Health providers, doulas share mission to improve NC’s maternal mortality rate

CHARLOTTE — Mothers in North Carolina are dying at a higher rate than the rest of the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the maternal mortality rate in the United States is 32 for every 100,000 births. In North Carolina, there are 44 deaths for every 100,000 births.

Ashanti Beyers, a mother of two, has fractured memories of the traumatic birth of her first child, Kylinn. She says the struggle with her delivery stems from mistakes by medical staff that required an emergency C-section, and she almost died.

“I had no idea what was happening; I just knew that the anesthesiologist kept, you know, patting my head and asking me if I was cold,” Beyers said. “Now I know it was because I was losing consciousness.”

Now, Beyers looks back at her experience and can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she didn’t make it. It’s a thought and a real risk that plagues expecting mothers throughout the country.

In 2021, about 80 mothers in North Carolina died from either pregnancy or childbirth complications within the first year postpartum. Dr. Keisha Bently-Edwards, a lead researcher at Duke’s Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity, says the outcomes are worse for Black mothers, and many of those deaths are fully preventable.

“If I say that a majority of those 80 people didn’t have to die, well, that’s like two school buses, right?” Bently-Edwards said. “We have to take that next step and say what are we going to do differently, and when are we going to do it?”

In their latest 2021 report, the state’s Maternal Mortality Task Force endorsed more than 100 changes, including a major piece: expanding Medicaid. This year, legislators passed the expansion, meaning that mothers can get pregnancy Medicaid for a full year postpartum, instead of just eight weeks.

Other issues that were brought to light included OB-GYN access in more rural communities and increasing access to primary care providers post-pregnancy.

Multiple cases show a trend of the same issue: healthcare providers not taking action when mothers share symptoms of serious conditions. Beyers believes that’s what put her life in danger.

“It’s very scary because, you know, you look at healthcare professionals as people who are supposed to help take care of you and help treat you and somebody you’re supposed to feel safe with,” Beyers said. “Not only do I feel unsafe for myself, but I feel unsafe for my child as well.”

Beyers’ first birth experience inspired her to get a doula when she became pregnant with her second child nine years later. A doula is a professional who gives emotional and physical support throughout pregnancy and during childbirth. She was able to get her doula through a Charlotte nonprofit called Mind, Body, Baby. It’s an organization working to make doulas more accessible to mothers across the community.

Cynthia Wood, the founder of Mind, Body, Baby, says it was created out of her own postpartum experience. She made a village for mothers and says she has begun the movement toward changing the conversation about maternal and postpartum health.

“That’s one of the quickest ways we can make a big impact, I believe, in our current maternal mortality crisis,” Wood said. “We’ve been taught that we’re supposed to be tough; we’re supposed to, you know, motherhood is hard, but we’re not supposed to show it.”

Just a couple of months ago, Beyers gave birth to a healthy baby boy with her doula right by her side. She says her doula helped her feel heard and receive the care she deserved during her delivery.

“We should not be going to go give birth to babies and lose our lives in the process,” Beyers said.

Recommendations from the state stress the connection between mental health and postpartum; their goal is to better educate mothers in the fourth trimester, where pregnancy impacts can last a year. The CDC has also launched a new campaign called Hear Her, with the goal of improving communications between patients and their providers.

For pregnancy and postpartum resources across the Carolinas, click here.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘Jace’s Journey’: Charlotte mom’s pregnancy complication shines light on racial disparities)

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