The Potluck

Lawmakers hold Black maternal health roundtable

By: - April 12, 2022 5:53 pm

The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Brittany Wright told her doctors over and over during her first 20 hours of labor that something felt wrong.

They assured Wright that she was fine, telling her that she just didn’t know what labor felt like as a first-time mom. Then, in hour 20, Wright started convulsing.

Wright had developed a fever during labor — a condition called intrapartum fever, which can be fatal for mother and baby. Her baby was born with a fever as well.

“As traumatic as it is — even today, three-and-a-half years later, I still feel like I’m recovering — I feel like one of the lucky ones,” Wright said. “I lived to tell about it, and there are so many women who are not here to say, ‘Someone didn’t listen to me.’ “

Wright, a program manager with the state Children’s Cabinet, told her story Tuesday during a roundtable hosted by the state House Black Maternal Health Caucus, in honor of Black Maternal Health Week. Lawmakers and health advocates shared how racism in health care affected their pregnancies and infants, urging the Legislature to pass laws aimed at improving maternal care for Black, Indigenous and people of color in Minnesota.

The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among wealthy nations, with more than 20 women dying of pregnancy-related causes for every 100,000 births in 2020.

The rates are even higher for people of color because of structural racism and unequal access to health care, researchers say. In Minnesota, Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to die from a pregnancy-related cause, studies show

Last year, the Legislature approved spending $300,000 to develop implicit bias training for hospitals and birthing centers with a law called the Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act. House Democrats are hoping to advance a slate of other maternal health bills this year, including proposals to create a universal home-visiting program for families with infants and expanding insurance coverage of postnatal checkups.

“For so many folks, these are conversations that have been filled with pain and shame. The opportunity now is to move into healing,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “There’s a lot of work we need to do across the state. We know there’s legislative work, and there’s agency work.”

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.