Why are Black Iowans Dying From Pregnancy? EveryStep Addresses Causes

Death during or after childbirth is sometimes depicted in movies or television programs as a rare occurrence in the era of modern medicine. But it’s happening in 2023 and if you’re Black, it’s happening at alarmingly higher rate.

According to a 2021 report by the Iowa Maternity Mortality Review Committee, Black Iowans are 6 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white Iowans. There are many reasons for pregnancy-associated death, but the report lists three directly related to pregnancy:

  1. Eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  2. Post-partum hemorrhage 
  3. Suicide

EveryStep is addressing these conditions associated with Black maternal mortality in a variety of ways, including support and implementation of the Black Doula Project. “We are working to build a workforce of black doulas so we can offer a doula to a Black-identified individual,” says EveryStep Maternal Child Health Director Becky Borgman. “A doula is like the best support you could have in a birth room. They are not a medical professional, but they're there to help advocate for you and help you throughout the labor and even before labor. They are there to support them before and during the pregnancy, and they will see them after the baby is born as well.”

Lanette Nelson oversees EveryStep’s Healthy Start program. She says the support of a doula is especially important for Black women who may be immigrants or refugees. “Imagine you're going to have a baby and you're not even sure how to talk to the doctor. Having a doula in a situation like that seems invaluable to me as someone who was lucky to have an easy time of it. You know, we often forget how difficult it is for some of the other people in our community.”

Nelson says it’s important that those who do not have the support of family or friends, or face language or income barriers are aware of their birthing rights. The National Association to Advance Black Births created the “Black Birthing Bill of Rights.”

“There are 20 rights listed,” says Nelson. “I have the right to be listened to and heard. I have the right to be respected and receive respectful care. Those are just a couple of them. I think with birthing people, particularly Black birthing people, it’s empowering and provides autonomy.”

Part of EveryStep’s outreach to combat Black maternal mortality is the annual Baby Bloom. The spring event is a free pregnancy resource fair for new and expecting families. There are resource tables, screenings for blood pressure and iron, giveaways, kids’ activities, food and music. “It's like a big baby shower where people come and receive education and resources,” says Nelson. Doulas are there, along with lactation consultants. “We are all in this together and we are trying to support the community the best we can. It takes all of us.”

EveryStep’s inclusive programs are free and confidential. EveryStep provides medical and social services for women, children and families, adults and seniors, and communities across Iowa.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential Find Care form. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.