Pregnant woman Credit: Thiago Borges/Pexels photo

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso has added initial members to his Maternal Health Task Force as part of his commitment to address the maternal mortality and morbidity disparities. In the first phase of the taskforce, the members will help lay the foundation for strategizing around Reynoso’s maternal health agenda and expanding the taskforce, a press release from Reynoso’s website said.

From 2001 to 2018, Black birthing people in New York City were 9.4 times more likely to die from childbirth complications than white birthing people, according to a press release from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In addition to this, in 2019, Black birthing people experienced infant mortality at a rate of 3.3 times higher than their counterparts.

In NYC, Brooklyn was the borough with the most pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths in 2017, according to data in an April 2021 report from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Maternal Health Task Force is co-chaired by NYC Health + Hospitals Chief Women’s Health Service Officer Dr. Wendy Wilcox and Woodhull Director of Midwifery Services Helena Grant. Other members of the task force include Dr. Zahirah McNatt, Ngozi N. Moses, Christina Sparrock and the Hon. Una S.T. Clarke.

These members provide a multidisciplinary approach to tackling the complex issue of addressing maternal mortality and morbidity. According to the press release from the Brooklyn borough president’s website, the members collectively have expertise and knowledge in areas that can be crucial to improving the care of birthing persons.

“The initial members of our Maternal Health Task Force bring decades of expertise in maternal healthcare, wraparound services, community engagement, advocacy, and other spaces that are needed to holistically approach the crisis of maternal mortality disparities seen in our communities,” Reynoso said in the release.

Reynoso is planning to allot a substantial portion of his FY23 capital funding to chosen Brooklyn public hospitals, which would be used to help upgrade birthing facilities. This includes upgrades to technology and improving infection control. Reynoso also plans to support outpatient services that address issues faced by people of color. Combined with the work of the taskforce, the work in maternal health can be developed further.

“I look forward to helping co-create new energy that gets activated around what we can do to empower birthing people, families, and communities to live their best lives through increased education, care, understanding, and resources,” Grant said in the press release.

Racism and historical disinvestment have played a big role in inequalities between Black and white birthing people. Some of these factors range from stressors related to racism to Black birthing people having less access to care. For example, where one lives affects the neighborhood they live in which may have an impact on what they have access to. These effects, segregation and racism, can be felt at different levels of someone’s pregnancy.

“Even when controlling for socioeconomic and educational status, Black birthing people are still more likely to suffer from severe morbidity and mortality than those of other races and ethnicities,” the Brown Undergraduate Journal of Public Health published in Fall 2021.

Dr. McNatt said that if a Black birthing person is experiencing racism, this can have an overall effect on both the person themselves and those helping them. For instance, these birthing people may feel they aren’t able to speak up or that they are experiencing discrimination by clinicians.

A common misconception and stereotype is that Black women have more kids. Stereotypes like this have permeated throughout history and have contributed to how Black birthing persons are viewed. “That is a dramatic stereotype that has been infused into media and into the minds of those that might have to help people deliver their babies. The stereotypes about Black birthing persons are part of what influences whether or not they have good experiences when they’re pregnant,” McNatt said.

The effects and barriers mentioned earlier also affect Black women having higher rates of preventable diseases and chronic health conditions. More Black women show signs of preeclampsia, a condition involving hypertension, earlier in pregnancy than white women, the National Partnership for Women & Families said in a report.

Currently, New York City has ways that they have tried to address the birthing persons disparity. There is a Citywide Doula Inititative that provides free doulas to people in neighborhoods severely impacted by the pandemic. Another program is Healthy Start Brooklyn which provides support programs and classes to new or expecting parents.

“We see not just in the U.S., but across the globe, that maternal mortality rates tell us about another person. However, they also tell us about the health and priorities of a society,” McNatt said.

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