Parenting comes with no handbook or set of instructions. It is a personal experience, different for each parent and child.
As women, we often depend on the knowledge of our own mothers and family members to better guide us in motherhood. We gather what information is available to us and prepare and hope for a healthy delivery. In my own maternal experience, I entrusted my health and wellbeing to a health care team expecting competency and empathy.
The trust I had given medical professionals was met with negligence and the use of excessive force to deliver my baby. This traumatic experience not only left long-term medical consequences to my body, but also to my mind and spirit.
My partner and I took seven years to have our next child due to how traumatic our first birthing experience was. Many other women have experienced similar traumatic experiences in a healthcare setting. As an Indigenous Mexican woman, I know that my story is not an isolated case.
The World Health Organization’s Center for Health Developments found “that U.S. women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in any other developed country.”
When looking further into the demographics of the women, the Centers for Disease Control found significant racial disparities. Black women’s maternal death rate is 42.8 per 100,000 live births, compared to 12.5% for white women and 17.3% for women of all other races.
Institutes such as the Institute of Medicine Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care reviewed more than 100 different studies assessing the quality of health care for various racial and ethnic minority groups. Their research demonstrated that minority groups received lower quality of care in comparison to non-minority groups, regardless if both carried the same insurance coverage and had similar incomes.
This research demonstrated that a person’s background and economic factors were not the only reasons Black/Indigenous/and People of Color (BIPOC) were seeing health disparities.
Improvements in health care for BIPOC are necessary as maternal health is not independent of our children’s health and well-being. After all, a healthy parent is needed to properly care for a child.
A parent who has faced trauma and inequities in health care due to their race or ethnicity may in turn develop iatrophobia (fear of the healer). Fear can create barriers and a lack of trust for health care providers as parents worry about how the health care system will care for their child.
When working with families who have opted to not take their children to medical professionals for vaccines, check-ups or office visits, take into consideration that a family must first feel safe.
Professionals must question what the parents’ personal experience may have been within health care, before labeling the parents as neglectful. As a result, systemic racism in health care increases poor health in communities of color.
So much so, parents of minority groups who have poor health are more likely to not meet their child’s needs due to their own illness. In order to build stronger families, we must invest in a system of health care that serves everyone equally.
This is especially important today as we face a pandemic and health disparities continue to come to light. A study published in 2020 involving seven U.S. states and 67,610 patients who screened positive for one or more symptoms of COVID-19 found that African Americans were less likely to receive a confirmatory test than their white counterparts presenting with similar symptoms.
Latino populations have also been greatly affected by COVID-19 due to their essential work in agriculture and the lack of social distancing and access to PPE.
Native Americans have been greatly impacted by the pandemic due to disparities in access to health care, lack of hospital beds, and even the lack of running water within many tribal reservations. The over-representation of minorities among essential workers, lack of proper housing, and access to health care continues to propel the damaging and life-threatening effects COVID-19 and other health inequities within minority groups.
Healing a system of inequities is needed. A Nature Research Journal described three ways to begin this mending. First, research in health disparities, as well as workforce diversity in health care and science, must increase.
Secondly, racism must be declared a public health crisis, and resources ought to be invested to diminish it. Counties and cities across the U.S. have already done so. Additionally, minority groups and those most affected by these inequalities must be involved in finding solutions.
If we truly want our children to thrive, we must have systems that serve all families. We must work to heal our own traumas and work towards building these systems.
Mainstream birth work often does not take into consideration the cultural aspects of minority groups. When my partner and I finally decided to have our second child, we worked with a birthing team. Our midwife Katelyn Mazuch, therapist Jodi Studnicka and doula Jenna Frick took the time during our appointments to answer our questions, guide us and be fully present in a supportive birth.
We were able to overcome our fears through improved provider-patient communication, their willingness to acknowledge our trauma, and willingness to integrate cross-cultural learning. Finding support in motherhood is vital to healing and being healthy for our children. Systemic racism creates disparities in health care causing long-lasting pain to many families. However, healing and improved systems are possible.