Black History Month Highlights: Women's & Perinatal Health
Black History Month was originally Negro History Week and was founded by Carter G. Woodson with the goal to educate others about Black history. It is particularly a month of pride and distinction and one in which I hope to spread a little extra knowledge about a few people who you may not know.
Given my previous experience of stillbirth, I am passionate about issues concerning pregnancy and early infant loss. Through Confessions of a Nurse Practitioner, I plan to highlight issues and concerns pertaining to this area including women’s and perinatal health. Perinatal health refers to the health of women and babies before, during, and after birth. Unfortunately, black mothers suffer from higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm complications, and infant loss. Additionally, black mothers die at a rate of three times higher than other races. This is a public health crisis that deserves our attention and resources.
Thankfully, there are some organizations and trailblazers who are working to improve these statistics. Meet these four Black History icons in women’s and perinatal health. These professionals share or have shared by helping to improve pregnancy outcomes while working to determine causes of pregnancy and infant losses and or losses of mothers.
Years ago it was pioneers like Margaret Charles Smith who birthed babies and nurtured the mothers of the babies through her work as a midwife. Born and raised in Eutaw, Alabama, her mother died just three weeks after giving birth to her. She was raised by her grandmother and took up midwifery at an early age. Having earned her midwifery permit she went on to birth over 3500 babies in rural Alabama and she never once lost a mother during the process. Additionally, she lost very few babies. She was the first Black person to be given the key to the city of Eutaw and she co-authored a book with Linda Janet Holmes entitled Listen to me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife. Smith lived to be nearly 100 years old before her death in 2004.
Dr. Yvonne Thornton was the first black woman in the U.S. to be board certified in high-risk obstetrics. She is also double certified as a perinatal consultant and specialist in obstetrics and gynecology as well as maternal-fetal medicine. She is an outspoken advocate of women’s health issues. Dr. Thornton established and developed the program for a new form of early prenatal diagnostic testing known as CVS (chorionic villus sampling). She was one of the original American investigators whose CVS results were relied upon by the FDA prior to granting approval for the procedure. She chronicled the story of her father’s dream that she and her sisters become doctors in her best-selling memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters.
There are also trailblazers who have started organizations to help combat the issues of pregnancy loss and maternal mortality. Dr. Joia Crear-Perry an obstetrician and gynecologist, is the founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. This organization works to optimize Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaboration. A primary goal is to eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes by focusing on the social determinants of health-driven by racism, classism, and gender oppression.
Nicole Deggins is a Certified Nurse Midwife and birth advocate who founded Sista Midwife Productions. Deggins is on a mission to end perinatal disparities and to show Black and Brown mothers how they can advocate for themselves. Sista Midwife Productions, based in New Orleans, LA provides education, training, and consultations for communities, birth workers, and organizations. They also work to increase the number of black birth professionals and provide a directory to find midwives and doulas.
There is still much work to be done but thanks to women like the trailblazers mentioned we hope that outcomes will improve. For more information about these women and initiatives visit the websites listed.