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Responding to Inequalities: Black mothers, babies three times more likely to die than counterparts

Posted at 7:56 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 20:56:41-04

MILWAUKEE — Black babies in Milwaukee are three times more likely to die within a year of birth as compared to white babies.

The data is a startling, but it's not new. For much of the last six decades, it's gone mostly unchanged.

The Milwaukee Health Department say from 2015 to 2017, for every 1,000 live childbirths, 15.4 black babies die as compared to 5.1 white babies. Black mothers also face a stark reality in mortality.

The Centers for Disease Control says in 42.4 of every 100,000 live births black mothers will die. White mothers face just 13 deaths per 100,000.

"I know what it does to African American families," Tonda Thompson, an advocate for healthy babies said. "It destroys African American families. My family was destroyed from that."

Thompson was pregnant with her first child over seven years ago. Terrell was born in May of 2013 but it wasn't an easy process.

"I was in delivery for 41 hours," Thompson said. "That's the inequality right? It went sour. Everything was perfect until that day. My son only lived for 17 hours. He died from labor complications that could have been prevented."

Thompson says five times during labor, both her and Terrell's heart rate dropped. Because she was on Medicaid, she feels the medical team delayed an emergency cesarean section.

"Usually, one time one time after that happens, they do an emergency c-section," Thompson said. "In my case, it didn't happen. My family was pleading for me to get adequate service and the doctors ignored it. Sure enough, I got a really bad infection and I was dying. I stayed in the hospital for three weeks past this happening."

She says it is a domino effect facing black women and their babies and not just the one item of healthcare disparities.

"We need reform on all levels," Thompson said. "Hospital reforms, educational reforms, policing reforms. All of those different institutional barriers affects an African American being born. If I were white, I wouldn't have had the baby in that facility. We'd be in Grafton somewhere. My baby would have survived definitely."

Now, Thompson wishes she had a Doula to help. Doulas help expecting mothers through the pregnancy process. They are there during pregnancy, labor and afterward to help.

"Birth is happening right now in a system that often misses when people have needs," Ravae Sinclair with Birth Connections MKE said. "When we look at that statistic, it says African American women are dying at three to four times the rate of white women. So even white women in this system are being failed at a higher rate than they should but then you add on top of that, systems that are steeped in white supremacy."

Sinclair says this can lend itself to a distrust in the healthcare system.

"If you did not listen to me, or if you created harm by pushing me or bullying me into procedures during my birth, but then in postpartum, when I have real challenges, I'm less likely to come to you to share," Sinclair said.

With the help of a Doula, Sinclair says they can operate as an advocate to the mother and child to help prevent any complications.

"I am a bridge," Sinclair said. "I'm helping with the communication. I'm also a professional. They can be more vulnerable because I'm present and I'm not going to let them fall. I'm not going to let their pain go on or until their needs are met."

"We need voices," Thompson said. "We need strength. We need cultural humility. Having people who look like us and understand our bodies in the same field. And people who aren't oblivious to racism."

The Milwaukee Health Department has more information available on infant and maternal mortality rates.

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