The Latest Way Mississippi Lawmakers Are Failing Women

With the decision to deny postpartum care to women, Mississippi continues to demonstrate a lack of regard for the health of mothers—particularly Black women. I have no tears left for this, just rage.

mississippi-pregnant-women-postpartum-medicaid
Teara Coates with her 4-day-old baby, Tayden Coates, at the University Mississippi Medical College on Sept. 30, 2012. (Lynsey Addario / Getty Images Reportage)

Her trauma met with my trauma; and that night I wept in my closet. This was me after having a conversation with Erania one afternoon. During a casual meeting aimed at dreaming about what a little extra cash could mean for her family, she shared with me the horrific experience she went through when having her youngest son: “My husband had to pack my wound to hold my stomach together when the staples came out.”

The wound she so casually spoke of was the incision from her cesarean; and this barbaric reality was because as a woman without financial resources, she lacked the insurance needed to get adequate access to health care.

This healthcare she so desperately needed could have easily been resolved with Medicaid, which Mississippi has failed to expand. Even other states that have refused general Medicaid expansion have managed to find the decency to at least extend postpartum care for mothers. 

Because of the choices politicians continue to make, Erania was left with few options. She spoke of how she was asked to decide if she wanted stitches or staples to close her wound after her son was pulled out. The hospital staff made it clear to her that being a Medicaid recipient, she’d have to cover the cost of stitches herself. While sutures are widely recommended for the health of the mother, she went with the covered option of staples—which ended up costing her dearly.

My emotional onslaught after hearing her story was not because my financial reality mirrors Erania’s. My reaction was because as a fellow Black woman in Mississippi, I know how difficult it is to navigate the road to motherhood. My birth story did not entail my husband having to serve as my wet nurse, but it did include almost dying as I brought my now 11-year-old into this world.

Mississippi’s policies—from the state’s stance on abortion to sex education—continue to prevent residents from receiving adequate healthcare and education.

In Mississippi, Black women have nearly three times the maternal mortality rate as white women. My middle-class privilege provided me access to healthcare, but for women relying on Medicaid that healthcare expires 60 days after birth. This is despite the reality that 86 percent of pregnancy-related deaths occur after birth, including 37 percent after six weeks. Because of my insurance, after my difficult birth I was able to follow up with various doctors monthly to address both the emotional and physical wounds for several months during my postpartum recovery. Because of her financial status, Erania was not afforded this basic—and essential—care.

With the recent decision by the state legislature’s House Republicans to deny postpartum care to women, Mississippi continues to demonstrate a lack of regard for the health of mothers—particularly Black women. I have no tears left for this, just rage. Rage because, despite the ongoing battles that have been fought to uplift the issues of the maternal health crisis in Mississippi, politicians continuously refuse to center the needs of mothers. And the refusal is cavalier and cruel. As House Speaker Philip Gunn said in regard to Medicaid expansion: “We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on.” 

mississippi-pregnant-women-postpartum-medicaid
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act rallied on the steps of the Supreme Court in 2015. (David Sachs for SEIU / Creative Commons)

This issue of Medicaid expansion refusal by itself is problematic, but my rage is further compounded by the reality that Mississippi’s policies—from the state’s stance on abortion to sex education—continue to prevent residents from receiving adequate healthcare and education. These state lawmakers wield their power like mad hatters, preaching about the value of life and working to ensure that births happen, but showing nothing but contempt for the life of the mother. Former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant proudly stated, “I want Mississippi to be the safest place in America for an unborn child.” If only Bryant could muster an iota of consideration for the safety of already-living Black women. This hypocrisy would be laughable, if it weren’t for the reality this mentality leads to a living hell for many.

The recent stance of Medicaid expansion is just the latest in a long line of Mississippi politicians showing us they do not care about women. As the great Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are the first time, believe them.”

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

Aisha Nyandoro is the chief executive officer of Springboard to Opportunities.