The Complicated Business of Giving Birth: Motherhood and Mortality


Here’s a not-so-fun and very frightening fact: Did you know that the U.S. has the highest rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world, indiscriminately affecting women across races, backgrounds, educations and income levels? Did you know that over half of those deaths are preventable? And, if that news isn’t disturbing enough, did you know that black mothers are three to four times more likely to die than white mothers?

To address this—along with the glaring absence of black women from most conversations about reproduction, despite their higher mortality rates—nonprofit newsroom ProPublica launched its own maternal-health investigation. It’s called “Lost Mothers,” a survey involving nearly 200 black mothers and/or families who experienced severe complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

The survey—which includes answers from participants ages 6 to 64—is equally designed to gather information and to encourage difficult conversations between family members; a pdf of the questionnaire is available here. So far, the results have revealed rarely discussed but terrifying topics like postpartum hemorrhage, uterine rupture, spontaneous coronary artery dissection and peripartum cardiomyopathy.


The conversation is ongoing, and our voices are desperately needed to make pregnancy and childbirth a more survivable experience for everyone. In August, The Root partnered with ProPublica to encourage more black women and families to join. You can download its form for your own use for discussion, and, if willing—to share your results at Nothing will be published without your consent.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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What’s frightening about the high rate of mortality among black women is it holds steady despite wealth or education level and there is no corresponding increase in mortality among other minority women. What the hell is it? Is it specific racism towards black women? Is it a physiological fact that medicine hasn’t addressed and isn’t even aware of? Or is it a whole bunch of factors that seem to all go wrong?