#ReproductiveJustice and Why It Matters | by Brittney Hogue Birth Photographer
It’s not what you think it is. You’re probably thinking… oh great, I’m about to hear some Midwestern bible thumper’s view on women’s rights. Not even close. Not even a little. I’m sure by now you’ve heard… as a country we are doing very poorly in mortality outcomes for our mothers. In other words… more women die in the United States every year in relation to birth and postpartum than nearly any developed country in the world. Our stats rank similarly to areas like Papa New Guinea. In fact, we’re one of only 15 countries in the WORLD whose rates are INCREASING instead of decreasing.
In fact, this issue is so alarming, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill in December 2018, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, to fund state committees to review and investigate deaths of pregnant and newly postpartum mothers, to train providers to improve the quality of care and to make a summary of each maternal death available to the general public. The bipartisan legislation authorizes $12 million a year in new funds for five years and would pay for research that would yield more accurate data and identify the specific factors fueling the death of mothers, enabling local and state governments to develop more effective strategies to address the issue.
The past few years have actually yielded an unprecedented focus on the issue of maternal health—and death—for black American women especially. You see, in the United States, black women are 2 to 6 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than white women, depending on where they live. And black infants are more than twice as likely to die than white infants, a racial disparity that is wider today than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery.
The crisis is so real that black women mayors from across the nation have formed a coalition intended to direct policies and resources to address the problem, without waiting for federal intervention. At the forefront of this movement are organizations like the National Birth Equity Collaborative and the group Black Mamas Matter, both comprised of academicians, medical professionals and community health activists who have collaborated to develop compelling personal stories, research and policy strategies to reinforce the message that black women face serious, quantifiable risk of death or major disability related to pregnancy.
That’s all information that I knew going into this birth… the birth of a woman of color. The birth of a child twice as likely to die than my own. Birth is sacred no matter who you are, but it’s so worth recognizing that it is a completely different narrative for me than it is for this mother. I often times hear that someone didn’t hire a birth photographer because they were scared of a poor outcome in their delivery. What happens if our bodies don’t live up to our expectations? What happens when complications rise up?
We cannot live in fear and let it control our narratives. We cannot let it distract us and steal the joy we deserve to experience in these life-changing parts of our stories. We have to put aside the stigma and choose to first believe that despite all of our doubts and risks and anxieties and disbeliefs… that this story is possible. And we have to choose to bring awareness to the realities so change can happen for our children.