KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City mother is sharing the story of her traumatic experience with childbirth in honor of Black Maternal Health Week, with the hope of helping other mothers find the resources they need to protect their health.
Ebony Peterson was 22 weeks pregnant with her first child when she first realized something was wrong.
"Just out of the blue. I just started having sharp pains," she said.
She called her doctor the next morning, who told her to come in right away. Two days later, she gave birth to her daughter, Aubrey, who weighed in at just one pound, two ounces.
Peterson later found out her placenta had started to tear, triggering her body to go into labor.
Thankfully, she and her daughter both survived, in part because Peterson's doctor took her seriously when she said something wasn't right. But not every childbirth story has the positive ending that this one did.
Every year, around 700 people die in the U.S. as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is the highest rate of maternal mortality among all industrialized countries.
Black mothers are around 2.5 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white mothers, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Missouri and Kansas are not exempt from this problem. In fact, Missouri has the seventh-highest maternal death rate in the country, and it's significantly worse for Black mothers.
From 2010 to 2017, Black mothers in Missouri were dying nearly 2.5 times more often than white mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, or up to a year after delivery.
Black mothers were also more than two times as likely to experience Severe Maternal Morbidity, which is any physical or mental illness or disability directly related to pregnancy or childbirth.
In Kansas, between 2016 and 2018, Black mothers made up 7% of all births in the state but accounted for 23% of all pregnancy-related deaths. They were also 87% more likely to experience Severe Maternal Morbidity.
These disparities are part of the catalyst behind Black Maternal Health Week, which was started four years ago by a group called Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
In Kansas City, several groups are taking part in the week by hosting events and raising awareness of the issue.
One of those groups is Nurture KC, a local organization focused on improving family health and reducing infant mortality.
When Peterson was pregnant, she was paired with a community health worker from Nurture KC, who helped her find resources for prenatal care and guided her through the unfamiliar territory of pregnancy.
When Peterson delivered Aubrey prematurely, her community health worker was there to help her through that transition as well. Peterson called it, "just an amazing community resource that I did not know existed."
Now, Peterson, herself works as a community health worker for Nurture KC.
"Being able to be in that position to receive the help once and now being able to provide it to my moms is amazing," Peterson said. "Just an experience that I'm appreciative of. Because you don't know, you don't know what could happen."
Peterson said her biggest advice to expectant mothers would be to start prenatal care as early as possible. She also encouraged other mothers to share their birth stories to keep the issue at the forefront of national conversation.
Lack of access to quality prenatal care is just one of the numerous and complicated reasons contributing to the disparity in maternal death rates for Black mothers.
Kansas City-based nonprofit Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet, is hosting a virtual event Thursday night called "The State of Black Maternal Health."
It will feature Black experts, advocates and elected officials talking about ways to improve Black maternal health. It starts at 6 p.m. and registration is open to anyone.