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A Dark Truth: Baby Loss & Black Mothers  

By Anisah Abdullah 

Baby Loss Awareness Week provides an opportunity for us all to mark the lives of babies lost in pregnancy or soon after birth. Running between the 9th-15th October, this campaign allows dedicated time to put a spotlight on the needs of the individuals and families whose lives are irrevocably altered by the death of their children during pregnancy, at birth, and in infancy. Research has shown that Black women experience pregnancy loss, including miscarriage, still birth, preterm birth, and infant death, more often than White women. 

The reasons behind this disparity are complex and still largely unclear. We do know that Black women are reported to have higher rates of pregnancy loss risk factors including diabetes, tobacco use, obesity, and low socioeconomic status. However, some of the key causes that tell us Black women more ‘predisposed’ to these risk factors are in fact the opposite due to the very real presence of institutionalized racism and systemic inequality in healthcare. 

The major issue these factors highlight is that even when Black and ethnic minority women do not have pre-existing medical conditions, have English as their first language, live healthy lifestyles and come from ‘middle-class’ backgrounds, we still have worse outcomes compared with white women from a similar background. At a time when institutionalized racism is at the forefront of our conversations, we have to wonder if it is the fabric of society that puts Black and ethnic minorities at higher risk when they enter the maternity system or whether there is something  happening within the maternity system itself? 
To me, this is a national health crisis, particularly as professionals are overlooking the serious impact these realities are having on Black Maternal Mental Health and the statistics on Black maternal mental health already make for concerning reading, and with so much stigma and pressure, is it any wonder?  
It is my belief that we need to look at the social factors in terms of the experiences black women endure of intersectionality, racism, discrimination and racialised sexism. A study in 2010 found that healthcare professionals in the UK lacked the training to identify the unique  needs of black women and this lack is causing black mothers to ‘fall through the net’.  Ethnicity and culture really do affect how and when women seek help for mental health problems before or after having a baby. Many are still avoiding seeking out help because they feel services are not sensitive to their beliefs, or that they will be judged, overlooked or dismissed. 
“The alarming feature is the persistence of this gap, and the fact we do not know what the causes are because we’re not doing the research” Dr Jenny Douglas, Open University  
In light of this, UK professors have recently called for an equivalent of the 59,000-strong Black Women’s Health Study which has been operational in the USA since 1995, I couldn’t agree more.  

Advocates believe that Baby Loss Awareness Week increases public awareness and promotes understanding to support and aid survivors of baby loss and their families, enabling them to overcome their trauma and recover from their mental, emotional, physical ordeal. With this in mind, more needs to be done to understand the specific needs and maternity issues for Black women so that they can be given the support they really need after something as harrowing as a miscarriage or infant loss.  
“UK law demands everyone has equal access to safe, respectful maternity care but we are failing to safeguard black and brown people’s basic rights – to survive childbirth, to be treated with dignity, to have their bodies and choices respected.” Birthrights chief executive Amy Gibbs 

So much of the conversation around Black womanhood is clouded by inequality and intersectionality, even down to giving birth. To be told constantly that something as natural and beautiful as bringing a life into the world is “life-threatening” and the repercussions this pressure has, causes a massively damaging impact on real people, on entire communities and on society as a whole.
The fact is that Black and ethnic minority women deserve better than what the current health system is offering us. There’s a long way to go, but I believe we can do it.  
If you have been impacted by any of the issues mentioned in this article, please find the following support groups and organisations below:  

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