NNLM Reading Club: Black Maternal Health

NNLM Reading Club: Black Maternal Health

Black Maternal Health

Topic: Caring for the Black Mother
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Caring for the Black Mother

In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women. [NCHS Health E-Stats - February 2022], which means that in the United States, Black women are nearly 300 percent more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women.

Sharing appalling statistics on maternal mortality as well as her own tragic story of loss, Wanda Irving explains how racism and bias in health care minimizes and dismisses Black women's pain -- and makes a personal plea for leaders in the medical community to take steps toward reform.

Reproductive Justice

The Origins of Reproductive Justice is important for understanding and reconciling the history of black maternal health in the United States.

Book cover image of Killing the Black BodyIn 1997, this groundbreaking book made a powerful entrance into the national conversation on race. In a media landscape dominated by racially biased images of welfare queens and crack babies, Killing the Black Body exposed America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies. From slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to government programs that coerced thousands of poor Black women into being sterilized as late as the 1970s, these abuses pointed to the degradation of Black motherhood—and the exclusion of Black women’s reproductive needs in mainstream feminist and civil rights agendas.

Book cover image of Medical Bondage In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as their belief that black enslaved women could withstand pain better than white “ladies.” Even as they were advancing medicine, these doctors were legitimizing, for decades to come, groundless theories related to whiteness and blackness, men and women, and the inferiority of other races or nationalities.

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Read and Discuss

Black Maternal Health Week was created to raise awareness of the root causes of poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and to inspire activism in support of Black-led maternal health initiatives. Founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the goals of Black Maternal Health Week are to:

  • Deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the US;
  • Amplify community-driven policy, research, and care solutions;
  • Center the voices of Black Mamas, women, families, and stakeholders;
  • Provide a national platform for Black-led entities and efforts on maternal health, birth and reproductive justice; and
  • Enhance community organizing on Black maternal health.

But one week isn't enough. Caring for the Black Mother means having the conversation anytime and all the time. Start with reading and discussing an NNLM Reading Club book selection.

Poster of book cover images for Black Maternal Health May 2022

Advocate for Her

Advocacy, policy change, and addressing racism can all improve maternal health in BIPOC groups. How to start? Listen, learn, and share.

Image for the CDC Hear Her Campaign: Help Prevent Pregnancy-Related Deaths

HEAR™ HER is the CDC's campaign to raise awareness of maternal mortality. Translated into multiple languages, help share their resources to save lives.

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to change policy and culture. They spotlight the stories and raise a call-to-action in support of Black Maternal Health.

The mission of the Maternal Health Learning and Innovation Center (MHLIC) is to foster collaboration and learning among diverse stakeholders to accelerate evidence-informed interventions advancing equitable maternal health outcomes through engagement, innovation, and policy. 

The Black Women's Health Imperative is dedicated to promoting physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being for the nation’s 19.5 million African American women and girls.

The National Birth Equity Collaboration creates transnational solutions that optimize Black maternal, infant, sexual, and reproductive wellbeing. We shift systems and culture through training, research, technical assistance, policy, advocacy, and community-centered collaboration.

Every Mother Counts works to achieve quality, respectful, and equitable maternity care for all by giving grants and working with partners and thought leaders to increase awareness and mobilize communities to take action. They also make content, tools, and resources accessible.

There's an NIH for that... and more

Black people bear a disproportionate share of maternal deaths. This is due to a number of factors including a lack of inclusion of BIPOC groups in medical research. NIH wants to change that.

Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) is the leading National Institutes of Health for women's health research. To learn about steps toward a healthy pregnancy, use its Maternal Morbidity, and Mortality web portal as well as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health (OWH) websites.

Book: Oh, Sis, You're Pregnant!
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Tailored to today’s pregnant Black woman. In the age of social media, how do pregnant women communicate their big announcement? What are the best protective hairstyles for labor? Most importantly, how many pregnancy guides focus on issues like Black maternal birth rates and what it really looks like to be Black, pregnant, and single today? Written for the modern pregnant Black woman, Oh Sis, You’re Pregnant! is the essential companion to understanding pregnancy from a millennial Black mom’s point of view.

Interviews, stories, and advice for pregnant women. Written by Black Moms Blog founder, Shanicia Boswell, Oh Sis, You’re Pregnant! manages to tackle some hard topics in a way that truly resonate with modern Black moms. With stories from her experiences through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and motherhood, and lessons learned as a mother at twenty-two, Oh Sis, You’re Pregnant! focuses on the common knowledge Black pregnant mothers should consider when having their first baby. It also shares topics beneficial to pregnant women on their second, third, or fourth born. Inside, you’ll find answers to questions like:

  • How do I financially plan for my impending birth?
  • How can I maintain my relationship and friendships during motherhood?
  • How will I self-advocate for my rights in a world that already views me as less than?

