A new survey led by Five X More looking into maternity care experiences shows that the striking disparity between Black and white women’s outcomes remains entrenched.
Despite the work being done in the last few years since the shocking stat was revealed that Black women were five times more likely to die during childbirth than our white counterparts, this new study shows that highly educated, working Black women in the UK continue to experience discriminatory behaviour and are receiving a mixed level of maternity care during the antenatal, labour, and postnatal period.
The results of the study were taken from the feedback of more than 1,340 women and birthing people from around the UK who either identified as Black or of Black mixed heritage and had accessed NHS maternity services whilst pregnant between 2016 and 2021.
The research, commissioned by Five X More, the campaigning support group that empowers Black women through pregnancy and childbirth, was an attempt to better understand Black women’s experiences of UK maternity care. However, a clear fact emerged that we are dealing with an equal opportunity discrimination in that no matter their social class or how highly educated they are, Black women continue to experience discriminatory behaviour.
Some of the unbelievable testimonies of respondents:
“I’d turn up in a tracksuit and be spoken to in a certain (dismissive) way until they learnt I was a lawyer…and they would be more respectful overall in my experience.”
“The midwife said in a mocking manner moments after I gave birth, “we will see you here next year anyway”. Which I felt was implying that because I’m Somali I’ll just end up giving birth every year.”
“One midwife when doing the sweep said that the reason for dilation taking so long for me was “probably due to an African pelvis” – even though I was on pain relief I was mortified that she actually believed there was such a thing as an African pelvis.”
“First visit a nurse said she was shocked I knew who the father was. As people like me usually don’t know.”
Tinuke Awe, co-founder of Five X More, said: “Despite the stark disparities in maternal outcomes, Black women’s voices and lived experiences have been notably absent from literature to date. The findings in this report highlight the urgent work needed to ensure that rapid improvements are made – because a positive birthing experience is deserved not just by some, but by all.”
Sarah Tade, a doctor and mother said: “Pregnancy and labour can be one of the most dangerous and challenging experiences in a woman’s life, but I did not expect my skin colour to be a contributory factor to this. My gas and air were taken away, I was denied any form of pain relief and was not examined when requested despite stating several times that I was in severe labour pain. What I found extremely disconcerting was that if this could happen to me, as a doctor in a hospital that I was familiar with, what chances do other Black women have?”
Marian Knight, Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health at the University of Oxford, said: “Inequalities in maternal death rates between Black women and white women in the UK have been documented for many years, and it is thanks to the work of Five X More and other advocates that tackling this disparity is now recognised as a priority. It is only by listening to women that we can understand the full impact of the care we are providing and identify ways to improve.”
Recommendations from the report include commissioning an annual maternity survey targeted specifically at Black women, improving the quality of ethnic coding in health records and ensuring that individuals involved in training health care professionals are aware and have an appreciation of the disparities in maternity outcomes.
Read the full report from Five X More Black Maternity Experiences Report