Macaroni cards and Black maternal health

For most of us, the Mother’s Day of our childhood is remembered for serving a barely edible breakfast in bed and delivering with pride a homemade card of dried macaroni pasted on construction paper to a mother who always seemed so surprised and thankful, no matter how underdone or overdone the eggs were.

It’s a great memory, filled with the smiles, flowers and the warmth of early May.

It never occurred to us how much our mother sacrificed for us every day. That’s because she protected us. She didn’t let us see the personal and financial struggles that come with raising a family. We couldn’t guess about her late nights and early mornings. For many women, having a child even meant risking her life.

Most of us didn’t see the hardships then — but, if we did, we couldn’t do anything about it. However, we can now. That’s why I don’t understand how, in a nation of grateful sons and daughters, the maternal health crisis is getting worse instead of better, particularly for women of color.

In 2018, half of all American counties lacked a single obstetrician-gynecologist, putting women at serious risk across the nation. And it’s getting worse.

American women are dying from pregnancy-related causes at a faster rate than in any other developed nation, and Black moms are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

Driven in part by systemic racism, the United States is the only industrialized nation where Black maternal health is getting worse. In fact, reported severe pain and premature labor — which can be symptoms of serious complications such as preeclampsia — may be routinely ignored with Black women who are referred for specialty care far more frequently than with white women, often leading to deadly consequences.

Imagine a woman, pregnant and scared, with nowhere to turn because her doctor is located more than 30 minutes away and she knows that even if she makes it to the hospital, her pain and bleeding may be dismissed because she’s Black.

Now imagine that she is your mother. Imagine she’s your wife. Imagine she’s your sister, or your daughter, because that’s the reality that many women of color in America face right now. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In December, the Biden administration took the next step in its campaign to address the maternal health crisis with a call to action to invest $3 billion in maternal health through the Build Back Better Act; to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months; and to fully support the Maternal CARE Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act introduced by Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.).

Underwood’s bill is a game-changing proposal that includes:

  • Making critical investments in social determinants of maternal health such as housing, transportation and nutrition;
  • Providing funding to community-based organizations that work to improve maternal health and promote equity;
  • Supporting Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) maternity care coordination programs and studying the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans;
  • Growing and diversifying the perinatal workforce and investing in digital tools such as telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas;
  • Supporting moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and improving maternal health care for incarcerated moms; and 
  • Promoting maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies.

Many Republican leaders like to fly the “pro-life” banner at political rallies and media events. But if they really cared about life, they’d talk about this as well. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, because mothers deserve more than fear, pain and, potentially, death from pregnancy-related conditions. They deserve more than dried macaroni glued to a cardboard note.

As children, maybe we didn’t know better. We didn’t understand the stakes or know the cost. But we do now, so let’s do something about it.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.