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Amid High Mortality Rates Black Women Turn To Midwives

Aysha-Samon Stokes and her daughter Nyla, 6, watch Midwife Allegra Hill and student Midwife Maryam Karim take the heartbeat of two-week-old Nikko during a postpartum visit to the South Los Angeles birthing center, Kindred Space LA, on May 26, 2021. | Source: MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images / Getty

After one of my pregnancies, I found myself listlessly counting down the days that passed after giving birth to my daughter. At the time, I could not explain what fueled my low feelings and emotions. Later on, after I had gained access to high-quality health care, I was able to recognize my countdowns as coping mechanisms while I experienced undiagnosed postpartum depression. At the time, I did not know because, due to barriers like not having Medicaid for more than 60 days after my delivery, I could not access a provider who could help me navigate my postpartum mental health.

My experiences mirror that of thousands of Black women who remain unable to access high-quality postpartum care due to barriers such as Medicaid expansion limits after their pregnancies. As director of advocacy and outreach at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, I work with colleagues and activists to improve health care equity for Black women in Mississippi. That is why The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects decided to get 100 women to stand in solidarity and commit to direct action at the Capitol to help propel the Mississippi legislature to reintroduce legislation to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months. This legislation will help to protect the moms who need health care access the most.

The Black maternal health crisis continues to proliferate across the nation. Black women experience more pregnancy complications and higher maternal mortality rates than white women. Black women are five times more likely to report having unmet postpartum needs and twice as likely to report having postpartum depression compared to white mothers. Having higher education and income does not protect Black women from tragic pregnancy and postpartum outcomes. It remains a race and gender issue.

Mississippi has particularly poor Black maternal health outcomes. The state’s overall maternal mortality rate is double the U.S. average, and within that context, Black women have triple the maternal mortality rate of white women in the state. Nearly 20% of women in Mississippi do not have insurance nor do they get postpartum care. Between 2013 and 2016, 86% of the 136 women who died from pregnancy-related causes died during postpartum. Expanding Medicaid access through SB 2033 would save lives.

Legislators and community members alike must appreciate that access to high-quality health care during postpartum remains one of the most critical tools for improving Black maternal mortality rates in Mississippi. Yet, the state continues to limit Medicaid coverage for new moms. SB 2033 was initially introduced in 2021 and passed the Senate in 2022. Initially, SB 2033 was stalled in the House’s Medicaid committee.

When that happened, activists at the Lighthouse set up Digital Days of Action, town hall meetings and more to push people to contact Medicaid Committee Chair Joey Hood and urge him to move the bill to the Senate floor. Our efforts paid off.  But the House delayed the bill until the calendar deadline, which effectively killed it on May 9, 2022.

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in roundtable discussion on Black Maternal Health

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a roundtable discussion on Black Women’s Maternal Health at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus on ]April 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | Source: Kent Nishimura / Getty

Phillip Gunn, the speaker of the House’s rationale; his anti-Medicaid expansion sentiments, even though Medicaid finances 60% of births in Mississippi. We weren’t asking for a lot; just to allow those same mothers to hold on to their Medicaid for 10 extra months.

But we refuse to sit idly by and let Black women’s maternal health care needs be the collateral damage due to political and procedural maneuvering. A small group should not have the power to take away thousands of women’s ability to care for themselves post-childbirth.

This bill must be reintroduced and passed. We believe this legislation remains one of the strongest tools available to directly improve maternal health for Black mothers. We took action and went directly to the Mississippi state legislature to advocate for extended postpartum care.

On Sept. 27, the Senate Committee on Women, Family, and Child hosted a Senate hearing on maternal health. Our members, along with members of other Black women-led organizations, attended and demonstrated the importance of this legislation. We provided testimony, shared data and highlighted the experiences of real mothers in Mississippi. We are living and breathing representations of why expanding Medicaid matters for Black moms. We are the data. We understand that oftentimes the most vulnerable people have the biggest difficulties with knowing or using the resources allotted to them.

I do not want other Black women, or other mothers in general, to have my experience. I want all women, especially Black mothers, to enter motherhood feeling safe and supported by the political and health systems around them. We owe this to mothers, but we also owe it to babies.

Angela Grayson is the advocacy and outreach coordinator for The Lighthouse Black Girls Projects.


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