2021 International Book Awards finalist in Health: Women’s Health | #1 New Release in Pregnancy & Childbirth and Minority Demographic Studies, Medical Ethics, and Women's Health Nursing

Oh, Sis, You're Pregnant! | Shanicia Boswell | Mango | 2021 | 338 pages | ISBN: 978-1642504989

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Shanicia Boswell Headshot

In the midst of running her global parenting community of over half a million women, Black Moms Blog, and retreat company, The Self Care Retreats, Shanicia Boswell is an advocate for Black parenting, diversity, and helping women learn to put themselves first.

Official website for Shanicia Boswell

Book: Reproductive Injustice
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A troubling study of the role that medical racism plays in the lives of black women who have given birth to premature and low birth weight infants.

Black women have higher rates of premature birth than other women in America. This cannot be simply explained by economic factors, with poorer women lacking resources or access to care. Even professional, middle-class black women are at a much higher risk of premature birth than low-income white women in the United States. Dána-Ain Davis looks into this phenomenon, placing racial differences in birth outcomes into a historical context, revealing that ideas about reproduction and race today have been influenced by the legacy of ideas which developed during the era of slavery.

While poor and low-income black women are often the “mascots” of premature birth outcomes, this book focuses on professional black women, who are just as likely to give birth prematurely. Drawing on an impressive array of interviews with nearly fifty mothers, fathers, neonatologists, nurses, midwives, and reproductive justice advocates, Dána-Ain Davis argues that events leading up to an infant’s arrival in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the parents’ experiences while they are in the NICU, reveal subtle but pernicious forms of racism that confound the perceived class dynamics that are frequently understood to be a central factor of premature birth.

The book argues not only that medical racism persists and must be considered when examining adverse outcomes—as well as upsetting experiences for parents—but also that NICUs and life-saving technologies should not be the only strategies for improving the outcomes for black pregnant women and their babies. Davis makes the case for other avenues, such as community-based birthing projects, doulas, and midwives, that support women during pregnancy and labor are just as important and effective in avoiding premature births and mortality.ebook icon Audio book icon

Winner, 2020 Senior Book Prize, given by the Association of Feminist Anthropology | Winner, 2020 Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, given by the Society for Medical Anthropology | Honorable Mention, 2020 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, given by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology | Finalist, 2020 PROSE Award in the Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology category, given by the Association of American Publishers

Reproductive Injustice | Dána-Ain Davis | NYU Press | 2019 | 272 pages | ISBN: 978-1479853571

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Dana-Ain Davis Headshot

Dána-Ain Davis is Director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the Graduate Center, CUNY (New York). She is the author of Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform: Between a Rock and Hard Place.

Queens College Faculty Page for Dána-Ain Davis

Book: That Kind of Mother
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Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

Written with the warmth and psychological acuity that defined his debut, Rumaan Alam has crafted a remarkable novel about the lives we choose, and the lives that are chosen for us.ebook icon Audio book icon

Recommended Book of 2018 by Buzzfeed | The Boston Globe | The Millions | InStyle | Southern Living | Vogue | Popsugar | Kirkus | The Washington Post | Library Journal | Real Simple | NPR

That Kind of Mother | Rumaan Alam | Ecco | 2019 | 304 pages | ISBN: 978-0062667618

Author

Rumaan Alam HeadshotRumaan Alam is the author of the novels Rich and PrettyThat Kind of Mother, and the instant New York Times bestseller Leave the World Behind. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesNew York MagazineThe New YorkerThe New York Review of Books, Bookforum, and the New Republic, where he is a contributing editor. He studied writing at Oberlin College and lives in New York with his family.

Official website for Rumaan Alam

Book: Battling Over Birth
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"By distilling the common and diverse threads from over 100 black women, researchers from the Black Women Birthing Justice have woven a multi-faceted tapestry reflecting what black women view as important and central to optimal birth experiences. Their recommendations for improving care and outcomes are grounded in black women’s authoritative knowledge. This wonderful, important, necessary research by and for black women points in the direction that black women think we should go to ensure they have safe, healthy, and satisfying birth experiences and outcomes. We need to listen and act." -- Christine Morton, PhD, author, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Woman-Supported Birth in America

"... reveals hard truths—powerful findings on the role of racism, coercion, inadequate prenatal care, the pressures undermining breastfeeding, and the lack of access to alternatives to a broken maternal healthcare system as the key threads of Black women’s birth experiences." --Kimberly Seals Allers, MS, is an award-winning journalist, author, and an internationally recognized speaker, consultant, and advocate for maternal and infant health.​

Battling Over Birth: Black Women and the Maternal Health Care Crisis | Julia Chinyere Oparah; Helen Arega; Dantia Hudson; Linda Jones; Talita Osegueral | Praeclarus Press: Excellence in Women's Health |  2018 | 206 pages | ISBN: 978-1946665119

Photo of the authorsAuthors

A collaboration of the Black Women Birthing Justice (BWBJ), a collective of African-American, African, Caribbean, and multiracial women who are committed to transforming birthing experiences for black women and transfolks.

