Black Maternal Health Week: Claiming our Power, Resilience, and Liberation

By Sam Carwyn
Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice Educator & Advocate

April is National Minority Health Month, a month-long initiative to advance health equity across the country on behalf of all racial and ethnic minorities. This week is also the fourth annual national Black Maternal Health Week. It was founded and is led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The campaign serves to amplify the voices of Black mamas and center the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements.

What are the issues?

Black parents are more likely to die while pregnant, during delivery, and after they have delivered their child. Racism is the primary factor driving these inequities. The United States is the only developed nation where maternal mortality rates are increasing. And as Wanda Irving says:

“Behind every maternal mortality statistic, there is a woman who is loved, a woman who will be immensely mourned, and who will be forever missed by the families left devastated in the aftermath.” 

In a recent study by the Colorado Maternal Mortality Review Committee, almost 80 percent of all pregnancy-associated deaths were identified as preventable. We know this is a racial justice issue, so we must elevate the need for equity in our communities, in our states, and on the national level.

Doulas are essential supports for Black families and increase positive birth outcomes. You can help individuals access doula care by supporting Sacred Seeds Black Doula Collective of Colorado and Elephant Circle, both of whom are doing the work in our community.

Reproductive justice includes birth justice

Both reproductive justice and birth justice are about pushing back against reproductive oppression. Birth justice seeks to create opportunities for all, no matter their identities or barriers to resources. It’s about empowerment to make decisions for oneself and their babies, from decisions made when they find out they are pregnant until after childbirth if they choose to carry their pregnancy to term. 

You can take part in working for birth justice by educating yourself on this vital topic. I would recommend the book Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health-Care Crisis. It includes the experiences of Black parents who have given birth as well as those overcoming a loss. You will hear from experts in maternal-infant health, medical, and birth professionals. This book does more than just give you information. It provides recommendations so that you can take action to help advocate for change. 

During this week, we are called to amplify policy and care solutions. Let’s challenge abuses by medical personnel and overuse of medical interventions. Let’s advocate for universal access to health care that recognizes the various traditions and backgrounds of patients. You can put your faith into action by backing bills in the Colorado legislature, including  SB 21-009 (Reproductive Health Care Program)SB21-193 (Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period), and SB 21-194 (Maternal Health Providers).  Legislation like this aids in the pursuit of equal rights for black families. It requires us to cooperate and be proactive to honor the dignity of all. 

As a Black mother, I know I must claim my power, continue to be resilient, and work towards liberation for myself and those who will come after me.

Want to get more involved in the work of reproductive justice at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado? Check out our reproductive health, rights, and justice page.