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Michigan group aims to help mothers as maternal death rate surges for Black women

Posted at 11:57 AM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 21:29:23-05

(WXYZ) — The numbers coming out of a new national report on maternal deaths are alarming, but unfortunately not surprising for advocacy groups and university researchers.

READ: Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020

It’s a sad truth that we keep seeing, mothers dying during or shortly after childbirth.

The CDC report done by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that 861 women died from maternal causes in 2020. That number was 658 in 2018 and 754 in 2019.

Source: CDC Maternal Report

"Up 14 percent nationwide, but for Black women, we are up 23 percent," said Bennett.

In 2020, African American women died at a rate of 55.3 per 100,000 live births. According to the CDC, that's 2.9 times higher than non-Hispanic white women.

Source: CDC Maternal Report

"It's really unfortunate how we deal with maternal morbidity and mortality in the U.S., honestly,” said Dr. Kara Zivin, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Zivin says several factors, including systemic racism and accessibility, contribute to these alarming numbers.

"Continuous health insurance that is affordable. Do they have access to effective treatment and pain management," said Dr. Zivin.

Shanayl Bennett is a maternal health organizer for Detroit advocacy group Mothering Justice.

"That’s the foundation of this issue, that we can tolerate pain at a higher rate than other races,” said Bennett.

Bennett, unlike many mothers who have lost their lives, is here to tell her story about childbirth. She still suffers from a loss.

"My second pregnancy I was 19, and unfortunately that one ended at 7 months. And I had to give birth to my baby and I had to do it alone,” she said.

Doing it alone is what inspired her to be a resource for other women, teaching them how to fight for your baby and yourself.

"Go to your physician with questions in tow. Write out a birth plan. Create a village for yourself.”

Mothering Justice is working with state representatives on policies to address Black maternal health and give expecting mothers access to tools like birth workers and midwives.

"Michigan is one of those states where they are also behind in birthing people, and when it comes to Black women when it comes to some of our added stressors," said Bennett.

Dr. Zivin says change in policies like universal maternity leave is a start.

"Until we really make it a policy priority at all levels, I don’t know what will change and that is very scary and disappointing," said Dr. Zivin.

While childbirth may be a scary topic for future mothers, Bennett says there is hope. “I do want all woman to know that you can have a beautiful experience,” she says.

She didn’t give up after the loss of her baby. She’s a mother of three and also a doula, helping other mothers who are doing it alone.

If you do have to give birth alone due to circumstances or COVID-19 hospital rules, she says advocate for yourself. And if doctors and nurses don’t listen, have someone you can message.

"Text some family and some friends and say ‘hey I’m not feeling well. I’m talking to people. I’m not sure if anything is changing. If somebody could come here I would appreciate that,'" said Bennett.

Read the full CDC report below:

**Correction: A graph that was previously in this article had an error and has been removed.