Fairfield County has a Black maternal health crisis. We must eliminate it.

Feb 16, 2024

This op-ed from FCCF President & CEO, Mendi Blue Paca was originally published on CTMirror.com on February 14, 2024.

How deep do inequities run in our community?

Well, consider that for some, the disadvantages — and risks — begin while still in the womb.

Compared to white babies, Black babies in Fairfield County are twice as likely to be born with low-birth weights. And those babies are three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday.

Moreover, the share of births occurring with late or no prenatal care is more than twice as high for Black mothers as white mothers.

These statistics are startling — and demand action. Every child born in Fairfield County deserves a chance to survive — and thrive. That starts with making sure that all mothers get the care and support they need to ensure that they, and their babies, are healthy.

Recently, we launched the Black Maternal Health Initiative with the goal of improving maternal health outcomes for Black mothers and their babies.

This effort has united Black doulas, hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Centers, advocacy organizations and our longstanding Fund for Women & Girls to improve care and support for Black mothers in ways that will drive systemic changes in maternal health care and ultimately improve outcomes for all women in pregnancy and childbirth. It will also set children on more promising early childhood paths.

This new initiative focuses first on an area where we can make a swift and profound impact — promoting the expansion of doula care for Black mothers.

While a growing body of research indicates that the support and expertise of a doula leads to healthier births, many expecting mothers face barriers to enlisting a doula due to lack of insurance coverage, limited availability of affordable doula services, and a shortage of doulas who are trained to work effectively with diverse populations.

Increasing doula access can be a key component of promoting health equity by providing culturally matched care. Doulas promote dignity, trust, bodily autonomy and relationship-based care.

And, importantly, doulas help alert health care providers to symptoms and concerns that can lead to severe maternal morbidity and mortality.

As we work to further empower doulas currently serving our community, we will prioritize several key issues, including:

• Strengthening the local birthing workforce by training and hiring more doulas.
• Advocating for hospital policy changes and for legislative changes that will produce better health outcomes.
• Collecting data to track the experiences of families at hospitals.
• Connecting more families to the resources they need to have the best opportunity for a joyful birth.
• Ensuring we have the resources to strengthen our maternal health workforce, advocate for changes, and monitor our progress.

Our work improving Black maternal health gets a running start from our existing track record of supporting women’s health initiatives through the Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls (FWG). As the largest fund of its kind in New England, FWG has been a driving force behind programs such as the emme Coalition, which is transforming the way health care is delivered to women and girls in Bridgeport.

Still, bringing about meaningful and lasting change will require a community-wide effort. You can join us by supporting the Fund for Women & Girls or the newly launched Health Equity Fund.

Improving Black maternal health outcomes in our community benefits all of us by fostering social cohesion, improving quality of life, promoting empathy and compassion, and driving economic growth.

As a Black woman who had an incredibly difficult and complicated journey to motherhood, I know intimately the difference that supportive and responsive health care can make – and the very real danger that exists when those supports are not in place. The journey to motherhood is especially daunting when you are trying to navigate systems that weren’t built with your interests in mind. Unfortunately, that’s the path too many Black women in Fairfield County, irrespective of income or education, face in pregnancy and childbirth.

I believe Fairfield County is a community in which no family should have to go into a pregnancy worried they won’t receive the same level of care and support afforded many of their neighbors. No mother should have to fear for her life — or the life of her unborn child — because she does not have equal access to the care, information, resources, and support that many mothers in our region take for granted.

And that no newborn should enter this world facing disproportionate risks that emanate from unfair and unacceptable inequities.

We are much better than that. Together we can prove it.

Click here to read more about the Black Maternal Health Initiative.