By Tyra Gordon
Motherhood is a monumental feat for a woman; it is a privilege to be used as a vessel to bring forth life into the world. The desire of a pregnant woman is to have a successful pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby; when this happens, childbirth is a joyous experience. However, when complications arise during a pregnancy, an expectant mother can be jolted into a state of fear and panic; complexities may occur, resulting in pre-term labor. No woman wants to be told that their baby has to be delivered prior to the thirty seven week threshold, as pre-term labor is a dangerous, unchartered path for each woman and no outcome is the same. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of 10 infants were born prematurely in 2019. As alarming as these statistics are, it is more startling to learn that prematurity affects African American women 50% more than any other ethnic group. In 2019, 14.4% of all African American births occurred prematurely. Looking back to 2004, of all the babies that were born to black women, 17.9% were born preterm; in 2004, I was a part of that statistic.
My journey to becoming a mother had a tumultuous start; when I became pregnant, I was working full-time and attending graduate school. Still determined to accomplish my goals, I continued with my rigorous schedule throughout my pregnancy. Expecting a child was more motivation for me to strive to reach my objectives. As I was preparing for my daughter to arrive on May 15, 2004, she came much earlier-on January 27, 2004.
In retrospect, my determination for success was driven by a subconscious need to prove myself to both my family and society. Despite being a young, unwed African American expectant mom, I was not going to allow my circumstances to dictate my outcome. In spite of my positive intentions, the self-inflicted pressure to which I subjected myself was sparked by a fear of judgment. I overexerted myself mentally and physically, which ultimately led to my daughter arriving four months too soon. Unfortunately, I am not alone in my rationale as other African American women feel the same way.
Studies have shown that black women suffer from physical, psychological and social stressors daily. Regardless of economic status, black women are subjected to a lack of social support, degradation and racial discrimination. As pregnancy is stress on a woman’s body, the difficulties that black women have faced in life creates a predisposition to health issues, including premature birth. Overtime, black women can suffer from “weathering,” where physical and mental health begins to deteriorate over time due to the toxicities that exist within the environment.
Bringing more awareness to the problem of prematurity within the African American community is a starting point to begin the rectification process; it is important to provide prenatal health education and affordable, equitable healthcare. To support mental health, black women need access to therapist and psychologists to talk about the deep-rooted issues that haunt us; creating dialogue about the issues and proposing potential solutions is very necessary.
Giving birth to a child should be revered as one of a woman’s greatest gifts to the world. During pregnancy, a woman’s focus should be on staying as healthy and stress free as possible. Sadly, most women do not thrive in such conditions while they’re pregnant, particularly black women. Although every cause of prematurity is not known, research has shown primary reasons why many black women deliver prematurely. There has been some focus on the disturbingly high prematurity rate amongst African American women and the societal constraints that afflict us, but it is important that this cause receives more notice. Diet and exercise are factors that black women can control, but the unwavering external factors must be addressed on a massive level. Black women often go into pregnancies with unfair disadvantages that cannot be ignored. Somehow, this burden must be lightened.