A Mother’s Day message: let’s improve Black maternal health outcomes in NC | Opinion

Mother’s Day is when we celebrate the women who have loved, birthed and nurtured us. In the African American community, Mother’s Day Sunday may include breaking out the big church hat and putting on your Sunday best to celebrate mom.

As an African American, a woman and daughter, I may not have always been appreciative of my mother’s advice and the sacrifices she made to ensure that I felt loved and confident in my own skin. As an adult, I understand that those gestures of love shaped the woman I have become. I now lead the Queen City Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., which works to support equitable policy and life outcomes for Black women and girls in our state. Thanks, mom!

Today, as we celebrate mothers and motherhood, the reality is that many women in our community suffer through the birthing process. Their lives and the lives of their children will be at risk before they get a chance to experience a macaroni necklace or hear the belting of “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Bella-Giavanni Austin
Bella-Giavanni Austin

A Commonwealth Fund report says the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. The latest N.C. Maternal Mortality Review Report says two-thirds of pregnancy-related deaths of mothers in N.C. were preventable. The 2022 March of Dimes Report Card graded North Carolina a “D” because of the high rate of preterm births, which put our babies at risk.

Black mothers are at higher risk of experiencing birthing complications and have almost a 49% higher preterm birth rate than mothers of other ethnic backgrounds. There are many intersecting factors that contribute to sometimes horrific outcomes for Black mothers.

We have been listening and lamenting with the women in our community as they’ve recounted stories of feeling unheard and being devalued during and after pregnancy. The Black mothers behind the statistics speak of the devastation that they experienced because they struggle to access pre- and post-natal supports.

What is clear to us is the systemic nature of what these mothers experience. Many of the issues are related to poverty, lack of access to health and prenatal care. But poverty is not the only issue impacting Black maternal health. There is a growing body of evidence that Black mothers who have the ability to pay for healthcare are also often treated unfairly. Implicit bias is a key driver of health disparities in communities of color.

To address the issues associated with maternal health and the disproportionate ways Black mothers are impacted, leaders in the N.C. legislature have proposed a package of state-level bills they’ve coined “MOMnibus.” It provides a road map to positively impact outcomes in maternal health. As state leaders begin to grapple with the N.C. budget, we hope they will join us in celebrating mothers and children by passing a budget that prioritizes the health and wellness of mothers.

We want it to include:

  • Support to increase access to health and prenatal care through Medicaid expansion.

  • Support to/for culturally relevant programs available to women during and after their birthing journey.

  • Incentives for healthcare providers to incorporate/expand implicit bias training for their workers.

  • Funding to collect data on Black maternal health issues and outcomes.

  • Access to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for pregnant women

  • Supports for moms who are veterans.

We envision a North Carolina where mothers are not only celebrated for their sacrifice, but supported through motherhood — a state where Black women and girls can step into the role of mother without fear of becoming a negative statistic.

We plan to work together with N.C. elected officials on these issues with the same intentionality we put toward being mothers and ”community moms.” We are hopeful, but with a watchful eye. We invite mothers to tell us their maternal health stories. Join us at our NCBW chapter as we watch the budget process.

Bella-Giavanni Austin is president of the Queen City Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Black women and girls. She lives in Charlotte.