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About Black Maternal Health

About Black Maternal Health

“It is disgraceful that Black women are dying at such an alarming rate. It is outrageous that so many Black women come close to dying...Black women should not lose their lives, or come close to it, in an attempt to bring forth life.” – Dr. Dawn Godbolt, Health Policy Analyst at National Partnership for Women & Families (Black Maternal Health Caucus Stakeholder Summit, July 2019)


Congresswomen Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus to address one of the most urgent crises in the United States today: maternal mortality rates in America are the worst in the developed world, with 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in America are preventable. For every woman who dies, 70 experience “near misses”: cases of severe maternal morbidity that lead to significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health.

While maternal mortality rates fell 44 percent around the world from 1990-2015, maternal mortality in the United States increased by 16.7 percent, making the United States the only developed country with a rising maternal mortality rate. In fact, the only countries with rising maternal death rates are the United States, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

As alarming as these statistics are overall, the situation is even more dire for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Black women are also twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death. The causes are complex and include coverage gaps, social determinants of health, and other factors, but racism is a driving force: even a Black woman with a college degree is more likely to die from giving birth than a white woman without a high school diploma.

Lived Experiences

For every harrowing statistic, there is a tragic lived experience: stories like Kira Johnson’s, whose husband Charles Johnson IV testified before Congress to describe how Kira - a vibrant, healthy Black woman who spoke four languages, lived in China, and ran several companies - died while giving birth to their second son, Langston.

“There is no statistic that can quantify what it’s like to tell an eighteen-month-old child that his mother is never coming home. There are no matrices that can quantify what it’s like to explain to a son who will never know his mother just how amazing she was.” - Charles Johnson IV, Founder of 4Kira4Moms

Other experiences like those of Allyson Felix, Serena Williams, and Dr. Shalon Irving show that nobody is safe from the dangers of giving birth as a Black woman in America. For these women, and all of the other moms and families who have suffered, we must act now to save lives.

"We cannot save Black women in America if we don't start telling the truth." - Jennie Joseph
"I worked in a busy London hospital in the 1980s and over the ten years of practice, knew of only one maternal death. I remember it distinctly because the entire hospital reacted: we were so shocked and surprised that such a thing could happen that collectively we came together to grieve, commiserate, and support each other – similar to human behavior during any natural disaster. Now, living and working in the United States since 1989, I have become accustomed to hearing about, processing and accepting the unacceptable: that preventable maternal deaths are common, tolerated, and now – despite the vast amounts of money and resources being spent on obstetric care – rising."

On Becoming a Mother - Katie Shea Barrett
"I share my story because I am a health policy professional, a private insurance card holder, and a white woman with means. My privilege afforded me the ability to make those choices. As founding Executive Director of March for Moms, it is my work now to ensure that every family has the ability to grow their family in the way that they choose."
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Data & Research

Data source: The Lancet

Data source: The Lancet

Data source: CDC

Source: National Institute of Health (NIH) 2019 report on maternal mortality and morbidity.