Black women are 152% more likely to suffer a maternal death than white women in the United States, according to the Milkin Institute. That statistic goes for women during childbirth and up to a year after delivering.
In Kentucky, Black women are 78% more likely to die. That’s lower than the national average, but still a problem that researchers believe needs to be addressed.
In and out of surgery is a regular day for Dr. Miriam Slatter, an OB-GYN at Mercy Health — Lourdes Hospital. She just had a baby, so she’s familiar with the dangers she could’ve faced.
“I was the patient, who was an older mom and an African American mom, a mom who was, you know, obese, right? So, all of the things that come along with it, and I’m brown, so the risk for me to die was very, very high,” she said.
Researchers said there are substantial disparities in maternal mortality based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age and location within the U.S.
It’s a multifaceted problem stemming from our health care system, limited access and systematic racism.
She said for women of color, maternal deaths have been a problem for years and are only getting worse. “We find a lot of difficulty when caring for women of color when providers come from different communities than our own. If we don’t speak the same language or we don’t necessarily understand the same language, that can be a huge issue,” she said.
She said there are things providers can start doing now to fix the problem. “I think listening, so it’s easy, but it can be valuable,” she said.
Dr. Katherine Sacks, Associate Director of Health Economics at the Milken Institute, agrees, saying this problem needs more attention. “What happens at birth? How we treat people who give birth is an incredibly important indicator. We need to think about all of these people who pass away, and we need to think about all of these children who are growing up without a parent,” Sacks said.
For Slatter, her job goes beyond the operating room.
“We can save lives, respecting the fact that a woman, by the time she comes through, she knows her own body, right, and if she tells you that something’s not right, something’s probably not right,” Slatter said.
Slatter said when women go to the doctor, they should have someone else there to advocate for their health. That could be a doula or midwife, or if you can’t afford that, a family member or friend.