On February 1st, artist and entertainer Beyoncé Knowles announced her pregnancy with a grand Instagram post. Though her announcement and her subsequent performance at the Grammys was met with glee, excitement, and congratulations across the globe; white female writers at alarming rates attacked the Lemonade singer for expressing her joy over the impending birth of her twins.
Some of these women suggested that being pregnant is nothing to celebrate, while others expressed that Bey’s joy was hurtful to them personally, because they were struggling to conceive; a few even called the announcement “tacky.” It was interesting in my opinion that all of this backlash swirled around one of the most powerful Black women in the world, a Black woman who has been vocal about her own struggles with conceiving, and her miscarriage. After all, Black women are four times more likely to die during or just after childbirth than white women and in New York City, that number rises to an exorbitant twelve times more likely.
In their heart-stopping investigative documentary, The Naked Truth: Death by Delivery, FUSION examines why Black women are dying at such astronomical rates, and what is being done to prevent these deaths and the violent birthing experiences that many Black women are having even if they do live.
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FUSION’s Nelufar Hedayat travels from rural Georgia to New York City; two vastly different places in the United States where maternal death is raging on. We learn that two-thirds of the counties in Georgia do not have labor and delivery centers, which put women living in more rural areas at astounding risks. Being so far away from medical services when a complication arises can be the difference between life and death. Additionally, in NYC, Black women in the most affluent neighborhoods are four times more likely to die than white women living in the poorest areas of the city.
As Hedayat moves from place to place encountering, doctors, activists, health providers and patients, the common thread among the entire piece is that without regard for you age, socioeconomic status, location or education, Black women are dying in childbirth due to the experience of Blackness. The statistics that are shown throughout the documentary are glaring; systematic racism is so permeated into American society that it follows Black women, wherever they may go in life.
We meet one young woman named Shanna, who shared her horrifying birthing experience. After laboring for forty-two hours, her doctor failed to reassure her or explain to her the need for a cesarean. Instead, Shana describes a waiver being thrown in her face while she was experiencing painful contractions; her baby’s heartbeat steadily slowing. We also meet a grief-stricken mother named Robbin Davis, whose thirty-year-old daughter, Victoria, went into premature labor with twins. Victoria’s uterus ruptured in labor, and she and her twins died. No one noticed (or cared) that Victoria had never been able to have a vaginal birth previously, or that her primary care doctor had noted her weakened uterus in her medical charts.
Despite the immense amount of information in Death by Delivery, it is only the first step. It is very painful to acknowledge the fact that Black women are dying during childbirth at higher rates than they were twenty years ago, but we must now discuss what we can do as a people to stop this from continuing.
In the film, we meet midwife Marsha Ford and the members of the Black Mama’s Matter coalition who are trying to change the narrative at all levels. For these women, it’s not just about speaking to Black women who may not know their rights or options, but also reaching out towards legislators whose policies are often entangled with racist rhetoric. Through her poignant questions and conversations throughout the documentary, Nelufar Hedayat further proves why women’s rights must be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. The stress, racism, and sexism are killing Black women before we are even able to bring new generations into this world.
Rapidly paced, The Naked Truth: Death by Delivery is an eye-opening and compelling, documentary that puts the shameful state of our national health care at the forefront. It’s a film about the complete lack of regard for Black life on every level and the hurdles that we must undertake as a community not only to combat these statistics but to also remain informed. And yet, this one-hour film just touches on how enormous this crisis is in America.
As Executive Director of Sister Song, Monica Simpson says in the film, “It is your human right to have the children that you want, in the way that you want.” Whether you are Beyoncé, a young woman living in NYC, or mother from rural Georgia, your life and the life that you are carrying deserves to be celebrated. Women’s rights, in general, are currently under attack by our current government, which means that without some real intervention, Black women’s lives will continue to remain in peril.
The Naked Truth: Death by Delivery premieres on Wednesday, March 8 @ 9PM ET on FUSION TV.