In honor of Black maternal health, we are proud to support Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a nonprofit organization that envisions a world where Black mamas have the rights, respect, and resources to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. Not only will we provide a financial contribution to help further their efforts, but you can look for more content this month about the issues facing Black mothers and BMMA’s work advancing maternal health, rights, and justice. We encourage you to learn more and consider making a donation. 

GCL: Tell us a bit about your organization and your mission. How did Black Mamas Matter Alliance get started? What motivates you to do this work? What inspires you to show up every day?

BMMA: The Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) is a national network of Black women-led organizations and multi-disciplinary professionals who work to ensure that all Black mamas have the rights, respect, and resources to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. BMMA honors the work and historical contributions of black women’s leadership within their communities and values the need to amplify this work on a national scale. For this reason, BMMA does not have chapters. The alliance is composed of existing organizations and individuals whose work is deeply rooted in reproductive justice, birth justice, and the human rights framework.

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance was sparked by a partnership project between the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (SisterSong) that began in 2013. The two organizations collaborated on story collection on the obstacles that Southern Black women face in accessing maternal health care, leading to poor maternal health outcomes and persistent racial disparities. Advocates organized a convening in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2015 that brought together experts, activists, and stakeholders from a variety of sectors who were concerned about Black maternal health. “Black Mamas Matter” was an outcome of this meeting, along with a call to action to produce toolkits for activists in the South working to improve maternal health.

Recognizing the need for the BMM project to become its own entity, CRR and SisterSong initiated a process to create a steering committee to guide BMM into its next phase. In November 2016, BMM hosted its first steering committee retreat. At this two-day meeting, the group decided on the “alliance” structure and crafted a vision, mission, values, goals, and work plan for the upcoming year. The founding Black Mamas Matter Alliance Steering Committee members include Angela Doyinsola Aina, Elizabeth Dawes Gay, Joia Crear-Perry, Kwajelyn Jackson, and Monica Simpson. In June 2018, Angela Doyinsola Aina and Elizabeth Dawes Gay became co-directors of the Alliance; expanded the alliance to include over 18 Black women-led organizations; implemented the first-ever Black Maternal Health Week National Campaign; and the first Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute, all in 2018. The rest is herstory!

GCL: One of your goals is to change policy. What policies are you working towards right now?

BMMA: Policy changes, some possible with immediate action, can drastically improve the lives of Black women and birthing people. Investment in maternity care professionals such as midwives and doulas that practice culturally-congruent care models focus on “preferred cultural values, beliefs, worldview, and practices of the healthcare consumer and other stakeholders.” [1] Improving data collection methods, research, and technology on the experiences of Black mothers who are veterans, incarcerated, substance use, and mental health support can also enhance Black maternal health outcomes. [2]

Black Mamas Matter Alliance along with countless maternal health equity advocates will continue to address issues in the current healthcare, social systems, and policy spaces that negatively impact Black women and birthing people, and provide evidence-based solutions to solving these problems. We encourage businesses, community organizations, educators, medical professionals, policymakers, and readers to positively contribute to Black Maternal Health by trusting and listening to Black women first. There are resources from Black women-led organizations that offer context and recommendations to shifting outcomes for Black birthing people. [3] Black pregnant and birthing people are encouraged to talk to their doctors and support systems if something feels wrong. Doctors and medical providers are encouraged to listen. [4]

GCL: How can we reframe the conversation on Black maternal health? What are the systems in place right now that doesn’t work, and what would you like to see changed?

BMMA: Black Mamas are claiming their power. We are no longer demanding a seat at the table, but rather making our own. Black Mamas are claiming our resilience. We have been on the frontlines for every movement that has enacted intentional change, and now we are prioritizing our own freedom and right to live and thrive. Black Mamas are claiming our liberation. The work is not done until we truly dismantle the oppressive institutions that are killing Black lives.

