Black women are tough, they have a high pain threshold. They can take it — or so the perception goes.
It could also be one of any number of reasons why Black mothers are dying over three times that of white mothers during, or shortly after childbirth.
That’s the rate of death, but they are also are hitting the highest morbidity, defined as “near misses,” or an otherwise close brush with death during the birthing process.
Deidre Coutsoumpos, local perinatal health educator, said various research suggests various explanations for the disparities, including access to prenatal care, or how mothers manage their health before they get pregnant. Some have pointed to educational or insurance status, or how old the mom was when she got pregnant.
But all things considered, and all things being equal, there is still a huge racial gap.
Coutsoumpos said none of it explains why a white woman with a high school education has a higher chance of not dying than a Black woman that is married with a Ph.D. in their mid-30’s, and has the right insurance coverage is more likely to die.
“When it comes down to the Black maternal health crisis, the only factor between white women and Black women is that the women are Black,” she said.
Other factors stand out as a viable cause. One is that doctors are not listening to Black women, she said.
Serena Williams described her hematoma crisis, about how the nurse and doctor hadn’t taken her seriously when she told them what she needed to address clotting that had set up in her lungs after childbirth.
Other recent research put forth by Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, describes a “weathering” process, the idea that Black people live with the daily stress that releases a steady stream of high cortisol into the system. It is placing women at higher risk in pregnancy and delivery.
“We are triggered more frequently,” Coutsoumpos said. “Are we being followed in the store? I think a lot of our stressors are in our bodies, and when we have babies, those stressors have been building up over time.”
Midwives, known as doulas, are the next best thing to an ancient approach that has played a historic vital role to support Black mothers through the birthing process.
Little has changed in the method, except these days she said that moms can choose to have a doula at the hospital, which is where she attends most of her cases.
In her work at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, she is a perinatal health specialist teaching pre-natal preparation classes, including breastfeeding, and newborn and childbirth preparation. She also teaches a postpartum discharge class, and leads a breastfeeding support group on Sunday.