In the United States, the pregnancy related mortality rate among Black women is five times higher than that of white women. This disparity is even more pronounced for late maternal deaths—which are those occurring between six weeks and a year after childbirth. The most common causes of death among black women include diseases of the heart and disorders of blood pressure. I started documenting my partners pregnancy weeks after finding out we were expecting. What started out as a playful documentation of our journey into parenthood became a necessary need—in case she did not survive childbirth.
My partner was admitted for severe preeclampsia on March 18, 2023. An otherwise healthy person—suddenly suffered from dangerously high blood pressure. For the next five days, doctors and nurses tried to keep her pregnant and blood pressure under control. Meanwhile, I tip-toed the lines between partner and documentarian. On March 22, 2023, 12 hours after our hospital-themed maternity shoot—being pregnant was no longer safe. In a matter of minutes, she was rushed to the operating room. I had knots in my throat and chest. WTF! On the morning of May 23rd, 2023, Z.L. Williams-Saintil was born six weeks early at 3 pounds, 0.3 ounces by an emergency cesarean. I am in love.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified that there is a need for tailored interventions that address the unique needs of black mothers in order to reduce disparities in maternal outcomes. Pregnant Black moms experience higher rates of hypertension and encounter serious complications due to their higher risk for developing heart disease and other health problems. This can lead to serious long-term health problems that can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and seizure.
The consequences of this disparity have been devastating for Black communities, with mothers dying far too young and leaving behind families who have lost a primary care giver. It is essential to understand the root causes of this crisis so that targeted solutions can be implemented to reduce these rates. These interventions must address both structural inequalities in healthcare access as well as historically social determinants such as racism, sexism, and poverty in order to ensure equitable health outcomes for all pregnant people regardless of race or ethnicity.