Racism is killing mothers and babies in Michigan – and initiatives across the state are working to tackle that root cause and save lives.
Michigan’s Black and Indigenous mothers experience nearly three times the risk of infant death compared to white mothers. Michigan’s Black mothers are more than twice as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. The sheer stress of everyday life within a racist society increases the likelihood of premature birth, the leading cause of infant death. And these disparities persist despite the mother’s socioeconomic status or educational level.
“Obviously, there are usually medical causes at play. But when you dig down and actually listen, there’s systemic racism at the core of these disparities,” says Amy Zaagman, executive director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health (MCMCH). “The conditions that have been created over generations in communities are contributing to the stress level. The environment and the circumstances in which things compound create scenarios where the response is not what it would be for someone who was white. It’s entrenched and long-standing, but it’s something that we as a society should and could change.”
While social determinants of health like income, education level, and access to healthy food, transportation, and housing affect a woman’s health during pregnancy and infants’ health during that first year, recent studies have concluded that racism is the underlying cause.
“Systemic racism is such a huge and ugly beast that we do not like to address in our health care systems,” says Kyna King, Berrien County Health Department family health programs manager. “Until we address systemic racism with action plans, we’re not addressing this right. How do we provide the undergirding to support families while we’re trying to also dismantle some of these systems?”