Black women are 3 – 4 times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women, a national statistic that sparked public outcry from mothers across America.
This year marks the 6th annual Black Maternal Health Week. Celebrated in April during National Minority Health Month, Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) is a week of awareness, activism, and community-building aimed at amplifying the voices of Black Mamas, and centering the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements. BMHW is founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
On April 10th, the White House released a Proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week, citing its Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis as a call to action in response to the epidemic:
Black Maternal Health Week is a reminder that so many families experience pain, neglect, and loss during what should be one of the most joyous times of their lives. It is an urgent call for action. Black women in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. This is on top of the fact that women in America are dying at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than in any other developed nation.
Tackling this crisis begins with understanding how institutional racism drives these high maternal mortality rates. Studies show that Black women are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings, even as they suffer from severe injuries and pregnancy complications and ask for help. Systemic inequities are also to blame. When mothers do not have access to safe and stable housing before and after childbirth, they are at greater risk of falling ill. When women face barriers traveling to the hospital for prenatal and postpartum checkups, they are less likely to remain healthy.
Frederick County joined the White House in these sentiments. Former County Executive Jan Gardner invested American Rescue Plan Funds into efforts that address disparities in maternal and infant health in Frederick. Her successor, Jessica Fitzwater has resumed the initiative and presented a proclamation for Black Maternal Health Week (April 11th -17th) to community advocates and State Supervisor Health Officer, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer last week.
Last week I was able to recognize some of the amazing women from Black Mamas Building Bridges as we proclaimed Black Maternal Health Week. Thank you to Frederick County Health Department, our community partners, and so many Black mothers for their continued involvement in this critical work. – County Executive Jessica Fitzwater
In November, The Frederick County Health Department collaborated with HMA Community Strategies, a public health consulting firm, to conduct a Black Maternal Health Disparity Study. HMA recruited Black mothers, their caregivers and friends to help describe and give feedback on the Black maternal experience in Frederick County. Black mothers and their supporters and relatives who have experienced pregnancy or post-partum in Frederick County were invited to complete an interest form and participate in a virtual discussion later in the month. From there, Black Maternal Health Community Advisory Board of Frederick County was enacted.
On Monday, Hood College hosted a screening of the “Birthing Justice” documentary. Following the moderated panel discussion featuring speakers including Danielle Haskin, Director of the Frederick County Health Department Equity Office, and Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, Frederick County Health Officer following the screening with local community-based midwives, doulas and women with lived experience. Watch the trailer below.
We would like to thank the dedicated families that have given time and energy to make sure that everyone has a beautiful birthing experience! We are taking action in Frederick County to eliminate differences for the new baby and family alike, so that everyone has the birthing experience they deserve. – Frederick County Health Department
On Tuesday, the Black Maternal Health Community Advisory Board of Frederick County were scheduled to discuss their work in identifying the root causes of negative birthing experiences on virtual panel but could not convene because of disruptions during the event.
From the Frederick County Health Department:
Tonight’s virtual session to share our Black Maternal Health Disparity Report findings was hijacked by attendees making racist remarks. This event will be rescheduled, so please check back. While this event reflects parts of our divided and hostile culture, we remain undeterred in our intentions to continue to make Frederick County a place where all of us can thrive! We want to be clear that we will continue to specifically address racism as a public health issue. We will work to identify and correct the structural and implicit racism in our community so that our Black moms and birthing people can experience their best pregnancy, birth, and parenting outcomes. #ThisIsPublicHealth #HealthEquity
County Government followed with a statement condemning the incident. Read it here.
“Yesterday, the Frederick County Health Department attempted to host a virtual session on their findings on Black Maternal Health Disparity. Their virtual session was disrupted by racist and obscene behavior, including verbal death threats, which led to the cancellation of the event.
“In order to drive more positive Black maternal health outcomes, we must acknowledge that racism is a public health crisis,” said Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater. “The findings in the Frederick County Black Maternal Health Disparity Study characterize Black maternal health disparities in terms of specific outcomes, like the conceptual framework to get to the root cause of these disparities. I am disgusted that someone would disrupt a session revealing these findings and next steps on how the County can do better. I look forward to working with the health department, our Office of Equity and Inclusion, community organizations, and emerging change agents to create positive outcomes for Black mothers in our community.”
Remaining undeterred and acknowledging the critical opportunity presented to address health inequities in Frederick County, specifically with Black maternal health, the health department will be rescheduling the session for a later date.”