Why Black Women Are Rejecting Hospitals in Search of Better Births
Anastasia Onque was born just before midnight on a cold New Jersey evening in January. Jamira Eaddy-Onque pushed her out into the hands of a midwife, who set the baby on her mother’s chest. Ali Onque, the baby’s father, stretched a newborn hat over Anastasia’s wet hair, kissing her again and again as he lay with her and Ms. Eaddy-Onque in a wide, comfortable bed. The lights were dimmed and soft music was playing in the background.
The little family was safe and healthy. But this birth took place in a distressing context: New Jersey has the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the United States, which as a country has the worst rates of maternal mortality in the industrialized world. Increasingly, experts are concluding that these grim rates are caused by racial inequities in America’s health care system.
Black mothers in the United States are four times as likely to die from maternity-related complications as white women. In New Jersey, it’s even more alarming: A Black woman is seven times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as a white one. The problem has become so dire that in January the state introduced a strategic plan to eliminate racial inequities and lower the rate of maternal mortality by 50 percent in the next five years. Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed a budget that will pay for many of the plan’s recommendations.
A growing awareness of these disparities, along with the fear of giving birth in a hospital during a pandemic, is leading some pregnant Black women to seek out other options. It’s one of the reasons Ms. Eaddy-Onque decided to use a birthing center when expecting her second child, Anastasia.
(Written and photographed for The New York Times with support from the Magnum Foundation.)