Bay Area mom shares her story; Hulu doc 'Aftershock' confronts the Black maternal health crisis

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Thursday, July 21, 2022
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A Bay Area mother shares her struggles to reach full-term birth as Hulu's new documentary "Aftershock" confronts the Black maternal health crisis.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is a maternal health crisis in the U.S. and Black women are most affected. Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women, according to the CDC. That issue is at the heart of "Aftershock," a new documentary film released Tuesday on Hulu by our partners ABC News Studios and the Onyx Collective.

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The Black maternal health crisis isn't a trend, it's a grim reality for so many Black women who have given birth or are currently pregnant.

Hope Williams of Treasure Island knows firsthand.

Her two youngest kids, 14-month-old Kingston and 7-year-old Kendall, were both born preterm several weeks early.

"Kingston came at 32 weeks and five days (into my pregnancy) and with Kendall I was 34 weeks," said Williams.

Williams' experience is far from isolated. According to the CDC, Black women experience higher preterm birth rates than any other group and maternal mortality rate that is three times higher than white women.

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For Williams, she believes the quality of care was a factor.

"I wasn't heard. I wasn't respected. I sat on my doctors table and I just cried and I was like, 'Why are you not listening to me?''' she said.

"It really is the institutions. It really is the systems that are in place. So, no matter how equipped we are, no matter how educated we are, because I show up as a Black woman, I show up as a Black mother. It's just not safe."

The new documentary "Aftershock," streaming now on Hulu, brings the Black maternal health crisis front and center.

The documentary follows two Black families as they take on the healthcare system to stop more preventable deaths during pregnancy from happening.

The release of the film is at the same time as a new community-based study by international maternal medicine hub The Birthplace Lab.

The Giving Voice to Mothers report centers on the voices of 2,700 birthing people and found that people of color were less likely to receive continuity of care and have their doctor or midwife present during childbirth.

The report also found that Black women were most likely to desire more decision making power in their pregnancy, but were less likely to receive it.

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Additionally, women of color were twice as likely to report being physically violated, have a healthcare provider ignore or refuse a request for help, and be shouted at by healthcare providers than white participants.

"Institutional and structural racism are at the root of this issue," said Alexis Cobbins, executive director of the UCSF California Preterm Birth Initiative.

The UCSF California Preterm Birth Initiative is based out of UCSF's OBGYN department and is aimed at addressing structural racism to reduce racial disparities in birthing outcomes.

As a Black mother, Cobbins has faced the issue firsthand.

"I can tell a personal story. In my last delivery, I was asking for pain medication and was flat out refused and told 'You don't look like you're in enough pain.' I still don't know what that means," said Cobbins.

The UCSF California Preterm Birth Initiative advocates for policy changes to address the root causes of the maternal health crisis disproportionately claiming the lives of Black and brown mothers and other birthing people.

Most recently PTBI worked to secure implicit bias training for California perinatal healthcare providers in SB 464 passed in 2019.

"If we listen to the folks who are most impacted, we're going to see the changes that we want to see in our system and see improved care for Black babies and Black families," said Shanell Williams, director of community engagement and partnership for the California Preterm Birth Initiative.

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Hope is on Community Advisory Board for the UCSF California Preterm Birth Initiative

She sees the policy-shifting work paying off before her eyes. She's now pregnant with her fourth child and just a few weeks away from making it full-term.

"This is the first time in 19 years that I feel safe giving birth," said Williams, who plans on using a doula during birth this time.

"You can't guarantee every birth outcome, but this proves that you can do something -- it's not impossible," said Williams. "When you listen to (mothers), they make it at 43 years old."

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