In summary

Five Bay Area counties have come together to launch a new public awareness campaign: #DeliverBirthJustice.

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By Natalie Berbick

Natalie Berbick is the Perinatal Equity Initiative leader in Contra Costa County,

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Kamilah Davis

Kamilah Davis is the Perinatal Equity Initiative leader in Santa Clara County,

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Daphina Melbourne, Special to CalMattrers

Daphina Melbourne is the Perinatal Equity Initiative leader in Alameda County,

Desiree Johnson is the mother of three beautiful daughters. She has a loving husband and a job with Contra Costa County. Despite that, Desiree says that each of her pregnancies was unusually traumatic, and she has the scars to prove it. 

After her second cesarean delivery, her daughter was taken away to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit with minimal communication from the doctors and nurses. 

While mother and daughter are both healthy now, the trauma lingers. “I go into all my pregnancies worried,” Desiree says. “Am I going to see my baby alive in the flesh?”

All women and their partners may experience stress with childbirth. But for Black women in the Bay Area and beyond, the normal uncertainty of childbirth is compounded by racism. 

Black babies in the Bay Area are two to three times more likely to be born too soon or too small, or to die before their first birthday. Black moms nationwide are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. Black women and birthing people are more likely to experience pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia and hemorrhaging, as well as medical interventions like Cesarean sections. 

These disparities persist despite Black mothers’ level of education, their income and their health habits. The structural and social racism Black people experience throughout their lives – and the bias they encounter from health professionals during their birthing experience – are the root causes. Black women and birthing people face challenges during pregnancy and the postpartum period that result from policies rooted in structural racism. 

Many of us in the Bay Area say we value equity, inclusion and justice, but Black mothers and families all too often tell a different story. 

For example, Black women and birthing people in the Bay Area are twice as likely to live in poverty than other county residents and to report experiencing more hardships during pregnancy – such as homelessness, loss of a loved one or food insecurity. Almost half of Black Californians report that they have experienced unfair treatment getting medical care due to their race. Science shows that these experiences lead to a cumulative, racialized stress that moms face before and during their pregnancies that is taking an undue toll on Black births.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to make a difference, and it starts by acknowledging the disparities. 

That’s why five Bay Area counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Solano – have come together to launch a new public awareness campaign: #DeliverBirthJustice. We want to put birth justice front and center in the continuing fight for racial justice.

Our campaign is part of the Perinatal Equity Initiative, a statewide effort led by the California Department of Public Health that identifies best practices for addressing the causes of the persistent disparities in Black maternal and infant health. We want to build a Bay Area movement of community members, health professionals, policymakers and allies who are committed to dismantling the systems and practices that harm Black moms and their babies.

We can take action to dismantle the web of social and environmental risk factors that contribute to disparities in maternal and infant health for Black communities. That means investing in everything from housing and nutrition programs to expanded health insurance, sick leave and family leave. We can also direct more support to community-based organizations that are dedicated to improving health outcomes for Black women and their families. 

It also means making sure Black moms in our region have access to competent health care, including strong community health programs, doula care and community-based midwife programs. It means growing and diversifying – and training – the maternity care workforce so that doctors and nurses understand the inequities and the bias facing Black moms and their families. We can also champion community members’ call for solutions and laws that protect Black mothers and their families. 

Black mothers, babies and families deserve to be healthy, safe and supported throughout their birth journey and their lives. Let’s value Black lives and deliver birth justice.


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