Yesterday, I celebrated Mother’s Day by spending time with my own mother, but not everyone is so lucky. Three weeks after giving birth to a beautiful new baby, my friend Shalon died from complications of pregnancy.
Dr. Shalon Irving was 36 years old. She was at the height of her career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she fought to ensure better health outcomes for all of us. Yet the same health system she worked so hard to improve failed her during a time she needed the most support.
Shalon’s story is heartbreaking. And it’s unacceptable how common it is in this country.
While I was celebrating Mother’s Day, I was thinking about Shalon’s young daughter Soleil, who spent Mother’s Day with her grandmother. And I was thinking about the hundreds of other families in the United States who in the past year lost mom while she was giving life.
What is especially tragic is that – according to a new report from CDC – the majority of these pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. While every other wealthy country and many poorer countries have improved maternal mortality rates, the United States has stood by as maternal deaths rise. Our country now has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths anywhere in the developed world. These disparities have not improved in more than 30 years.
The statistics around black maternal health are the horrifying reality for too many black women and families in America. This is a national public health crisis that demands unique congressional attention.
Across the United States, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related factors than white women. My home state of Illinois also wrestles with a maternal mortality disparity. Non-Hispanic black women are six times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related condition as non-Hispanic white women.
Regardless of educational attainment or wealth, women of color continue to face barriers and biases in our health care system and are not receiving the same quality of care deserved.
As a nurse, I believe in data-driven, evidence-based policymaking that will make a difference and help make improvements in our country. Saving lives isn’t a blue state or red state issue, and I look forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans on these efforts.
The good news is that we are starting to see change.
About two-thirds of states have created, or are in the process of creating, maternal mortality review committees. These committees collect data on maternal deaths, investigate the reasons behind them and recommend solutions.
We have also taken steps at the federal level. In December, Congress unanimously passed the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act (which supports state review committees among other maternal health measures). In the wake of that important bipartisan legislation, Rep. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsAdams: Maternal health is in 'a crisis within a crisis' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Supreme Court weighs abortion restrictions MORE (D-N.C.) and I launched the Congressional Black Maternal Health Caucus to explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies and best practices for improving black maternal health.
However, we can’t stop at raising awareness and creating committees. Now we must work together to pass evidence-based policies that can help save the lives of mothers across the country.
Real progress for mothers means putting women at the center of their own care. This includes investment in research, maternal care standards and hospital procedures to identify where we are failing mothers and develop effective paths toward correcting maternal and infant mortality.
This also means training a wide range of maternal health providers and creating a diverse workforce across nurses, midwives, doulas and physicians who can better diagnose maternal complications.
All moms deserve access to quality care that keeps both her and her baby thriving. That is why I joined Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOn The Money — Build Back Better takes a 'Byrd Bath' Pressley looking for whoever 'borrowed' her Mariah Carey Christmas album Pressure grows to remove Boebert from committees MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerMaternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-N.J.) to introduce the Healthy MOMMIES Act, which would expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and new mothers.
I joined the #WithoutMom campaign to address how we can work to improve maternal health outcomes. I invite you to join me by sharing this video and posting on social media what you couldn’t have achieved #WithoutMom – and vowing to fight to never have to imagine a world without her.
For all our talk about valuing women and families, we are failing them instead. Let’s work together to make sure no child needlessly spends another Mother’s Day without their mom.
Underwood is a freshman member of the U.S. House from the 14th District of Illinois and a registered nurse.