During her second pregnancy, 25-year old Jessica Roach thought she would have a smooth experience, like the first one, but her health deteriorated.
“I started having complications when my daughter, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant with her,” says Roach. “The first diagnosis was an incompetent cervix. I ended up bleeding into pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, then an induction at 34 weeks and 5 days.”
Roach and her daughter both survived. But not all mothers do: In the U.S., black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die while pregnant.
In Ohio, the rate is lower but the disparity remains: Pregnant black women die at a rate two to three times greater than white women.
Those alarming numbers are why health care professionals and other maternity experts are meeting in Columbus April 11-16 for the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week. The aim is to raise awareness and increase advocacy for black mothers and their families.
Roach suspects her health suffered during her second pregnancy, because of stress on her job as a nurse.
“I was working in a very wonderful, lucrative career, but it was also very stressful,” Roach says. “And the reality is that whether we recognize it on a daily basis, there’s often times that we as black women have to perform at 110 percent in order to be able to be seen in the same light as our counterparts who may only be performing at 80.”
Roach founded a group called “Restoring Our Own Through Transformation,” or ROOTT. The group’s aim is to support black moms to find resources needed to improve outcomes for themselves and their babies.
“There is no biological or genetic reason that we have to have these health disparities that we do,” Roach says.
Franklin County also shows a high rate of black infant deaths: 15 per 1000, compared to 4.9 for white infants. Ohio as a whole falls behind all but one other state in terms of black infant mortality.
Roach says black women need to tell their own stories about pregnancy-related issues. She says health care professionals can sometimes ignore health-related concerns experienced by black women.
“Black women’s voices are not being recognized, so something that could be potentially be a simple headache, isn’t being addressed as to what there could be other issues with,” Roach says.
Recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that about 700 women die of a pregnancy-related issue each year. The rate of these deaths has more than doubled from 1987 to 2013.
The figures show 7.2 deaths per 100,000 births occurred in 1987, increasing to 17.3 deaths per 100,000 births in 2013.