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Midday Edition Special: Racism Fuels Black Maternal And Infant Health Crisis

Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi is pictured with her daughter in this undated photo.

Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi

Above: Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi is pictured with her daughter in this undated photo.

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In San Diego County, Black women are three times more likely to die due to pregnancy or delivery complications than white woman and Black infants are also 3 times more ... Read more →

Aired: February 24, 2021 | Transcript

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jade Hindmon

KPBS host Jade Hindmon and her 10-month-old daughter are pictured in this undated photo.

In San Diego County, Black women are three times more likely to die due to pregnancy or delivery complications, and Black infants are also three times more likely to die. Black babies are also 60% more likely to be born prematurely.

Part of the root cause is racism in healthcare that affects so many women, including KPBS Midday Edition co-host Jade Hindmon.

During her pregnancy, like many Black women, Hindmon had complications. She says concerns she raised to her doctors went ignored. There were delays in care and it was all made worse by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she felt like the triage doctors who treated her were more concerned with surgically sterilizing her than finding out why her pregnancy was ending early. Doctors even suggested her husband consider a vasectomy.

Her daughter was delivered by C-section prematurely, weighing just two pounds. During the two months her baby was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses told her, “She’s going to be fine. The Black girls are the strongest.”

As well intentioned as they may have been, Hindmon says it translated to nurses not being as attentive to her baby's needs and delays in her care because “Black girls are the strongest” and so the cycle continued.

In a special program Wednesday on KPBS Midday Edition we explore why the cycle exists and what is being done to address it.

What's Being Done To Address The Issue?

"Racism, as well as social and economic stressors, play a major role in poor birth outcomes (for African American women)," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the public health officer for San Diego County.

The county has a program Wooten recommends for Black women who are expecting. It's called the Black Infant Health Program. It's a group program that focuses on stress reduction, social support and empowerment.

Wooten also spoke with Midday Edition about other ways the county is working to address racism and implicit bias within the healthcare system.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Shala Mason

Shala Mason and her son Emmanuel are pictured in this undated photo.

San Diego Mom Says Trusting Her Gut Saved Her Son's Life

Shala Mason is a San Diego mom. She joined Midday Edition to share her traumatic birthing experience, the impact it's had on her son and how trusting her gut instinct may have saved his life.

"When I see pregnant women of color walking around here, I am fearful for them. I am fearful for their life and I'm fearful for the life of their child," she told Midday Edition.

Personal Experience Leads Woman To Become Doula

Charda Fontenot's traumatic birthing experience and the experiences of women in her family four generations back led her to become a doula with Project Concern International.

She joined Midday Edition to share her experience both as a mother and as a doula.

Racism In Medical School

It may not be surprising that racism is a factor in adversely affecting the quality of care Black women and their babies receive. Racism is a factor in just about every aspect of Black lives. But the medical profession has its own particular history of ignorance and abuse. It’s a system of explicit and implicit bias that begins in medical school.

Dr. Rodney Hood is the president and chairman of the Multicultural Health Foundation and a physician and expert on health disparities, medical history and racism in medical care. He joined Midday Edition to discuss what can be done to recognize and remove bias in medical school education.

San Diego Pediatrician Shares Personal Experience

Dr. Toluwalase Ajayi is a San Diego pediatrician, who is expecting her second child. Though she's filled with joy, she is also filled with anxiety from experiences with racism and implicit bias in the health care she received during her first pregnancy. She joins KPBS Midday Edition to share her experience.

"It never gets easier, right? So, you deal with it as a Black physician by your patients who are surprised that you are actually their doctor," Ajayi said. "And then to encounter that as a patient, it makes you feel kind of demoralized and a little bit cast aside."

Photo credit: Courtesy of Chinasa Campoverde

In this undated photo, Chinasa Campoverde holds her son Isaiah James who died after birth, while her husband James Campoverde looks on.

San Diego Woman Shares Story Of Losing Baby

Chinasa Campoverde is now expecting, but on Thanksgiving Day 2019 her previous pregnancy took a tragic turn. Just a week earlier she noticed something during an anatomy scan that she said went ignored by doctors. 

"My OBGYN just looked at me and said, 'Well just go home and take it easy,' like as if I didn't know my own body, or as if I didn't know what I was talking about," Campoverde said.

She joins Midday Edition to share her story.

Research Points To Possible Solutions

Tragedies like the loss of a child, or a death of a mother in childbirth are not only family sorrows — they affect whole communities. And when those deaths are the end result of racist attitudes, society needs to take notice.

And people are beginning to pay more attention. A new Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity has just been established at the University of Minnesota, one of several efforts around the country to get to the root of the attitudes in health care that have led to such unequal and often deadly outcomes for Black Americans.

Dr. Rachel Hardeman, the founding director of the center, joins Midday Edition to discuss what research is showing are some of the possible ways to address the problem.

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