Fighting For America’s Black Mothers: How You Can Help (And Why You Should!)

 I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, a city famous for its place in black history.

The Lorrain Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was fatally shot stands somber in downtown Memphis. It's now home to The National Civil Rights Museum. It's a sobering and ever-present reminder of deep-seated injustice. On Sunday afternoons, my family often visited the museum. It always felt wrong to me that history of such gravity was something we “visited” instead felt the weight of in our own modest (but still inherently privileged) lives.

Inside the National Civil Rights Museum, there is an exhibit of a 1960's bus. There is an audio simulation of Rosa Parks and her famous seat-guarding protest. I always felt profoundly affected by this exhibit and by her act of self-respect. I was (and still am) in awe of her bravery. Somehow, her story was a little more relatable than the black and white photographs on the walls. It's likely I was sensing a deep shared feminine experience— despite gaps in time, place, advantage, and skin color.

There have been countless displays of overt disrespect recently. There have been just as many pleas for justice. I wonder now what my role is, as a mother, a women’s health professional, and a citizen.

I always romanticized the 60's and 70's as a time of great energy and social engagement. But there is always time and opportunity to shift humanity closer to equality. 

Sometimes, though, thinking about where to start feels overwhelming.

So, let’s start at the beginning: birth.

Maternity Mortality is Incredibly High with Black Mothers. That’s Not Ok. 

The Harvard School of Public Health has recently published some alarming disparities in black women's childbirth experience.

  • 40 black mothers out of every 100,000 die during childbirth.
  • 12.4 white women or 17.8 women of every 100,000 of other races die during childbirth. That’s more than double the mortality rate for black mothers.

The Harvard article mentions that doctors often,  “treat (young, black, pregnant) girls like props, without agency in their own care”.

This is unacceptable.

Everyone deserves respect. Everyone deserves to be informed in their own decisions. Especially when it comes to their health and their baby’s health.

Let's help each other be mentally, physically, and emotionally supported in birth.

Let’s teach each other how to be advocates for ourselves.  Before, during, and after childbirth.

Before Birth:

  1. Host a weekly cook-out for one of your pregnant friend(s), featuring a creative way to cook a new vegetable each time. Here is one of my favorite recipes. 
  2. Go with a pregnant friend to their doctor/midwife appointment.
  3. Have discussions with other women. Have these discussions with women of multiple generations. Talk about what helps you feel grounded.
  4. Go over to a pregnant friend’s house and be at their disposal for a day. Clean their house or cook them a meal while they nap, rest, or do whatever they like to do to refuel themselves.
  5. Planing on breastfeeding? Connect yourself and your friends with a lactation consultant. Meeting with a lactation consultant before the baby arrives can be extremely helpful. It will help you know how to prepare and what supplies might be helpful!). Don't know any lactation consultants? Can't afford it? Get together with an already nursing mother.
  6. Decorate yourself or a pregnant friend a cute water bottle that can hold at least 60 ounces of water. Staying hydrated means drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water/day. (So, if I weigh 150 lbs, I should drink about 75 ounces of water.) This can help prevent nausea, constipation, and even hypertension.
  7. Listen and read empowering childbirth stories. Indie Birth is a great podcast and Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth is a great resource.
  8. Choose your doctor intentionally. Get prenatal care at a clinic that supports people of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
  9. Connect prenatal educators to places that are accessible to black mothers.
  10. Train for it! Sponsor a friend or share the Train4Birth program with a black mother.

During Birth:

  1. Advocate for yourself at the doctor's office.
  2. Have support with you. Ideally, someone who has seen a birth before.
  3. Listen to your body. It’s filled with wisdom.
  4. Say some self-affirmations like, “I am strong. I can do this. I am doing this.”
  5. Are you being pressured into doing something you don't feel comfortable with? Feeling pressured to act on something you'd like more information about? It's perfectly ok to push "pause". Never forget that.
  6. If you experience or witness racial discrimination within your birth setting, objectively report the experience to the facility. Remember it's never too late to report something.
  7. Don’t let fear be the only reason you make a medical decision.

After Birth

  1. Encourage your local LaLeche League to reach out to people of all backgrounds.
  2. Join local mom Facebook groups.
  3. Make friends with other new parents.
  4. Teach your child to love all people.
  5. Do you have extra breastmilk? Consider donating it to a mother that’s having difficulty or is not medically able to breastfeed.
  6. Participate in Black Maternal Health Week. 


Always Remember: 

  1. Prenatal education for new parents is paramount. 
  2. Women’s health is important. Advocate for yourself and for others. 
  3. Be inclusive. Be active. 

During the birth of my son, I felt a wave of deep internal strength. I have since drawn upon to stand up for myself and, in small ways, women’s rights. I’ve stood up for friends who were belittled by male doctors. I’ve been a witness in a court case involving domestic violence. I make time for my best gal pals every week. 

The US Congress called Rosa Parks "the mother of the freedom movement”. We can all follow her example. 

If you work in a setting where you see someone receiving unequal treatment because of their gender or skin color, pretend you are Rosa Parks. Be a presence for good. 

If you see someone treating people with fairness and compassion, be an active witness. Acknowledge it. 

It’s easy to cave in to the convenience of only caring for the small bubble of our own familiarities. We are more than mothers of our biological offspring. We are raising the future and we can deliver change.

Shoot me an email for more information on resources or to share your story. 

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