Chinyere Oparah began her tenure as Provost and Dean of the Faculty on January 1, 2017, after serving for almost twenty years on the Mills College faculty. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, raised in the South of England and with roots in SE Nigeria, Oparah’s educational background includes the study of languages, literature, philosophy, sociology, ethnic studies, and community development. She received her BA and MA in modern and medieval languages from Cambridge University, Postgraduate Diploma in community practice from Luton University, MA in the race and ethnic studies from Warwick University, and Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on black women’s civic engagement from Warwick University.

Helen Arega is a traditional birth attendant, activist, and educator. She is a member of Black Women Birthing Justice and currently serves as the Roots of Labor Doula Coordinator. Helen was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to the US when she was 4 yrs. old. While she has spent most of her life in US she is very passionate about birth justice issues on a global scale, specifically in Afrika. She describes herself as calm, passionate, reliable, and organized. Sending love and light!

Dantia Hudson is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, Breastfeeding Educator, and Yoga Instructor. She attended UC Berkeley for her undergraduate degree where she majored in Sociology and received a Masters in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from Boston University. She works as a public health researcher focusing on improving health outcomes for all communities and teaches an undergraduate public health course at Mills College. She is a member of the Black Women’s Birthing Justice and a BirthWays Board Member. Dantia enjoys arts and crafts projects in her spare time and loves spending time outside in the California sun; she resides in Oakland.

Linda Jones (formerly Jones-Mixon)is a Birth and Postpartum Doula and mother of two who lives in Oakland, CA. She founded and owned Waddle and Swaddle Baby Boutique and Resource Center in Berkeley, CA, and has been a part of the natural birth advocacy community in the Bay Area for over two decades. She belongs to Sistahs of the Good Birth, a group of Black Doulas who work with low-income mothers. She was one of the founders of a volunteer Doula group that provided services for low-income, uninsured, and teen moms that birthed at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley.

Talita Oseguera is a doula and a student in the University of California San Diego's nursing and midwifery program.

Book: Motherhood So White
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When Nefertiti Austin, a single African American woman, decided she wanted to adopt a Black baby boy out of the foster-care system, she was unprepared for the fact that there is no place for Black women in the “mommy wars.” Austin set off on her path without the ability to seek guidance from others who looked like her or shared her experience. She soon realized that she would not only have to navigate skepticism from the adoption community, who deal almost exclusively with white women but surprisingly, from her own family and friends as well. Motherhood So White is the story of Nefertiti’s fight to create the family she always knew she was meant to have and the story of motherhood that all American families need now.ebook icon Audio book icon

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America | Nefertiti Austin | Sourcebooks | 2019 | 304 pages | ISBN: 978-1492679011

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Photo of Nefertiti Austin

Nefertiti Austin writes about the erasure of diverse voices in motherhood. Her work around this topic has been short-listed for literary awards and appeared in the Huffington PostHuffPost Live, and The Atlantic. Nefertiti’s expertise stems from firsthand experience and degrees in U.S. history and African American studies.

Official Website of Nefertiti Austin

Book: We Live for the We
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In We Live for the We, first-time mother, Dani McClain, sets out to understand how to raise her daughter in what she, as a black woman, knows to be an unjust–even hostile–society. Black women are more likely to die during pregnancy or birth than any other race; black mothers must stand before television cameras telling the world that their slain children were human beings. What, then, is the best way to keep fear at bay and raise a child so she lives with dignity and joy? McClain spoke with mothers on the frontlines of movements for social, political, and cultural change who are grappling with the same questions. Following a child’s development from infancy to the teenage years, We Live for the We touches on everything from the importance of creativity to building a mutually supportive community to navigating one’s relationship with power and authority. It is an essential handbook to help us imagine the society we build for the next generation.ebook icon Audio book icon

We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood | Dani McClain | Bold Type Books | 2019 | 272 pages | ISBN: 978-1568588544

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Photo of Dani McClain

Dani McClain reports on race and reproductive health. She is a contributing writer at The Nation and a fellow with Type Media Center. McClain’s writing has appeared in outlets including The New York TimesTIMEThe AtlanticSlate, Colorlines, EBONY.com, and The Rumpus. In 2018, she received a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Her work has been recognized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. McClain was a staff reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has worked as a strategist with organizations including Color of Change and Drug Policy Alliance.

Official Website of Dani McClain