This Mother’s Day, Congress Should Stand Up for Moms of Color

Will the hospital take you seriously if you feel something is wrong with your own body? How can you ensure you picked a care provider who understands the consequences of implicit bias? 

When you’re a pregnant Black woman in a state with one of the highest maternal morbidity rates in the country, you are thinking about more than baby names and what outfit your child should wear home from the hospital when you’re expecting.

You are consumed with the stories you have heard family and friends share detailing their traumatic birthing experiences. You know that pre-eclampsia, hemorrhaging and pulmonary embolisms can quickly turn birth stories into death stories. You’ll spend time researching the hospital you will be attending to see if they have a high C-section rate—a glaring sign that indicates the rate of interventions that can lead to devastating outcomes for mom and baby.

The two of us both know these factors well: We have been pregnant simultaneously twice, and together we manage Mothering Justice, a grassroots organization of Black mothers based in Detroit. Being working moms, our 2-year-olds and 10-month-old children spend most of their weeks together at the office.

We have become extremely familiar with the factors that play into why the state’s maternal morbidity rate is so high. We hear about the additional external factors such as inadequate healthcare, racism and lack of paid leave—all of which cause strain and stress to pregnant black bodies. Each of these social-economic issues has been well documented by years of research.

Thanks to organizing and demands raised by Black mamas, we have seen within the last several years serious strides to combat the rise of Black maternal deaths. With the swearing-in of this year’s diverse Congressional class, including six moms of color, we see an opportunity to tackle real-life concerns.

For once, women who are like us—who have faced similar statistics when they were pregnant, who dealt with the same discrimination and the lack of leave policies—are in a position to lead.

This new reality was the basis for the inaugural Mamas’ March, held in Washington, D.C. this week. We wanted to host a conversation about the role of government in addressing these issues faced by every mother and most harshly mothers of color, and create a coordinated effort to advance progress for working moms of color with some of the most powerful women in our country.

Mothering Justice sat down with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Arab American mother of two from Detroit; Rep. Brenda Lawrence, African American mother of two from Southfield, Michigan; and Senator Kamala Harris of California, stepmother of two for a discussion focused on pending legislation like The Healthy Families Act, the FAMILY Act and the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act and a new effort to increase the focus put on the connection between financial, personal wellbeing and infant and maternal morbidity. The solutions needed for Black lives and our community will, in fact, help lift up the nation overall. 

The looming question remains: How do we change the conversation from one of dollars and cents spent on solutions to who bears the cost right now What comes next is the key.

There are plenty of steps between conversations and legislation, but we believe that this Congressional class—the most diverse in years, and full of firsts—will lead this country in the direction of better supporting women of color who want to have children, without the looming threat of losing their lives and their economic stability.