Health care and education can help to decrease Black baby and mother mortality 

There is a high rate of death in the Black community for women and babies during labor and delivery. Black people accounted for 90% of pregnancy-related deaths in D.C. from 2014 to 2018, while white people experienced no pregnancy-related deaths, according to the city’s 2020 Maternal Mortality Review Committee report. The infant mortality rate was much higher for babies of non-Hispanic Black mothers (11.49 per 1,000 live births) than for babies of non-Hispanic white mothers (2.55 per 1,000 live births) from 2012 to 2016, according to the city’s 2018 Perinatal Health and Infant Mortality Report. 

I have asked some people of color what they think about this. One lady said mothers don’t always follow doctors’ orders, don’t always eat nutritional food, and don’t always get proper prenatal care. From the male point of view, a man suggested to me that the birthplace should be at home, because there are not enough hospitals in the Black community. 

I think this problem is caused by a combination of things and needs a combination of solutions. Individual support to build up faith and confidence. Medical support to become and stay healthy. A loving environment to keep strong. And a higher power than yourself to keep you going. My way is to pray and ask God to help.

The health care you get in lower-income neighborhoods is inferior to the health care you get in middle-class neighborhoods, and you know it’s inferior to the health care in upper-class neighborhoods. They have problems in poor neighborhoods that people in other neighborhoods could never think about, and so health care workers sometimes think, “These people are not worth saving.” But it’s because people in lower-income neighborhoods sometimes don’t have people to watch over them or take good care of them, and they don’t always have parenting skills. It’s like a cycle that comes around. They get stuck in it. 

Girls and boys try to imitate what their mothers and fathers do. They’re trying everything they can do to be like adults. Then around seventh or eighth grade, some girls get pregnant, and their parents are wondering, “Why is this happening?” They didn’t know any better. No one explained to them about the actual act of sex. When girls do get pregnant and they find out, they don’t know what to do. They don’t want to tell their parents, so they’re going on five or six months before anybody knows, when they start to get big. They can’t get an abortion because it’s too late, and some of these people don’t believe in abortions. And the boys don’t know what to do but hold your hand and rub your hair and say “Don’t worry, we’re going to make it, I’ve got my lunch money.” 

When I was going to school, they had this program in the District called “personal and family living,” which started in junior high school. It covered pregnancy and sexual diseases, and it also covered the role of mother, the role of father, and what you need to be equipped emotionally to handle a family. Children today need real sex education and they need real family education. I think that education should start in the fifth or sixth grade. By the time they get to eighth grade, it’s been there, done that. 

We need groups like Mamatoto Village and House of Ruth to support women who are pregnant and in trouble, whether from homelessness or illness or mental problems or low self-esteem. We need programs to help unwed mothers, mothers who want to adopt, who want abortion rights, who need help with incest, and so on. These organizations should cover everything from how to get along with your parents to how to deal with the pregnancy situation. The message should be: you’re not a villain, you’re not a monster, you’re not no good, you’re not ruined. You’re just having a baby. People do it everyday. And it is your choice. 

Churches do a lot too, but I think they could do more. When it comes to telling people about forgiveness and how to overcome and bypass problems, churches shy away. If you’re going to condemn somebody for something, like getting pregnant, teach them a better way. After all, people are only human. 

Jacqueline Turner is an artist and vendor with Street Sense Media. 

Issues |Health, Physical

Region |Washington DC

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