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Dr. Shalon's Maternal Action Project (MAP)
Black women in the US have some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.
Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than white women. In some cities or states this increases to 6 to 8 times more likely.
700+ women die from pregnancy-related complications each year.
The CDC estimates that most of
these deaths are preventable.
This is structural, institutional, historical racism that translates into how a pregnant Black woman is treated; how pain is perceived.
It's about the toll of chronic stress and racism on the bodies of Black women.
It's about who is listened to and who is believed.
Summarized from Dr. Reagan McDonald Mosley’s speech at “Hear Us.” She is a founding board member and co-director of Dr. Shalon’s MAP.
Listen to Their Stories
My daughter Tatia was 32 years old and 10 days overdue. The doctors wanted to induce her, but she wasn’t sure. Tatia was well-versed on how childbirth goes, and didn't usually have any trouble making decisions. She would look at everything and come up with a plan, but she couldn't with this. When I asked her what her problem was, why was she having such an issue, she said,
“I don't like the way they're talking to me. I don't like the way they're treating me.”
The doctors induced her with the drug Misoprostol, which wasn't approved by the FDA, which she knew wasn’t. But the doctors came in and used what we call “the dead baby card” saying, “Well, you don't want to go home with a dead baby, do you?” I've heard them say that over and over again, specifically to African American women and women of color. You know, that whole dismissal and pushing somebody the way you want them to go. 10 hours later, after two doses of Misoprostol Cytotec, Tatia and the baby were dead.
I remember walking out of the ER; it was raining—really early in the morning, like five o'clock or something—and I remember hearing myself say, “this drug is going to go away.”
The more I learned, the more I wanted others to know. After creating an education foundation, I started dealing with the FDA to get that drug off the market, but it was really, really slow. We made some progress. After two years, the FDA created an alert for the drug on their website, but you got to be a geek to find it. The change we needed was taking too long. So, I became a doula to help people one-on-one, and continue to do both the foundation and education.
Grandmother & Tatia’s Mother
Soleil is 3 years old now with a smile every bit as brilliant as her mother’s. She is fearless and determined just like her mother. Soleil constantly amazes me with her academic abilities, athleticism as a gymnast, and love for music, art, and ballet. Shalon wanted her daughter to share her love of travel. Though Soleil had her passport at two weeks old, she never got the chance to take that trip to Dubai with her mother to celebrate her first month. Shalon planned to become an expat and live in Amsterdam by the time Soleil turned five. Shalon wanted her daughter’s childhood to be filled with love, laughter and endless exposure to the wonders of the world. With Shalon as her mother, there were no limits as to the personal and professional heights Soleil could reach. Shalon would have given her the foundation that would allow her to live her best life.
But Soleil did not get the chance to know her amazing mother. Because of Shalon’s untimely death, Soleil will grow up without her phenomenal mother by her side paving the way. For Soleil,
her mother is a photograph. But a picture can’t tuck her into bed and kiss her goodnight. A picture can’t teach her to ride a bike or make her boo-boos or bad dreams all better. Pictures and the
memories I share with her can’t make up for the fact that there are no joyous holiday seasons for Soleil. Her heart-breaking cries at night while clutching a picture of her Mommy, are unbearable. Her pain is evident when she asks, “Where is my Mommy?” The anger is unmistakable in her voice when
she demands to know “Why is my Mommy dead?” or asks “Nona, can we go to heaven today to visit Mommy?”
The preventable deaths of Black mothers are more than statistics. They are life altering for children and families.
My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for over a year and a half before we started IVF. Back then, I only knew one or two other Black Mamas who had done IVF, and we shared our “secret,” our wishes, our advice, and our research through Facebook direct messages. Now, I realize that there is a pretty big movement of other Black #IVFWarriors, though often still in the shadows of private messages, who are hoping and praying for little ones, grieving for angel babies, or marveling at little ones already earthside. I endured two and a half rounds of IVF and two early miscarriages. When I finally heard my little one’s heartbeat at seven weeks gestation, I nicknamed her #MiracleWhip because she was indeed a miracle, “whipped up” in love and in labs.
As a Black woman, a Black Mama, and a Black Feminist Public Health Scholar, I often feel like I carry the names, stories, hashtags, murals, and memories of other Black Mamas who have been neglected, violated, abused, and/or killed by the structural racism of the US medical-industrial complex around with me—in my head, my heart, my womb. I know that I have to be hyper-vigilant about my healthcare. I have to ask tons of questions of my providers, even when my voice shakes, or if I feel rushed or dismissed. I have to advocate fiercely for myself. I have to rally other advocates for me, too, like my doulas, my mental health therapists, even my massage therapist, yoga instructor and acupuncturist. I was fortunate to have this kind of holistic care team, of mostly Black Mamas, before, during, and after giving birth. This squad supported me through a severe pre-eclampsia diagnosis, induction at 35 weeks, having to strongly advocate to have a vaginal birth, enduring postpartum anxiety and depression, and fiercely birthing, raising, and loving my #MiracleWhip.
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Black mothers in the US want to be heard, seen, and respected throughout their birthing journey. Robust intersectional support is needed:
CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE MEDICAL SUPPORT AND CARE
You can help save her life
Culturally responsive medical support and care
“We have no Black midwives in Illinois and there wouldn't be a Black person present, and that's important to me.”
SUPPORT FOR CHOICES RELATED TO PREGNANCY
(e.g. IVF), LABOR, DELIVERY, AND POSTPARTUM CARE
“She said she was going to cut me, but I wanted to tear on my own if I was going to tear.”
SUPPORT FOR CHOICES RELATED TO PREGNANCY (e.g. IVF), LABOR, DELIVERY, AND POSTPARTUM CARE
SUPPORT IN MANAGING FAMILY DYNAMICS
“We are conditioned to believe that you are weird or crazy to have a baby at home and not have a doctor.”
SUPPORT IN MANAGING
DIVERSE SUPPORT STRATEGIES CURATED FOR THE PHASE OF
THE BIRTHING JOURNEY
“I feel like postpartum immediately after delivery needs to be ramped up, let alone the six weeks after.”
DIVERSE SUPPORT STRATEGIES CURATED FOR THE PHASE OF THE BIRTHING JOURNEY
SUPPORT IN NAVIGATING BROKEN SYSTEMS OF CARE AT THE INTERSECTION OF RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER—SPECIFICALLY
FOR HOSPITAL AND INSURANCE SYSTEMS
“How am I going to pay for this? The midwives are an additional fee on top of Medicaid.”
SUPPORT IN NAVIGATING BROKEN SYSTEMS OF CARE AT THE INTERSECTION OF RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER—SPECIFICALLY FOR HOSPITAL AND INSURANCE SYSTEMS
Qualitative Insights from Dr. Shalon's MAP Mothers' Day Roundtable, May 2020
Let’s continue to listen and support each other.
Check out Dr. Shalon's MAP, the Black Maternal Health Caucus, and the CDC's Hear Her campaign.
Then connect with Dr. Shalon's MAP on social media.
Experience designed and created by Chadwick Martin Bailey