As part of the 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture last weekend, trailblazing journalist Mara Schiavocampo and Dr. Robyn R. Jones, OBGYN and Senior Medical Director of Women’s Health at Johnson & Johnson, got real about the trials of Black maternal health in America.
When it comes to pregnancy, Black mothers in the U.S. face devastating hurdles. Black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than White women, according to the CDC.
“Health care disparity, it’s not a new notion. We’re just recently speaking more about it,” Dr. Jones said before also discussing the social and structural determinants of health—including where we work, live, play and choose to settle down as we age—that contribute to poor health within our communities.
“There’s also the stigma of systemic racism. So what is that? How does that fall into play with the social determinants of health?” Jones explained. “We have a lack of trust reaching back generations in our health care system. And more recently, what we found is as we access the health care system, we’re not heard. We speak and we’re not listened to.” Jones then used Serena Williams’s pregnancy scare—in which she almost lost her life giving birth—as a prime example.
Another major factor impacting Black mothers is weathering. The term weathering was coined by American public health researcher Arline Geronimus. It’s a catchall used to describe the impact that race-related stressors have on the body.
“There’s a theory called weathering,” said Jones. “And what happens with weathering is that there is a physiological burden that we experience from the everyday stress of being Black in America. It has to do with us being marginalized, not respected, not listened to, and that everyday stress impacts our wellness. In fact, it’s been shown that for Black women, regardless of economic status, if you take two women at the same age, one Black, one White, we usually have seven and a half more years added to our age because of the stress we undergo because of the racism that we experience every day, and that we have to react and respond to here in the United States.”
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