Disparity and Maternal Healthcare — A Stark Reality For Many Women of Color 

Doctors often view men with chronic pain as “brave,” or “stoic,” while tending to view women with chronic pain as “emotional” or “hysterical,” according to one 2018 study. While this highlights gender bias issues in healthcare against women, maternal healthcare can see additional issues, with disparities found in multiple aspects of the sector for women of color. From the issues present in general maternal healthcare to birth outcomes here are just a few issues that many face.

Systemic racism and maternal healthcare

Approximately 700 women die in the US each year as a result of pregnancy or its complications, with Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women having higher rates of pregnancy related deaths when compared to white women. While cardiovascular conditions tend to be the leading cause of pregnancy related death among women overall, cardiomyopathy, pulmonary embolism, and high blood pressure were actually associated with a higher rate of death among Black women in comparison to whte women in one study of pregnancy related deaths during 2007 to 2016.

Contributions towards disparities often include that of certain health conditions that affect pregnancy outcomes, which are more prevalent in black women (like hypertension and obesity). A lack of access to preventative care, safe housing during pregnancy, and quality hospitals are often additional contributing factors. With many disparities in maternal health rooted in racism, women of color often tend to receive poorer care as a result, creating a less than desirable experience that can lead to further health issues. Ultimately, when considering the effects of these stressors and the experience of racism in the healthcare sector, many women of color are at a higher risk when it comes to conditions like preeclampsia, eclampsia, and embolisms, in addition to mental health conditions

Highlighting the concerns of birth complications

Birth injuries are also a major concern, with cerebral palsy just one example of a condition that can occur due to birth trauma. With CP found to be significantly more common among black children than white children, according to data collected among 8 year olds from across four communities back in 2010, it’s important to keep in mind that the condition can often result in issues with movement/posture,among other issues, like the inability to walk. Defined as the impairment of a child or mother due to trauma during birth (which may be caused by a complication of the birth process itself or the action/inaction of a medical professional), the effects of a birth injury can be astronomical. As a result, birth injury settlements are often pursued, though it’s worth mentioning that such settlements are often determined by a variety of factors, such as injury type, location, and timing. 

The benefits of implicit bias training

In terms of working towards finding a solution for disparity in women’s healthcare in regards to systemic racism and other gender bias issues, specialized training is worthy of consideration. For example, healthcare providers were less likely to identify pain in the facial expressions of Black faces than on non-black ones, leaving them less likely to believe a black patient to be experiencing pain, according to one study by the National Institutes of Health. To change this and other issues stemming from racial bias in healthcare, many medical and academic institutions are looking to make a change. Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, for instance, has actually revised its curriculum in order to include training on the impact of implicit bias.

For women of color in need of maternal healthcare, there are a wide variety of issues that stem from systemic racism and implicit bias, which can have devastating effects on multiple aspects of one’s life. While the roll-out of implicit bias training has been slow, many institutions are looking to make a change — such as by revising the curriculum.

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