Boston 25 Gets Real: Maternal healthcare concerns for women of color

In October of 2019, Shawnee Benton Gibson went from celebrating the birth of her daughter Shamony’s second baby to grappling with her death.

The 30-year old died just 13 days after the birth of her son via cesarean.

Shawnee -- a community advocate and social worker by training -- asked the EMTs to take her daughter to the hospital outside of their Bedstuy where she gave birth, but they refused saying it wasn’t protocol.

“We’ll never know what would have happened if someone would have made a different choice along the continuum of this story.””

Shawnee Benton Gibson and her family’s story is the subject of a new Hulu documentary called “Aftershock”...highlighting an ugly truth in the U.S.

According to the CDC…Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.

“There’s a huge ripple effect when a black woman when any woman dies.”

Social determinants of health, implicit bias, and structural racism are all recognized by state and federal healthcare agencies as root causes for these appalling outcomes.

“We are so far behind when it comes to the care that we deliver and in very clearly that it is a disparities of care and that our black and women of color are the ones that are dying more frequently.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital has the top ranked Obstetrics and Gynecology Department in the Country…according to the 2022 U.S. News and World report.

And still, Department Chair, Nawal Nour, says it’s not enough.

“But our implicit bias is continuous. And plus, it really comes out at times during stress. And that’s when if a patient is hemorrhaging, if she has sepsis, an infection, if she has high blood pressure,””

In her two years as chair, Dr. Nour has implemented anti-bias and cultural competency training, and encourages doctors to openly talk about racism in their Grand Rounds.

“People have a hard time even saying the word racism. And so being in conversations that we can say, this is racism, it’s not racist. Racism causes the inequities. And having people use that R-word and feel comfortable using it, I think has taken time.””

Under their United Against Racism program, Mass General Brigham is piloting a birthing partners program with a scholarship fund for doula training.

Maternal fetal medicine specialist, Dr. Nicole Smith, is part of the initiative.

“”There’s some good data from studies really done around the world which supports the idea that having a doula support person or a birthing support person, actually decreases the likelihood that a woman has a cesarean birth. It’s devastating. It’s personally devastating and professionally devastating,” says Dr. Smith. “It just feels terrible when again we’re seeing again a compilation, again, extra bleeding, again these adverse outcomes that we aren’t looking for and so this program has been a little ray of hope.””

Shawnee Benton Gibson, and others parenting and living without these mothers continue to criss-cross the country to ignite the kind of change we are just beginning to see in the Baystate.

“White women, white families, everybody needs to view this as an existential crisis and that we all need to be about the business of making sure that we dismantle these systems and shift the paradigms and the outcomes for all of us. Otherwise, we won’t have a future to live in to,” says Benton Gibson.

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