Many racial divisions still exist across our nation, but there is none that affects a more vulnerable and precious population as does infant mortality.
Babies born in the United States do not all have the same chance at survival in their first year of life. Michigan holds the highest infant mortality rate for Hispanic babies in the nation, at 7.28 deaths per 1,000 live births from 2013-2015. In Michigan in 2015 the infant mortality rate for babies born to white mothers was 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births and for black mothers was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. This phenomenon has not occurred naturally or accidentally.
We cannot address these disparities in infant mortality without addressing racism. There is a growing consensus that the racial discrimination black mothers experience over a lifetime makes them more likely to have a preterm birth – the leading cause of infant mortality.
A major factor in this process is stress. Experiencing racial discrimination causes stress hormones to be released in the body, and these hormones make a mother more likely to go into labor too early.
At WIN Network Detroit, the women we serve often face a great deal of stress in their lives due to issues caused and exacerbated by racism. Many of the issues that must be addressed in providing care to pregnant WIN Network mothers are not medical or clinical issues, but social issues like housing instability, lack of transportation, social support, and healthy relationships.
Traditional prenatal care does not adequately address these social issues and stress that are due to racism. Most prenatal care appointments last only 15 minutes, and only address clinical concerns.
The black women in our community often feel unsupported, unappreciated, and unvalued, especially when navigating the health care system. WIN Network Detroit has worked to create a system of care for these women that is built for their needs. Community Health Workers (CHWs) are used to offer a close, supportive relationship to moms; a relationship that can help them address issues in their lives likely to cause stress and prevent a healthy pregnancy. CHWs often help mothers find stable housing, transportation, and resources to address many social issues. WIN Network gives mothers more time with a Certified Nurse Midwife who has been trained in health equity and can incorporate knowledge about racism and prenatal health into their work.
Listening to black parents’ experiences with racism, with infant death, and with their interactions with the health care system is a vital step in learning how to address this problem and rebuild our systems to remedy it.
Today, and every day, we hope to contribute to healing these injustices by affirming to our community that we know you are still being subjected to discrimination and the effects of it are not imagined. It is our mission to deliver care that is centered on the experiences of black women – helping each woman achieve her goals, deal with stress, receive the support she deserves, and save our babies.