Racism in Maternal Care

You’d think we are in a time where everyone would be treated equally. Those in a professional position would not complete their duties based on the ethnicity of a person – so we would think.

If you look at the birth outcomes of each ethnicity, you will find that things are not equal. It is almost as if the providers are trained to take advantage of and disservice women of color.

If we look back in history at the “Father of gynecology”, James Marion Sims and the things he did, it isn’t hard to see where it began. Dr. Sims practiced under the racist assumption that black people did not feel pain. He would complete surgical experiments on black women without anesthesia or any type of numbing agent. When he would operate on white women though, he would use anesthesia.

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Sims wrote a book about his life and shared in it that he would “take ownership of the women”, and went on to share the advantages he found in working on people that were basically his property. “There was never a time that I could not, at any day, have had a subject for operation.” he stated.

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He would take slaves, “patch them up”, and send them back to their owners so the black woman could continue to reproduce for the owner. These women would endure hours long surgeries, screaming and crying out in pain, as he documented in his literature.

When his patients would die, it was never his fault. (You know…kind of like how OB/GYNs are today) He would blame it on, “the sloth and ignorance of their mothers and the black midwives who attended them.” – it was not anything to do with him or his experiments. Unwilling to recognize his own iatrogenic care.

The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Slaves – History
The Medical Ethics of the ‘Father of Gynaecology’, Dr J Marion Sims – Journal of Medical Ethics

Today we find that women of color are treated unfairly with blatant racial discrimination, almost as if licensed providers are trained to treat these women differently; it happens that often. Performing similar acts to what Sims did back in the day – treating them as less than.

In one study, women shared their experiences. One black woman shared that during an appointment she expressed to her Midwife that she did not feel comfortable going to her appointments anymore. The midwife replied with a racial slur, “Do you do crack?”. Blatant racial slurs were reported by multiple women in this study. How is this acceptable or professional? With so many providers doing this, it makes you wonder if they are trained to act this way towards the minorities.

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Black women are 4X more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth in the US. Between 2013 and 2015, 54 black women died for every 100,000 births compared to 15 white women. These numbers are rising each year.

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We could say “Maybe the black race just has poor health.” or “The black women’s body is biologically doomed”, but those would be comments lacking knowledge. It is not hard to see that racism is the invisible risk factor. OB/GYN, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, wrote the article below explaining and in agreement with this unspoken truth.

Race isn’t a Risk Factor in Maternal Health. Racism Is. – Rewire.News

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In the link below you can read a few first-hand testimonies from black women who experienced racism in their maternal experience:

Black Mothers Share the Devastating Impact of Racism in Maternal Health Care – Vice

Such sad stories, and the saddest part is that these stories are so incredibly common. So many women of color are disserviced by medical professionals, on a daily basis, during their childbearing years, especially in big cities or low income locations. Same as it has been since 1845 when Sims, The Father of Gynecology, began practicing with a racial bias towards black women.

It makes sense why more black women are choosing unhindered, unassisted birth after experiencing a facility birth. It has to be hard to walk into a facility knowing the disservice that is likely to occur, according to statistics.

We’d like to hear from you! What are a few possible ways that might correct this issue that is apparent and rising in the US?

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