department of Health show that many women are dying from addiction and overdose, Dr. Elicia Harris said the story is different for black women. She tells 21Investigates that more often black women are dying from medical complications. That includes issues like hypertension, hemorrhaging and infections.

“Why is it that more black women are likely to die of medical conditions compared to white women?” said Dr. Harris. “I think a lot of that has to do with implicit bias.”

Dr. Harris and McGee say some women feel like they’re not being heard.

“You have to rely on the information that the patient is giving to you,” said Harris. “Some of that is that black women may not feel completely comfortable explaining how they’re feeling, or their provider may misinterpret what they’re saying or may be dismissive of it.”

There are also other factors like access to healthcare that could play a role. Dr. Kristina Box says the state health department is aware of that problem. They are watching that disparity very closely.

“I feel like if we could start with healthcare policy, access, addressing the social determinants of health, which is far beyond what a physician can do,” said Dr. Harris. “That would be a great start. As clinician, listening more. As a patient going in with my best health.”

McGee and Harris developed a team of healthcare professionals. They are creating a remote patient care center for prenatal and postpartum moms to track the data. Particularly, when it comes to moms of color. Then they’ll give that information to the healthcare providers who are caring for them.

“One of the biggest gaps is that right now we don’t have information on patients between appointment one and appointment two,” said McGee. “What our software does through the use of our sensors to capture that data real time so that physicians to make a proactive choice for their patients.”

However, McGee said the most important thing is for moms to speak up.

“You know your body best,” she said. “If something does not feel right, tell you doctor right away. Call the care team. don’t say it’s going to be fine. Women, especially mothers. There’s a thousand things we have to do. We take care of ourselves last. Don’t do that. Listen to your body and tell your healthcare provider ASAP.”