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Pregnant black women face higher mortality rates: How COVID-19 adds to fears

Posted at 5:00 PM, Apr 23, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About 700 women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers found that of the 658 women who died of maternal causes in 2018, black women fared the worst, dying two and a half times more often.

41 Action News spoke with experts in Kansas City about how COVID-19 is increasing those concerns.

According to the most recent CDC study, pregnancy-related deaths are four to five times higher for black women and women of color than for white women.

Hakima Payne is the CEO of Uzazi Village in Kansas City, where her primary focus is lowering black infant mortality rates and racially based prenatal health inequities.

"The rise in maternal death rate in the U.S. is largely due to the rise in cesarean rates, and so black women are at higher risk of receiving cesarean sections during the pandemic," Payne said.

Along with the fears of getting a ceserian section, the global pandemic has increased worries for pregnant black women.

"So one of the things that we're seeing with COVID-19 from the community side... women are choosing in droves not to have their babies in the hospitals," Payne said.

The pregnant black women that Payne helps are now looking to doulas and midwives as alternative options to giving birth in a hospital, in part because of COVID-19 safety concerns.

Darcie Mendenhall is a certified professional midwife and owner of Dreaming Tree Women's Care. She says she has also seen an increase in inquiries for home births, but she is also aware of the mortality rates among pregnant black women.

"So having care that is personalized where a person is truly seen for who they are, what they bring to the table in life versus just being seen for how they look," Mendenhall said. "That’s where we help save moms and babies by really listening to what they’re telling us, and believing them."