America's Grim Black Maternal Mortality Data Guided Jodie Turner-Smith's Birth Plan
Years and years of distressing data and truly heartbreaking stories have shown how giving birth in hospitals in the United States is a much different experience for Black women. As such, British actress Jodie Turner-Smith revealed she had a home birth in a new essay penned for British Vogue because of "systemic racism" in health care and the "negative birth outcomes for Black women in America."
"We had already decided on a home birth, because of concerns about negative birth outcomes for Black women in America — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of pregnancy-related deaths is three times greater for Black women then white women, pointing, it seems to me, to systemic racism," Turner-Smith, who welcomed her first child in April with her husband Joshua Jackson, wrote for the September issue of British Vogue.
As turner highlighted in her essay, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in the United States, according to the CDC, which notes that most of these deaths are preventable. What's more, Black women are 243% more likely to die from childbirth than white women, according to the African American Policy Forum.
Emily Petersen, M.D., medical officer at CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, said in a 2019 report that "there is an urgent need to identify and evaluate the complex factors contributing to these disparities and to design interventions that will reduce preventable pregnancy-related deaths."
Over the years, researchers have been working to pinpoint what's led to these alarming racial disparities In 2017, ProPublica and NPR's Lost Mothers series found that factors like systemic social inequalities, like differing access to healthy food and reliable transportation during pregnancy, are partly to blame, but so are "unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system."
As OB-GYN Neel Shah explained to Harvard Public Health, ProPublica and NPR's reporting showed that a "common thread" of when Black women expressed concern about their symptoms, clinicians were more delayed and seemed to believe them less." He added, "There is a very fine line between clinical intuition and unconscious bias."
Dr. Sanithia L. Williams, a Black OB-GYN and a fellow with the nonprofit organization Physicians for Reproductive Health, told The New York Times that "actual institutional and structural racism has a big bearing on our patients' lives, and it's our responsibility to talk about that more than just saying that it's a problem."
Turner-Smith and Jackson, who tied the knot in December 2019, successfully welcomed their daughter into the world after she labored for nearly four days. The actress and model wrote in her British Vogue essay that her husband was with her every step of the way. "Both of us had watched our own mothers struggle to raise children without such support," she said. "Both of us were determined to create something different for ourselves. He kept saying to me, ‘There’s no part of this that I’m going to miss.’ And there wasn’t.”