Data shows that Black women experience among the highest rates of maternal mortality and morbidity compared to other populations. [5] Nearly 1 in 3 pregnancy-related deaths occur 1 week to 1 year after delivery and Black women also experience the highest mortality rates later into the postpartum period. [6] Unfortunately, data from state mortality review committees showed approximately 60% of pregnancy-related deaths were determined to be preventable. [7]

Access to quality care during the full postpartum period can support Black women experiencing postpartum depression, which can go untreated for months, significantly impacting the health of the mother. Studies show that new mothers of color experience rates of postpartum depression close to 38% compared with the 13 – 19% rate for all new mothers.[8] Black mothers who were pregnant or gave birth during the COVID-19 pandemic and response likely experience increased mental stresses with isolating medical facility policies, exposure to racial violence and protests, and quarantine from support systems.[9]

Moving forward, more must be done to institute permanent and mandated policies that provide access to quality healthcare for Black women, pregnant and after birth, for the full postpartum period. There have been advancements to increase the limit on postpartum coverage, in some states from as little as 60 days to six months. [10] The COVID-19 pandemic response initiated a dis-enrollment freeze from state Medicaid and allowed new mothers to experience extended coverage well after giving birth in some states [11]. More research is needed to examine the benefits of this extended coverage. No matter, as COVID-19 emergency protocols are lifted, many will be left without healthcare or will experience a gap in coverage.

GCL: Another goal of Black Mamas Matter Alliance is to advance care by introducing a holistic approach. What does this look like for your organization?

BMMA: We must take a holistic approach to improve health outcomes for all Black Mamas. The journey of becoming pregnant and starting a family can be a time of immense emotion, change, and learning for any person. Consequently, access to holistic, quality care during the full postpartum period, recognized as up to one year, is crucial.

In April 2018, BMMA published “Setting the Standard for Holistic Care of and for Black Women” as an overview of the tenets of holistic care. The document describes holistic maternity care which includes addressing gaps in care and ensures continuity of care; is affordable and accessible; is confidential, safe, and trauma-informed; ensures informed consent; is Black Mama-, family-, and parent-centered and patient-led; is culturally-informed and includes traditional practices; is provided by culturally competent and culturally congruent providers; respects spirituality and spiritual health; honors and fosters resilience; includes the voices of all Black Mamas; is responsive to the needs of all genders and family relationships; and, provides wraparound services and connections to social services.

One of the key goals of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance is exploring, introducing, and enhancing holistic and comprehensive approaches to the care of Black Mamas.

GCL: How can our followers get involved with supporting Black Mamas Matter Alliance?

BMMA: Be part of the movement to advance Black Maternal Health, Rights, and Justice by following us on social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube) and/or donating to our organization. Donating via MightyCause will help fund our work to ensure Black mamas thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. Thank you for your support.

A gift at any level can have an impact:

  • $50 - Enables us to educate and engage thousands of healthcare providers, patients, and birth workers by hosting online maternal health webinars.
  • $100 - Contributes to the success of BMMA’s annual Black Maternal Health Week National Campaign
  • $250 - This allows us to update the BMMA toolkit, a rich document complete with research, state policies, resources, and talking points for anyone interested in maternal health for black women.
  • $500 - Enables us to conduct and contribute to research to impact practices of medical providers, advance policies, and bring awareness to black maternal health
  • $1000 - Helps us present our national health conference and training institute convening partners on policy reform

Sources

[1] Marion, L., Douglas, M., Lavin, M., Barr, N., Gazaway, S., Thomas, L., Bickford, C., (November 18, 2016) "Implementing the New ANA Standard 8: Culturally Congruent Practice" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 22 No. 1. View webpage

[2] Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. View webpage

[3] Resources, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Literature - Black Mamas Matter Alliance

[4] CDC HEAR HER Campaign. View webpage

[5] Infographic: Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths — United States, 2007–2016. Infographic: Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Pregnancy-Related Deaths — United States, 2007–2016 | CDC

[6] Petersen EE, Davis NL, Goodman D, et al. Vital Signs: Pregnancy-Related Deaths, United States, 2011–2015, and Strategies for Prevention, 13 States, 2013–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:423–429. View webpage

[7] Petersen EE, Davis NL, Goodman D, et al. Vital Signs: Pregnancy-Related Deaths, United States, 2011–2015, and Strategies for Prevention, 13 States, 2013–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:423–429. View webpage

[8] Administrator, “Postpartum Depression and Race: What We All Should Know,” Psychology Benefits Society blog, June 21, 2016. View webpage

[9] Harrison, Eona, and Ebonie Megibow. “Three Ways COVID-19 Is Further Jeopardizing Black Maternal Health.” Urban Institute, 30 July 2020. View webpage

[10] CMS Approves Georgia’s Postpartum Medicaid Extension for New Mothers”, Governor Brian P. Kemp Office of the Governor, April 21, 2021. View webpage

[11] Brooks, Tricia, et al. “Families First Coronavirus Response Act Freezes Disenrollment in Medicaid.” Center For Children and Families, 24 Mar. 2020. View webpage