Nationally recognized birth-equity voice Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, MD, FACOG, spoke powerfully on the legacy of slavery and structural racism as key drivers of high rates of Black infant and maternal mortality. The July 24 keynote presentation to the Alliance for Early Success was titled Risk Factor: Racism — The Structures that Drive Black Infant and Maternal Mortality.
Dr. Crear-Perry is a recognized thought leader on racism as a root cause of health inequities and recently addressed the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urge a human rights framework to improve maternal mortality.
After sharing the history of the National Birth Equity Collaborative and their efforts to create solutions that optimize Black maternal and infant health through training, policy advocacy, research, and community-centered collaborations, Dr. Joia went on to discuss several key ideas.
First, she pointed out that it is racism not race that is shaping outcomes for Black moms and babies. While racism occurs on three levels, it is institutionalized racism that upholds the structures, policies, practices, and norms that drive differential access to goods, services, and opportunities — and is shaping social determinants of health.
She covered unintentional bias and its impacts on our work (including a test anyone can take to determine their own bias) and strategies to decrease bias, such as:
Thinking of counter-stereotypic examples
Individualizing instead of generalizing
Perspective taking/”Walking in their shoes”
Increasing opportunities for contact and relationship
She shared some work we can do as advocates:
Listen First — center families’ experiences for best use of resources and greatest impact
Develop and invest in community engagement for participatory policymaking
Have courageous conversations about race and racism and build listening skills for White allies
Dr. Crear-Perry then gave us an overview of national and state-based solutions, including:
The Momnibus — comprehensive legislation to address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis in America
Maternal Mortality Review Committees on local and state levels
Culture shifts through activities like the annual “Black Maternal Health Week”
Perinatal and Maternal Care Quality Collaboratives that improve quality of care for moms and babies
In the follow-up session called The Doctor Will See You Now, listeners heard from three state early childhood advocates on their respective efforts in addressing racial disparities in infant and maternal health — with feedback from Dr. Crear-Perry.
Adriana Kohler with Texans Care for Children shared the challenges with mental health services and coverage issues facing moms and babies that are driving pre-term and low birth weight. Adriana offered their team’s Healthy Moms Raising Healthy Babies Report and their recent blog post, We Must Combat These Racial Disparities Facing TX Kids and Families.
Amy Zaagman with the Michigan Council for Maternal & Child Health described their work to create purposeful partnership with the state to focus on equity and racial disparities facing moms and infants. Those efforts led to their Governor signing an executive order mandating implicit bias training for all licensed health professionals (except for veterinarians) and their “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” infographic.
Tracy McDaniel with New Mexico’s Southwest Women’s Law Center detailed efforts in New Mexico to address the needs of the “rising majority” in their state and undo harms that continue to be perpetuated against Indigenous women before, during, and after childbirth. Her organization spoke out against a hospital’s practice of screening Indigenous women and called on the state to initiate an investigation, which it since has. She also shared with listeners a bill to train and partner with health care professionals to improve the health outcomes of Black moms and babies in communities most impacted by disparities.