Beyoncé’s health was in grave danger. Serena Williams, the greatest athlete of her generation, told the world she “almost died.” My own daughter acted quickly and made a choice that probably saved her life.
These aren’t stories about the coronavirus – they’re stories about Black women giving birth.
Tragically, those women were the lucky ones. Kira Johnson had just given birth to her second child, Langston. She and her husband Charles noticed that there was blood in her catheter. An emergency CT scan was ordered, but they waited for hours before it came.
Kira knew something was wrong. She knew her body. However, in that critical couple of hours, she lost her chance. She died from hours of neglect and severe hemorrhaging, nearly 12 hours after delivering her second son.
Despite being in excellent health, despite being a successful businesswoman, despite having health insurance and doing everything right, Kira did not make it out alive. Kira and thousands of other women left behind children who never got to know their moms.
The data is clear: we have a maternal mortality crisis in the United States, and since childbirth suppresses the immune system of the mother and the newborn, the coronavirus pandemic will likely make the crisis worse.
No country in the developed world has a higher maternal mortality rate. There were 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987; that number more than doubled to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016. Additionally, Black women are now four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women in the United States.
Now take those troubling statistics and think about what’s happening in the coronavirus era. If pregnant women are experiencing issues like hunger, homelessness, or a lack of access to healthcare, imagine how stay-at-home orders exacerbate those problems.
If women aren’t getting the prenatal care they need, imagine how many visits are being canceled due to the pandemic. Now, with restrictions on who can be present during birth, imagine how many fewer advocates moms have at the hospital should something go wrong?
We can’t afford for this problem to get worse. That is why I have worked with Senator Kamala Harris since 2018 to recognize Black Maternal Health Week, and why I founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus in Congress with Rep. Lauren Underwood last year.
This year, after months of research, data collection, and listening to the stories of Black women and parents across the country, we developed the Black Maternal Health Momnibus of 2020: nine bills in the House with an omnibus companion bill in the Senate.
The Momnibus is a historic piece of legislation that not only targets failures in maternal healthcare, but also addresses pervasive maternal health disparities through solutions that are culturally competent and proven effective.
These bills make investments in social determinants of health, community-based organizations, the growth and diversification of the perinatal workforce, improvements in data collection and quality measures, digital tools like telehealth, and innovative payment models. They provide a roadmap so our healthcare systems, providers, and society will finally make Black maternal and infant health a priority.
The Momnibus says, unequivocally, that Black moms matter, but if passed, it will improve maternal health outcomes for all moms.
Every Democratic senator who ran for president this year has cosponsored the Momnibus, but this isn’t a partisan issue. It is, however, a life-and-death issue.
Our maternal mortality and morbidity rates are unacceptable, especially among Black women. There’s no greater time than now to solve this crisis, even during a pandemic.
Rep. Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. has represented the 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2014. She is the co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and the first bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus.
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