Many of us have come across that TikToker who has compiled a list of “cons” to pregnancy. When videos of women showing the reality of motherhood find their way onto our For You Pages, people flood comments calling for the “girl with the list.” Through the media, we are often provided with reasons to not have children. There are 350 reasons, according to @yuniquethought’s page. While we have come to an understanding that pregnancy is, undeniably, dangerous, this reality is amplified in the experience of Black women—specifically in the West.
Pregnancy-related death rates are concerning, but the mortality rate of pregnant Black women is both alarming and frightening. In the United States, for instance, Black women “are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women,” more likely to experience preventable maternal deaths, and more likely to undergo maternal health complications. In the United Kingdom, as of 2020, Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts. Yet, all stand true regardless of socio-economic status, access to health care systems, and insurance coverage. The horrific pregnancy stories of Beyoncé and Serena Williams are two examples of many.
In Canada, data is scarce. As public health specialist Dr. Onye Nnorom states, Canada’s “current [medical] practices are hurting Black Canadians, because there is little to no health care data or research that is specific to race or ethnicity.”
This inhumanity finds its roots in slavery. In 1808, the United States declared a federal ban on the importing of slaves, creating a dependency on domestic slave birth. The results? A drive for medical innovation and the birth of gynecology as a field in North America. James Marion Sims, an unpleasantly-celebrated American physician, set to experiment his “brilliant achievements” on Black women. Like many other physicians in the 1830s, Sims’ work was fueled by a source of pernicious biological folk and weaponized faith: one claiming that Black people were not capable of experiencing pain.
Some may dictate this to be trivial history, but the disparities in the health care system continue to haunt the contemporary world. When medical institutes echo the teachings of these baseless and racist ideas, the pillars of health care in the West curate a systemic injustice that directly targets Black women. It reinforces a past we struggle to detach from, a past we claim to have learned and evolved beyond.
In 2021, a medical illustration created by Chidiebere Ibe, a Nigerian medical student at the Kyiv Medical University, consumed the internet. Its reason for going viral was simple: it featured a pregnancy diagram of a Black mother and fetus. While the majority of the general public stood in awe of the illustration, it was the reaction of medical specialists that defined the state of the health care system—it was the first time for many to interact with a medical diagram depicting a Black woman. Concerning, to say the least.
So, the first step toward change is simple—we must acknowledge the existence of the disparities. Whether that is done within your community or if we direct it to the education system, it is critical for reality to be put on display. But our duties should lie beyond that. Black women’s voices need to be centralized. When we chant that Black women have gone unheard, we do not merely refer to the social sphere. Black women are actively silenced and ignored in our hospitals, clinics, and birth centres.
So, the next time you comment on a post calling for “that girl with the list,” make sure it is for one last reason: the health care system.