Oklahoma's Own In Focus: Black And Native Women Face Higher Maternal Mortality Rates

Pregnant women need more support in Tulsa and across the country. Data from the Oklahoma Maternal Mortality Review Committee shows Black women are three times more likely to die than white women. For Native Americans, the statistics aren't much better. They are 2 ½ times more likely to die than white women.

Thursday, April 25th 2024, 5:33 pm



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Pregnant women need more support in Tulsa and across the country.

News On 6 is going “In Focus,” looking at the odds of some women having deadly health complications after giving birth. Black and Native American women have the highest maternal death rates in the United States.

"It's really systematic racism, is where it all points back to,” Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative Executive Director Omare Jimmerson said.

The picture-perfect moment for the Jackson family may have never happened.

“It was real scary because I got a brand-new baby, and I’ve never taken care of these kids without her,” Garrick Jackson said.

That was Jackson's fear when his wife Marnie fell ill after having their fourth child, Blaire. Marnie was first diagnosed with double pneumonia and was sick for several weeks.

Her husband worried something else was going on.

“I was like, 'You don’t have pneumonia.' And I was praying and said, 'You need to go to the hospital,’" he said.

The Jackson family said for her, it was the difference between life and death. She had postpartum cardiomyopathy.

“Once they finally did several tests for me, they said I was in heart failure,” Marnie said. “My heart fracture was at 15 percent. So, they said if I would have waited one more day, I probably would have experienced a heart attack.”

Marnie said she does not know for certain if her race was a factor in her healthcare but knows Black and Native women have worse odds of survival after giving birth. Both Marnie and Garrick said the maternity healthcare system needs improving. They feel their concerns were unheard by doctors after giving birth.

“I wish during that time you could still talk to your OB,” Marnie said.

Thankfully, the couple said their quick action led to Marnie’s survival, but many aren’t as fortunate.

Data from the Oklahoma Maternal Mortality Review Committee shows Black women are three times more likely to die than white women. For Native Americans, the statistics aren't much better. They are 2 ½ times more likely to die than white women.

"When you look at that, it doesn't matter where they fall as far as financially or educationally,” Jimmerson said.

The Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative is working to change those statistics.

"One of the things that you still commonly hear is that black women have a higher tolerance for pain,” Jimmerson said.

Jimmerson said the organization partners with the Indian Health Resource Center and is working on new doula training curriculum to help Native women.

“When it comes to the Native population, it’s just the distrust, rightfully so, right of the society that has made so many broken promises to them,” Jimmerson said.

To help herself and other women heal, Marnie works with the Oklahoma Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative, where women get support by sharing their postpartum stories.

Marnie said the group also encourages doula care services.

“Being in the room when everything is so intense to have someone else in there too, saying, 'No, this has got to happen. She’s in pain,’” Marnie said.

Jimmerson said women who work with doulas have lower rates of C-sections and fewer preterm births, and it can lead to better success with breastfeeding.

The Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative visits hospitals, working to improve maternal health one mom at a time.

“We just want to make sure that those that are serving in hospitals are providing the best care they can, and not judging someone when they walk in the room,” Jimmerson said.

Blaire is now 11 years old, and Marnie and her husband are still using their voices to help others. Marnie wants women to know about postpartum cardiomyopathy, something she did not know about until she had it. She sees a cardiologist once a year, and her heart is doing much better now.

“I never once thought about maternal mortality until that experience happened with me,” she said. “So I am thankful that I was saved so I can share the story and explain to women to learn and to teach them.”

There are several warning signs women should look out for after having a baby, including trouble breathing, chest pain, thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, red or swollen legs, extreme swelling, and changes in your vision.

If you're looking for support and want to get involved in the group Marnie is in, email Sarah Johnson at Sarah-j-johnson@ouhsc.edu. The group meets monthly.

A study released by the U.S. News and World Report looked at the top-performing hospitals for Black maternal care. Out of 26 hospitals recognized nationwide, the only healthcare agency to make that list in Oklahoma is Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa.

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