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'We can ultimately impact' | Johnson C. Smith University working to reduce the Black mortality rate

The CDC says the maternal mortality rate is nearly three times higher for Black women than white women.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Organizations around the U.S. use the week to shine a light on the health disparities faced by Black women during and after childbirth. 

This year the White House officially recognized the week of April 11-17 as Black Maternal Health Week.

The CDC says the maternal mortality rate is nearly three times higher for Black women than white women. After TaHysha McClain's first pregnancy it was hard to find some resources as a Black mother. 

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“I tried to find breastfeeding groups, but I couldn't find anywhere people would look like m, talk like me, or sounds like me," McClain said. 

Her experience brought her to the university's Birthing Professional Program where they empower and educate Black women to take control of their maternal health. 

RELATED: Black Maternal Health Week: Woman shares experience of losing a child after late diagnosis

She started studying to become a lactation consultant. While getting her certifications McClain got pregnant again, but this time the experience was different. 

“The best way I can describe it is like, you know, somebody takes their nails and scraped down like a chalkboard," McClain said. 

McClain’s training stressed advocating for her own health, so she called her doctor. 

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“He explained how the cervix was beginning to open and they didn't close it that I was gonna deliver my son early,” she said.

The American Medical Association said about 700 women in the U.S. die annually due to pregnancy or related complications. Most of them are Black women, who die at a rate three times higher than white women. 

“I was considered high risk, and I was only 33 years old at that time," McClain said. 

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McClain had her son at 37 weeks which is considered by medical experts as full term. 

She had a healthy son and transitioned into the role as the Lactation Consultant Training Program Director at Johnson C. Smith's Birthing Professionals Program.

"Sometimes the moms may have complications or issues," McClain said. "Baby sometimes may have complications or issues. So we're there to kind of help assist with that journey." 

Charlotte’s Women’s Impact Fund awarded JCSU’s birthing program $76,000 to further its mission. The program offers doula training, childbirth education, and other things related to maternal health. 

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"We can ultimately impact and create, you know, better outcomes for those children," Patricia Massey Hoke, the Executive Director of Women’s Impact Fund, said. "Because what we want for our own children, we should want for all children, if we're really interested in equity in our community."

The fund aims to strengthen communities by maximizing women’s leadership in philanthropy through collective giving, education, and engagement. 

The grant will support the JCSU program to lead and train students to step in for Black mothers as McClain did for herself. 

"If we're able to produce more lactation consultants, that are of color, childbirth educators or doulas, then we are trying to help those disparities in the healthcare system," McClain said. 

Disparities that are, in some cases, costing Black women their lives.

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is committed to reporting on the issues facing the communities we serve. We tell the stories of people working to solve persistent social problems. We examine how problems can be solved or addressed to improve the quality of life and make a positive difference. WCNC Charlotte is seeking solutions for you. Send your tips or questions to newstips@wcnc.com. 


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