Maternity and childbirth are transformative experiences for many. This is often a joyous time where families welcome and celebrate new life. However, there are also often challenges for women during and after pregnancy that many are reluctant to discuss. For Latina moms and other mothers of color, there are also racial health disparities that can affect both mom and baby.
In a previous article, Latinas in Business CEO and President Susana G. Baumann sat down with First Lady of NJ Tammy Snyder Murphy in an exclusive interview to discuss the issue of racial health disparities in maternal and infant healthcare.
According to recent data, African American women are seven times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than White mothers, and Latinas about four times. African American babies are three times more likely than White babies to die before their first birthdays. In about 66 percent of the cases, these deaths could have been prevented.
New Jersey is not alone when it comes to these statistics. In fact, according to a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. as a country has nearly doubled the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births compared to other wealthy, developed nations.
The report reveals a large number of maternal deaths occur after birth, some shortly after or even months later due to a number of factors. Infection, severe bleeding, and high blood pressure are some of the leading causes of postpartum death in the U.S.
“We are, despite our tremendous advancements in our abilities, 55th in the world in maternal mortality. And yes, New Jersey is 47 out of 50 states, which is absolutely appalling,” said Tammy Murphy, who cited institutional racism as part of the issue.
“It’s implicit bias. We all have our own biases; we bring them to the table no matter what we think. We have to break those down,” she stated.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also further shed a light on the issues of racial health disparities in mothers of color. According to a study from the Sutter Health Center for Health Systems Research, pregnant Latinas are at a greater risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus than white non-Hispanic women.
Two first-time Latina moms in our Latinas in Business Inner Circle shared their maternity and childbirth experiences with us.
First time Latina moms share differing birth experiences
Albania Rosario, President & CEO of FDLA (Fashion Designers of Latin America), recently welcomed her first child, a baby boy. Her pregnancy experience was wonderful but like many women, she experienced a difficult childbirth.
“I had the most amazing 37 weeks of pregnancy; I miss the kicks of my baby inside my womb, such an amazing precious time,” she shares. “But I must say that my experience giving birth was not necessarily the most exciting one.”
After a routine prenatal visit, Albania’s doctor informed her that she had to give birth immediately. Her doctor was worried because her blood pressure was very high, so Albania was quickly scheduled to deliver the next day at 6 AM. At the time she was 3 weeks away from her due date.
“Being new at all of this I panicked, I felt helpless, I was worried. I was very emotional and kept asking myself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I was so anxious about everything, one can only imagine. The next day my husband and I went in and the entire hospital experience was not the best, a lot of negligence, confusing information, and so many different opinions. Definitely a big trauma that to this day I am still dealing with,” says Albania.
After several hours of unsuccessfully inducing labor, Albania ended up having a C-section and her baby Maximus David was born on July 8th at 11:40 am in New York City.
“God has blessed us with a beautiful healthy baby boy and every time I look at him, I know it’s the most precious gift of life anyone can ever ask for,” she says.
Negative or complicated childbirth experiences unfortunately are not as uncommon as one may think. According to a 2019 study on inequity and mistreatment during childbirth found that, “One in six women (17.3%) reported experiencing one or more types of mistreatment such as: loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded, or threatened; and being ignored, refused, or receiving no response to requests for help.”
Our other first time Latina mom shared a much different birth experience. Ashley Hayes is the director of global operations and programs at interductus | Renovad and a member of the Latinas in Business team. She recently welcomed a baby girl.
“My childbirth experience was truly everything I could have ever wanted. I tried to ensure this by hiring a doula, Sue, to help educate and support me before, during, and after labor. I came prepared to the hospital both mentally and physically, so even when I was told there were no delivery rooms available and put into the corner of a pre-op room with several other laboring women (only being divided by a sheet), I felt calm and supported,” she shares.
According to the same 2019 study on childbirth inequity, context of care (e.g. mode of birth; transfer; difference of opinion) correlated with increased reports of mistreatment. “Experiences of mistreatment differed significantly by place of birth: 5.1% of women who gave birth at home versus 28.1% of women who gave birth at the hospital. Factors associated with a lower likelihood of mistreatment included having a vaginal birth, a community birth, a midwife, and being white, multiparous, and older than 30 years.”
Ashley cites “her team” as a big factor that contributed to her positive birth experience.
“I wanted an unmedicated, peaceful experience and that is what I got thanks to a lot of prayer and the support of my amazing husband, Travis. I could not have done it without my team. I remember there were points where Sue was massaging my back with oils and Travis applied pressure to my lower back to relieve the discomfort.”
“I get emotional thinking about the birth of our sweet baby, Katya, not because it was difficult, but because it was beautiful and memorable. I will never forget the moment I became a mother.”
Breastfeeding Vs Bottle feeding
August was National Breastfeeding Month so we asked our Latina moms if they were breastfeeding or bottle feeding and what made them choose that option. It is well known that breastfeeding helps boost a baby’s immunity and has many health benefits for both mom and baby, but often breastfeeding is still seen as ‘taboo’ especially in the United States.
Both our Latina moms are pro-breastfeeding, however difficulties with milk production and latching are common issues many women face, ultimately leading them to have to bottle feed to ensure their babies are getting the nutrients they need.
For Albania this was exactly the case.
“I tried breastfeeding but I wasn’t successful at it. I started to get frustrated because I really wanted to breastfeed my newborn. But unfortunately, I wasn’t producing enough milk to feed him. I couldn’t help to feel like a bad mom and it was hard to accept,” she shares.
Knowing she needed to provide for her baby, Albania turned to bottle feeding. “Although I know breastfeeding is a much better and healthier option, bottle feeding formula is still a healthy choice and my baby is getting all the necessary nutrients he needs.”
Ashley is breastfeeding but also faced challenges. “It was a difficult road, especially in the first two weeks, but it has been an incredibly rewarding journey thus far,” she says.
Advice to new Latina moms
Our new Latina moms have learned a lot in a short time and they share their top tips to other new moms.
Ashley says, “Do your research. Do not disregard something because it sounds outrageous. Read scientific studies and books, listen to podcasts, educate yourself in any way that works for you on parenting, vaccines, education methods, how to support your child’s development, etc. Do not be afraid to speak up. You are your own best advocate and your child’s as well.”
Albania says, “Always trust your instincts and don’t judge yourself. Don’t get discouraged or be hard on yourself if you fail at something, if you fall down, just make sure you get back up, and try something else.”
Additionally, establishing a support system and seeking the support of friends, family, and community is important for every new mom.
Ashley adds, “Set aside time for yourself and your relationships. You aren’t just a mother. Although that’s your most important job, you’re also a wife, daughter, and friend. Nurture those relationships because they are rewarding for everyone involved.”
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