While many of us know that Black women in the United States are 2-3 times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts, we don’t often unpack this dismal statistic and the ways in which different intersections of the community are further marginalised within this broken, racist health system. Over the course of Black History Month, the PUSH Campaign hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of this intersectionality by amplifying the diverse childbirth experiences of Black women and other birthing people. Our goal is to underscore the complexity of the Black maternal health crisis and the varied experiences of the community that we often lump together. Stay tuned as we feature stories from Black community members navigating childbirth in the U.S — we’re calling this series “birthing while Black” and we’re pleased to share the first iteration of the series from Chanel Caraway.
On my journey to parenthood, I often read and heard that each pregnancy and birth is different. After my own wildly different birth stories, I’m a believer.
During my first pregnancy, I spent countless hours reading books and articles and doing research about childbirth. I wanted to be prepared and informed, so I dug as deeply as I could to know what I might experience on this journey. I was shocked to learn that Black women in the US are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York, where my obstetrical team is based, the numbers are even more sobering: women of color are 8 to 12 times more likely to die from childbirth complications. Seeing these statistics pushed me into overdrive planning for my daughter’s birth. I created a chart with birth preferences; I downloaded pregnancy apps; I watched videos; and I hired a doula. Little did I know, my entire birth plan would be scrapped.
On a chilly November night in 2020, my daughter was born in the back of my car. Yes, you read that right, in the back of my car. My birth plan was scrapped as my baby girl made a dramatic entrance into the world on her own terms. Most people look at me in disbelief when I tell this story and wonder how I was able to refrain from rushing to the hospital at the first sign of labor pains. On the contrary, I was paralyzed by the excruciating thought of not leaving the hospital alongside my newborn. I was pained by the possibility that simply because of the color of my skin I could die during childbirth.
When I learned that I was expecting a second child, I considered a homebirth. I felt at peace and safe at home, so what better way to welcome my son into the world? After learning that few midwifery practices in my area accepted my health insurance, coupled with long waiting lists for new patients, I opted to continue prenatal care in a hospital setting. I’m glad I did. Not to be outdone by his sister, my son arrived with his own fanfare, a month early and less than an hour after I got to the hospital. I later learned that I had a placental abruption and a prolapsed cord, both of which can threaten a baby’s life. I am deeply grateful to the team of medical experts who moved swiftly to ensure that we were well cared for and safe.
This Black History Month and beyond, let’s honor Black babies and mothers by calling on local legislators to implement more solutions and safeguards to reduce maternal mortality rates. Our local elected officials need to hear the stories of Black women who have died during childbirth. And, they need to see the faces and hear the names of the babies and loved ones they left behind. Hospitals that receive public funding, which overwhelmingly serve patients of color, should build stronger protocols like mandatory implicit bias training, hiring more doctors of color so that patients see providers who look like them and speak their language, and frequent independent review panels to regularly assess maternal outcomes that went well and those that ended tragically. Taken together, these actions can put Black mothers on a path toward equitable maternity care and healthy outcomes.
I want every Black mother to have the privilege to think about everyday parenting things: sleepless nights, how our family will adjust to having a tiny (screaming) human in the house, how our hearts can hold enough love for this new life we created. Let’s give every Black mother the privilege to choose a midwife or traditional hospital setting and give her the resources to achieve those options. Every Black mother deserves the privilege to worry about the color of the cute onesie our babies wear home from the hospital rather than crafting a plan to survive childbirth. We deserve to have policies at every level of government that push healthcare providers to deliver patient care that values our lives and our babies.
Until then, I urge Black mothers to be your own advocate. Do your homework and try to choose a healthcare provider that best suits your needs. Ask questions—lots of them. Your gut and intuition can be the best medicine. If something doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t.
This is your pregnancy and birth experience, and you deserve to have the privilege to experience everyday parenting things.
By Chanel Caraway
Chanel Caraway is a multi-talented media personality, content strategist and public relations professional. Currently, she is a Director at the Brunswick Group. In this role, she counsels senior leadership within arts and cultural institutions to help them navigate crises and other communications issues to elevate their public profile. Chanel brings deep experience in non-profit and government communications having worked in senior roles in the public sector building integrated communications plans and advising senior officials on social impact issues to educate and engage the public. Chanel previously served as the communications director for former New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray. Chanel helped position her as a thought leader and mental health advocate on the national stage and led the Communications practice to develop assets that connected internal and external stakeholders to objectives, initiatives, and goals. A former journalist, Chanel covered a range of topics from politics to public health crises. She holds a master’s degree from The American University and a bachelor's degree from Elon University.