A damning parliamentary report has found that there are still huge inequalities in mortality rates for Black mothers in the UK.
The report – Black People, Racism and Human Rights – found that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is failing to protect Black people’s human rights, and a section on maternal mortality confirmed that Black mothers are five times more likely to die than white women during or after pregnancy and giving birth.
Seven in 100,000 white women die in childbirth, 13 in 100,000 Asian women, 23 in 100,000 mixed ethnicity women. 38 in 100,000 Black women die in childbirth, and this figure is increasing year on year.
Worryingly, the report also stated that despite the stark and horrifying reality of these figures, the NHS currently has no specific target to end this inequality.
‘The NHS acknowledge and regret this disparity but have no target to end it,’ reads the report’s conclusion.
When the authors of the report questioned the NHS Chief Midwifery Officer, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, about the reasons for these figures, she did not give a clear answer:
‘I am still not confident that we know why there is an inequality in health outcomes between a black woman and a white woman,’ she said. ‘We have plausible explanations and the evidence on comorbidities is compelling, but there is something more.’
The lack of clarity about the causes of the higher rate of death for Black mothers, coupled with no clear plan to improve the situation, is understandably causing a lot of anxiety and distress for Black women.
Putting your body through the trauma of birth is a huge decision for everyone, but for Black women, starting a family can feel like a life-threatening decision.
Nik, a freelance writer, is 33 and says her biological clock is ‘blaring’. But she says the thought of getting pregnant and going through childbirth fills her with fear.
‘My biggest fear is that I will die in childbirth and there won’t be a explanation for it,’ Nik tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I have experienced doctors telling me that the pain I have felt in my body wasn’t real. I have been told that I was just stressed when in reality, there was something wrong. Now, I imagine if I was pregnant at the time. Would they listen to me?
‘Doctors often that think Black women are being dramatic when it comes to pain. The fear of being unheard in a time of danger – if something bad happens during labour – is heartbreaking.’
Nik says hearing about the life-threatening complications Beyoncé and Serena Williams faced during their births stuck in her mind.
‘They would both have been more numbers for the stats,’ she says. ‘They are wealthy and successful women who were still ignored.
‘Hearing that made me rethink my plan to have a child. I’m going to put it off until I feel safe. Which I’m not sure when that will be.’
Tara-Jayne is an author and a full-time mum from Kent. She says her experience of giving birth was so traumatic it has made her seriously consider whether she can put herself through it again.
Tara-Jayne felt neglected by midwives on an under-staffed ward. She was dealing with high levels of pain and concerning symptoms with nobody to reassure her or offer any help.
‘When the contractions started coming frequently I had never felt such pain,’ Tara tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I had requested a midwife to attend to me and was waiting for nearly two hours before anyone came, at that point I was in agony.
‘I was begging to be examined, as I felt as though my waters had broken and I was going into labour. When we asked one of the midwives for help she told me the person who was looking after me was busy and that I should wait – she didn’t offer to help.
‘I even begged for gas and air as they had given it to a white woman on the ward the previous night, but I was told me they wouldn’t give this to me as it is only for the labour ward. I was told I should go and have a bath.
‘At this point I was screaming with pain but I was being ignored by the nurses who were on reception.
‘The pain became unbearable and I was screaming louder and louder. Eventually someone came to me and I begged to be taken to the labour ward as I felt as though the baby was coming. I was examined and they agreed with me.’
By now, Tara-Jayne had been in pain for around seven hours. The labour itself was manageable. Tara-Jayne was given an epidural and says the delivery nurse was patient and listened to her needs. But she will never forget how she was treated on the ward.
‘I felt very ignored and was made to feel as though I didn’t matter,’ she explains. ‘I saw the way the white lady was treated on the ward prior to going into delivery and I definitely felt as though the treatment for me differed.’
Tara-Jayne says her experiences made her feel discriminated against and incredibly alone.
‘I’m honestly not surprised that deaths are higher for Black women than other races,’ she says. ‘We are ignored when we scream, as I think professionals feel we can handle the pain.
‘My experience has definitely put me off having children in the future in the hospital where I gave birth. The feeling I have felt with my son has not put me off having more children though, as the love is indescribable.’
But, in 2020, with all of the medical advancements that have been made in recent years, Tara-Jayne’s decision about having another child shouldn’t be so dangerous for her.
Sandra Igwe is the founder of The Motherhood Group, a mutual support group for Black women experiencing difficulties during and after pregnancy. She says the latest parliamentary report is not a surprise to her, but she is disappointed by the lack of action.
‘I’m extremely disappointed and aggrieved that Black mothers are not a priority in this country,’ she tells us. ‘Targets should be put in place, deadlines, there needs to be a benchmark for the level of care black women receive during and after pregnancy.’
During her pregnancy and in labour, Sandra says she was labelled as an exaggerator, aggressive and as having an attitude by healthcare professionals. She says there is still so much work to be done – particularly in the light of the pandemic, which is only sharpening pre-existing inequalities.
‘Black mothers will be disproportionately affected by loneliness during this time,’ says Sandra.
‘This shines a spotlight on triggers of loneliness that have, to date, largely been overlooked, such as racism and discrimination. Not just loneliness, but adequate continuity of care, and not having concerns dismissed. Because now most appointments are virtual, this may increase the level of Black mothers slipping through the net.
‘The government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund, helped us establish “Black Motherhood Virtual Sessions”, a safe space for to Black and ethnic minority mothers who are experiencing social isolation, providing advice to mothers with post-natal depression and counselling to those experiencing bereavement due to Covid-19.
‘We also offer free doula support through the doula access fund in collaboration with Doula UK and we’ve partnered with MumsAid to ensure that black mothers can have access to free counselling.’
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