Mothers, especially Black mothers, are facing a crisis. Some disturbing statistics were recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show maternal deaths increased in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic. Black mothers saw pregnancy-related deaths grow by 23% that year.
BridgeDetroit’s Orlando Bailey, filling in for host Stephen Henderson, sits down with Eboni Taylor, Michigan executive director of the nonprofit Mothering Justice, to talk about the CDC’s latest statistics and how Black mothers have been affected. Plus, Taylor explains the impact the pandemic had on these rates and what’s being done to help alleviate this maternal mortality rate crisis.
Mothering Justice is a grassroots policy advocacy nonprofit that provides resources and tools for mothers of color to make equitable changes to policies that directly affect them.
Orlando Bailey: Eboni Wells-Taylor, welcome to American Black Journal.
Eboni Taylor, Michigan Executive Director, Mothering Justice: Thank you so much, Orlando, for having me. It’s such a pleasure to be invited, and to also, and especially talk to you. So, I’m really excited about this conversation.
Orlando Bailey: I’m excited to talk to you too, you know, we go way back. But you are the Michigan Executive Director of Mothering Justice, and I would like for you to very briefly describe to our viewers, what Mothering Justice is and what the organization does.
Eboni Taylor: Absolutely. Mothering Justice is a statewide 501c3 public policy and advocacy organization. We focus on issues that disproportionately impact mothers of color, and of these issues, among these issues, maternal mortality is one that is obviously critically important.
It’s really that issue, along with three others that were laser-focused on right now, are all within our mama’s agenda, which is essentially our policy agenda, but we put mama in front of everything. So yeah, we focus on these issues statewide, and I’m really happy to just be here to talk a little bit about maternal mortality and the importance of it.
Orlando Bailey: Yeah. So, you know, there was a report released from the National Center for Health Statistics that highlighted a rise in maternal mortality rates, with black women specifically being overrepresented by the triple digits in 2020. Tell us what’s going on and what are you seeing on the ground?
Eboni Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Mothering Justice, prior to the pandemic, we’ve been in this work for a while. We decided to add it to our mama’s agenda circa 2018-2019. This was right at the point where a lot of data was coming out around how black mothers and black birthing people were faring as far as, you know, giving birth. And so, this was really prompted by then-Senator Kamala Harris, who introduced bills in cooperation with and in listening to folks on the ground, like Black Mamas Matter Alliance, who Mothering Justice, we’re a kindred partner of theirs.
But we, after we added it to our mama’s agenda, we then decided to do focus groups and to hear from sort of traditional spaces, from doctors, from nurses, but also listening to the holistic spaces like doulas and midwives and also mamas themselves. And what we were hearing, and what we were also just receiving unprompted from mothers, is that they’re not being listened to. And we see this data, there are plenty of reports that showed, that revealed this very thing, that mothers, that women, that birthing people are not being, black birthing people are not being listened to when it comes to their health during labor and delivery.
And it’s so critically important to understand that point, because this..we have had so many advancements, Orlando, and in our health and health care systems and spaces, but black women are seeing the same numbers that we were seeing during slavery, even with the advancements. The one thing that hasn’t changed, is the apathetic attitudes toward black women and their families. And what hasn’t changed, is the racism which it shows itself by, it shows itself when mothers aren’t listened to.
Orlando Bailey: And it shows itself in these numbers of black women being overrepresented. This latest report, when we talk about the rise in maternal mortality, of course, those mothers are no longer here with us to explain what that process looked like. Let me ask you about what the intervention and advocacy strategy is on part of Mothering Justice to curb this trend? And I got another question regarding the coronavirus pandemic, these are numbers that directly to me, correlate to the onset of the pandemic. Are you guys seeing any correlations? And what kind of intervention and advocacy strategies are you guys designing or implementing?
Eboni Taylor: Yeah, I mean, so I can speak to both of those things. So, pre-pandemic, like I said, black mothers were already in a maternal health crisis. I mean, this country was already in a black maternal health crisis. I mean, the black maternal issue, maternal mortality issue is actually dragging the overall, the United States overall maternal mortality rate.
Orlando Bailey: We’re lagging behind a lot of developed countries.
Eboni Taylor: Oh yeah, we are, we’re absolutely lagging. The United States has the highest, the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries. And I believe that we’re the only country that actually has a rising rate. And so, of course, as you might already know, you know, because this number has been said so many times over, but the black maternal mortality rate for blacks and actually Native Americans too, which is another community that needs to be lifted up more often, but is 2 to 4 times higher now than our white counterparts. And in Michigan, that number is actually closer to 3. So, it’s between 2 or 4 across the country, but in Michigan specifically, it’s around 3 times the rate of our white counterparts.
But, like I was saying, this country, I mean, we were already having a crisis, the black maternal mortality crisis. So, the added shock of the pandemic certainly didn’t help, and it doesn’t help. And it only further disrupted an already strained situation for mothers, for, you know, existing mothers, for new mothers, for birthing people. So at a time when it was especially crucial for black mothers to have advocates in the room or more representation in these labor and delivery rooms, you know, when we needed more people, we actually are receiving even less, because, as you know, you might already know, Orlando, you know, folks giving birth have been told, “Hey, you can only have one person in the room with you”, right? And this is, you know, we’re advocating for doulas, we’re advocating for midwives, and, you know, all the way up until this point when the pandemic hit.
So then to be told that, hey, you can only have your mother present with you, you can only have your husband present with you, you cannot have a doula, you cannot have a midwife, you cannot have that additional support, it sort of set us back a bit. And then the part about what Mothering Justice is doing, you know, at the local level, Mothering Justice is currently working with some amazing state legislators around a Michigan version of the Momnibus. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s essentially a set of 12 comprehensive bills that have been passed at the federal level, introduced by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, who’s U of M alum, go blue, and she’s a congresswoman out of Illinois, but so she’s, you know, been able to pass this historic, get this historic package of bills that are meant to curb these numbers. But Mothering Justice is actually doing something similar at the Michigan level.
We’re also working with partners like Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association, Birth Detroit, to provide doula care to mothers and educate expecting mothers on things like birth plans and the power that they have to make decisions, the best decisions for themselves and their families in the labor and delivery rooms. Because a lot of our mamas, they come to us saying, Well, hey, I didn’t even know that these things were even possible, I just thought that when a doctor told me I had to do these interventions or take this or do that, that I had to do it. But in actuality, you have a voice in those rooms and in those situations and around your body.
So, those are just a few things that we’re doing. But we, you know, we hope to do much more; we are going to do much more. Really quickly, one last thing, we are releasing a statewide poll this year so that we can get a more accurate take on what mothers across the state of Michigan are experiencing in hospitals, what they’re experiencing while they’re pregnant, and throughout their pregnancies as well because that’s also an indicator of how well you do once you are postpartum. So, there’s so much more to come, but that’s just sort of high level what we’re working on.
Orlando Bailey: Yeah, I mean that poll that you all will issue, along with this report, we know has a far and wide-reaching impact upon the experiences of black women all over America. But Detroit being the largest majority-Black city in America, we know that, that issue may be even more prevalent.
And so, we thank you for the work you do, and we can’t wait to catch up with you again next time to hear about how Mothering Justice and the coalitions that you all are building are curbing these numbers. Eboni Wells-Taylor, thank you so much for joining us on American Black Journal.
Eboni Taylor: Thank you so much, Orlando. It was absolutely my pleasure.
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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.