It's time Black mothers mattered
The UK parliamentary report Black People, Racism and Human Rights was published in the early hours of last Wednesday morning, surprising absolutely no one – both with its findings and stealth release. Here’s the takeaway: the UK government is not adequately safeguarding the human rights of Black people. I’m not shocked. Are you?
The UK government is not adequately safeguarding the human rights of Black people. I’m not shocked. Are you?
The report looks at a few different areas including the Black maternal death rate. Seven in 100,000 white women die in childbirth, compared to 38 in 100,000 Black women and the latter number is increasing year on year despite maternal death rates falling overall. Now here is the shocking bit: the NHS has not implemented a strategy to redress this deadly disparity.[i] No word on when they’ll get to it, either; somehow, addressing the Black maternal death rate isn’t on the agenda. We’re left to the conclusion that Black lives don’t matter as much as others in the UK.
When I was carrying my twin daughters, I was deeply afraid of becoming this devastating statistic. I attended appointments with trepidation, worried I wouldn’t be listened to or taken seriously. Before I was admitted for an induction, my husband and I practiced how he could be an effective advocate for me during the labour process. I would need him to be my voice, to look out for me above all else, come what may.
When I heard the doctor loudly instruct his team to prepare for an emergency caesarean, my core seized up in terror. I was so scared of dying on the operating table, afraid that perhaps something would be overlooked, some irregularity dismissed that would ultimately lead to my death. Even as the unwanted thought bored its way into my skull, I knew it was too soon to go. We hadn’t finished our wills. I wasn’t ready! I remember eventually whispering to my husband that should I pass, everything I had was to go to him and my daughters.
I was so scared of dying on the operating table, afraid that perhaps something would be overlooked, some irregularity dismissed that would ultimately lead to my death.
Of course, that didn’t happen. I’m alive and kicking and though my birthing experience was traumatic in some ways, I was well-looked after overall. But this fear and distrust isn’t something that only I experienced – in fact, the report states that most Black women in the UK feel their health is not protected to the same extent as white people.[ii] My feelings during the time my children were born merely echo the data.
If you’re a white woman reading this, can you imagine preparing to give birth at one of the best hospitals in the country, all the while fearing your own death at the hands of your doctors?
The fear and mistrust that Black women have of our healthcare providers is borne out by our past experiences with them and the poorer healthcare outcomes the data indicates we can expect in the UK.
Black pregnant women with Covid-19 are eight times more likely to be hospitalised than their white peers.[iii] This, no doubt, will only further increase anxiety Black mothers feel when interacting with healthcare professionals as we already know that Black and brown people are dying from Covid-19 at higher rates than others.
Its time Black mothers mattered more. So, we don’t need another report to be released in the middle of the night. No more head scratching! We need to take substantive action, and to do that, we must call a thing a thing.
It is time for a reckoning with the truth of the matter – that institutional and systemic racism permeate our society at all levels of human activity. Our medical infrastructure must therefore be examined through that very same lens.
There is more than enough data. Policy makers must prioritise the survival of Black women, implementing concrete targets, checks and regulations to mitigate this fatal trend. Our government and national health service’s apathy in the face of Black death is egregious and both must take responsibility for their failure to act sooner and save lives.
Do better, Britain. Black women will thank you for it.