CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the past five years, this week has been declared Black Maternal Health Week.
Nationwide, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts, regardless of their education level or income.
Congresswoman Alma Adams hosted a panel Wednesday afternoon to highlight this public health crisis.
In Mecklenburg County, Black infants are five times more likely to die in their first year of life than white infants. This week of recognition is about amplifying the voices behind those statistics.
Tomeka and Brandon Isaac should be watching their son grow up. Instead, the relive the trauma they experienced at 35 weeks pregnant, when their son Jace died in-utero. They blame systemic disparities in health care.
“He died because I had not received quality, routine prenatal care," Tomeka Isaac said. "I almost died because, for more than three hours, the hospital failed to give me a CT scan which would’ve shown that I was bleeding internally and that my life was in great risk."
In North Carolina, the preterm birth rate for Black women is 46% higher than for white women. Having a baby before it's full-term can put both the baby and even the mother in danger.
“I have two master’s degrees and over a decade of professional experience," Tomeka Isaac said. "I have private insurance. I never missed a prenatal appointment and had no preexisting conditions, but none of that protected me or my baby."
Rep. Adams is seeking solutions by backing targeted legislation.
“This issue demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers, women of color and other marginalized women across the country,” Adams said on her panel Wednesday.
Adams also supports the work of Charlotte-area organization Care Ring NC, a nonprofit bringing affordable and quality health care to the uninsured. The organization is working to close health care gaps by serving vulnerable and low-income women and families who live in the six ZIP codes the Mecklenburg County Health Department has already prioritized.
“We know as a result of systemic racism, as a result of racial disparities, that it remains to be a crisis,” Tchernavia Montgomery, the Executive Director of Care Ring NC, said.
Mecklenburg County allocated $3.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to Care Ring NC to expand the Nurse-Family Partnership program that’s been in Charlotte since 2008. Mothers are paired with a nurse who comes to their house to help them through pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life. In 2021, they served nearly 700 families.
“Ninety percent of our babies were born at full term; 91% of our babies were born at a normal weight," Montgomery said. "We know that, with our children, 94% of them are current with their immunizations at age 2. Our moms are more likely to breastfeed and also more likely to remain enrolled in their high school or GED program or remain employed."
Care Ring NC also launched a new initiative at the start of the year with the same exact goal called A Guided Journey. Through it, community health workers and people who also live in these priority ZIP codes are trained to help women through their pregnancies and connect them with the resources they need.
“This is the future of our county,” Montgomery said. “If we can start a mom and a baby off in the right place, we know that the opportunities for them to have a healthier wellbeing is made more possible."
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