By: Lamar Greene
When looking at the factor of race, we see that black women are three to four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is one of the widest racial disparities present in women’s health, which is driving the international disparity for the United States. Furthermore, racial disparities in maternal mortality persist across income and educational levels for black women, revealing that traditional social protectants are not effective for black women in the maternal mortality crisis. In New York City, college educated black women are twice as likely to die from childbirth than white women who never finished high school. One study demonstrated this ideology as well by demonstrating that race/ethnicity was the strongest predictor for maternal death or near miss, with Black women suffering disproportionately from maternal death across income lines. 
The Serena Williams’ story, among others, help us to put a face to this reproductive injustice. Williams’ narrative paints a picture of how medical providers are not listening to women of color during the deliveries of their babies.
Darline Turner, physician assistant and certified doula in Austin, Texas, took matters into her own hands when responding to the pressing human rights concern of disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality affecting black women. She was startled by the nonchalance and lack of urgency surrounding the issue. So she started Healing Hands Community Doula Project, an organization that provides pregnancy care and support to black women of all economic backgrounds. When discussing her vision for Healing Hands Community Doula Project, Turner said, “Any black woman who so desires will be able to have the support, resources, information, education to have a healthy full-term infant and to live to see that infant grow up to be an adult.”
The research and experiences documented about the doula movement signal that more solutions outside of the medical system may be effective in reducing racial disparities in maternal mortality. When speaking about the maternal mortality crisis, medical ethicist Harriet Washington looks to the past. She notes that “trying to understand a historical problem without knowing its history is like trying to treat a patient without eliciting their medical history–you’re doomed to failure.” Washington claims that the American medical system is still haunted by the history of slavery, which involved medical experimentation on enslaved African women to create the modern practice of gynecology and obstetrics.
- Goffman, D., Madden, R. C., Harrison, E. A., Merkatz, I. R., & Chazotte, C. (2007). Predictors of maternal mortality and near-miss maternal morbidity. Journal of Perinatology, 27(10), 597-601. doi:10.1038/sj.jp.7211810
- Gruber, K. J., Cupito, S. H., & Dobson, C. F. (2013). Impact of Doulas on Healthy Birth Outcomes. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 22(1), 49-58. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.22.1.49