Every woman has the right to safe and respectful maternal healthcare that supports healthy pregnancies and births. Before, during, and after pregnancy, every woman needs access to quality health services and information. Respectful maternal care, are rooted in human rights standards which includes a woman’s right to safe pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care; these are the fundamental human rights of life, health, equality, and non-discrimination.
The United States is making dramatic losses on its maternal health indicators at a time when most counties are experiencing substantial progress. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the United States is one of only 13 countries globally with a rising maternal mortality ratio, and the only country with an advanced economy where the maternal mortality ratio is getting worse.
Black women constitute the majority of the fatalities. There is something about being born African American in the United States that has adverse impact and fatal outcomes on maternal health. Day to day encounters of African Americans with racial discrimination increases stress hormones that heightens exposure to other types of stressors that can have serious effects on labor.
In as much as government policy intervention is urgently needed, Black women can take their own care into their own hands. Research has found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, hence more women need to be involved in the decision-making process with their medical providers for better health outcomes. Here are a few important points to note to better advocate for your own health.
Speak Up, Speak Out. Admittedly, this is not as easy as it sounds. Take for instance Serena Williams, who made headlines for raising a health concern and being dismissed initially by her medical providers, while giving birth to her daughter. Their inaction could have cost her life. I know, they almost dismissed Serena, who’s to say they’ll believe you? However, speaking up, might be the difference between keeping your life and that of your baby. Many women do not get the acknowledgement that their illnesses are real nor that their pain is even alarming, speak up nonetheless, and as in Serena’s case it might be what saves you, eventually.
Ask questions. Most women go through the motions at the doctor’s office. Listening but barely understanding and yet not asking questions. Why are you prescribing that particular medication? Does it count that I have a history of hypertension in my family? Will I have side effects? And so on and so forth. You can even write down the questions prior, listing them in order of importance in case time runs out. This is a great opportunity to observe your provider’s bedside manner. Are they really listening to you? You’ll know when you’re not being heard or when you are not attended to properly. Start this earlier on, so that you can use this as an opportunity to shop for the best fit of health care provider. Always seek clarification, and if your doctor is short with you, well then, that’s your cue.
Keep track of your medical history. As with Serena, she knew that her history with blood clots might cause serious complications. Basing on what her optimal healthy body felt like coupled with her history, she could feel when something was off. Whether you’ll capture this in a journal or have a filing system is up to you, just ensure that your medical history is saved up somewhere. In 2018, Apple released an update to their Apple Health App which should allow you to store all your medical records on your phone. With your medical history at your fingertips, you can liaise with your doctor to better your health outcomes.
Get a second opinion. You may not always agree with a diagnosis made by your doctor. If possible seek for a second opinion. Check nearby hospitals or medical center, most have call centers that can refer you to an appropriate healthcare provider, and or consult family and friends to offer referrals. If you find that the previous diagnosis was right and if you still liked your previous doctor, don’t hesitate to go back. Most doctors don’t get offended when patients get a second opinion and may even welcome expert’s thoughts.
Seek support from your partner, family or engage the services of a doula. Evidence suggests that in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-on-one support from a partner, family, or personnel such as a doula is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor. A scientific updated examination of 26 studies of nearly 16,000 subjects by a non-profit network of independent researchers, Cochrane, found that pregnant women who received the continuous support doulas provide, were 39 percent less likely to have C-Sections. Generally, women with continuous support tended to have babies who were healthier at birth. Doulas, work as professional companions during pregnancy and childbirth and for six weeks after the baby is born.