One of the most troubling trends in American healthcare within the last few years has been the steady rise of maternal mortality rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1,205 women died of maternal causes in 2021, compared to 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019. The maternal mortality rate for 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with a rate of 23.8 in 2020 and 20.1 in 2019.
These numbers become even more dismal when considering the rate of maternal mortality among Black women in the U.S. In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women (26.6).1
To bring awareness to this issue affecting Black mothers, Black Maternal Health Week is observed each year from April 11 to 17. Intentionally held during National Minority Health Month, Black Maternal Health Week was founded and is led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), and is designed to build awareness, activism, and community-building to amplify the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black mothers and birthing people. This year, the theme for the week is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!”
According to a statistical brief from BMMA, Black women are more likely to experience preterm birth, low birth weight, and gestational diabetes than women of other races. They are also more likely to experience postpartum depression and other mental health issues.
The brief also highlights the systemic factors that contribute to these disparities. These include structural racism, economic stability, lack of access to healthcare, and implicit bias within the healthcare system. For example, Black women are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care than women of other races, and they are more likely to experience discrimination and mistreatment during childbirth.2
BMMA is working to address these issues by advocating for policy change and community-led solutions. The organization believes that community-led solutions are critical to improving Black maternal health, as they center the voices and experiences of Black women and their families.
To learn more about Black Maternal Health Week and the work of BMMA, visit their website.
At Frontier Nursing University (FNU), helping to address this issue is critical as we work each day to provide education for ethical, compassionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial leaders to work with all people with an emphasis on rural and underserved communities.
“It is imperative that our students, faculty and staff have cultural awareness and competency to help overcome racial disparities in health care,” said FNU president Dr. Susan Stone. “Many of us can grasp, empathize and even identify with the constant and persistent stress families face when a loved one is sick. Our hope is a renewed focus on social injustices will allow people to open their hearts in the same way when it comes to racism.”
At FNU, we are proud of the fact that many of our graduates are currently working to address inequities in healthcare and are providing compassionate care for underserved populations. In honor of Black Maternal Health Week, let us introduce you to two of them.
Dr. Stephanie Mitchell, DNP, CNM, CPM
To the casual observer, opening Birth Sanctuary Gainesville might not make a lot of sense. First, Gainesville is a rural town in Alabama with a population of less than 200. Second, because of state regulations that severely restrict the scope of care nurse-midwives can provide, there are no birth centers in the entire state. That is about to change because FNU alumni Dr. Stephanie Mitchell, DNP, CNM, CPM, plans to open Birth Sanctuary Gainesville later this year. While the uncertainties are many, Mitchell insists, “It will get done.”
Mitchell is the sort of person who finds ways to get things done. Barriers represent an opportunity rather than a permanent roadblock. Even her road to becoming a nurse-midwife was a circuitous one. Where others might have given up and changed course, Mitchell never wavered from her plan.
Dr. Jeanine Valrie-Logan, CNM, MSN, MPH
Growing up, Jeanine Valrie-Logan, CNM (FNU Class 146), MSN, MPH, wanted to be an opera singer or a doctor. Today, she’s neither one, but she’s putting both her medical and communications talents to good use. She is in the process of opening the Chicago Southside Birth Center and is spreading the word throughout the community, which currently has no other birth centers nearby.
“Geographically, there’s nothing there,” said Valrie-Logan, who currently works part-time as a certified nurse-midwife at the Birth Center PCC in Berwyn, Illinois. When PCC Community Wellness Center (PCC) opened the birth center in 2014, it was the state’s first freestanding birth center. “For me, going to work from the south side of Chicago takes about an hour, and that’s when you get to a first birth center. People are traveling from everywhere to come see us at PCC because there’s nothing in between.”
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1 Hoyert, Donna L. “Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021.” CDC, 16 March 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2021/maternal-mortality-rates-2021.htm. Accessed 30 March 2023.
2 Robinson, Ayanna. “BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH.” Black Mamas Matter Alliance, 2020, https://blackmamasmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/0322_BMHStatisticalBrief_Final.pdf. Accessed 30 March 2023.