One year ago, I would have taken any opportunity to write, advise, or lecture on the inequalities of being a black nurse in health care. I could’ve complied a novel of complaints, stories, examples, and tears from the countless nurses that have described horrific scenarios of discrimination and bias feelings of being undervalued and overlooked for coveted leadership roles. Today, my paradigm has shifted and my perception of reality has moved from fractured to healed. How did this happen? Am I drunk on the liquor of white America, am I not “woke”? Have I forsaken my people and joined the other side? No. I’m still very much an advocate for equality in health care.
Here’s where I’m at: there are many individuals who subscribe to a methodical and intentional belittling of those who do not look like them and they come in every shade, even black. I may have heard a metaphorical gasp, but the truth is we focus so much of our attention on those individuals, working to receive their approval, waiting for a nod, anticipating some sort of compassionate act to help us succeed. Here’s the truth. They are not enlightened and they don’t care and until they plan to become self-aware their behaviors actions will never change. They are disconnected from the pillars of nursing compassion, empathy, human connection, and healing. Create a path to success using your knowledge and passion. Channel your energy and focus on yourself.
I have countless stories of inequality, being undervalued, and overlooked, feeling inadequate, not good enough, not included. Many of my colleagues have the same stories, we have collected so many stories that we could build a library of hate, but why? Why waste energy on what’s unimportant? Why not channel that energy and create something new, innovative, and intentionally inclusive? Achieve the highest degrees or certifications possible, build a nurse framework that cannot be torn down, that cannot be destroyed, that lasts lifetimes. Not just something for the moment.
Here’s a truth: my move to corporate America opened my eyes to a reality. Nobody, I mean nobody eats for free. It’s time for Black America to open its eyes to the truth and learn the transparency of human behaviors. What you fear is created in your mind, so change the narrative. Move your mind to a positive paradigm and see the opportunities in every task that you are asked to complete, instead of complaining why not focus on self-awareness and success. Yes. It’s OK to be selfish. Don’t just complete an objective. Execute it. Put all your hurt and pain in your work and watch how your outcome changes. Change how you eat, what you eat, include exercise, meditation, and whatever it takes to move you to a healed space. We have over 400 years of shackles to break, take pride in breaking your own chains and contribute to the evolution of history. Don’t just read the news; become the news.
In April of this year, Congresswomen Alma Adams (NC-12) and Lauren Underwood (IL-14) launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus in North Carolina. Over the last 30 years, the staggering statistics associated with maternal mortality in the United States and the rate of black women who ultimately die during or after child birth due to complications raises many unanswered questions and the need for an immediate response from Congress and the medical community. The impact of maternal and infant mortality in the black community is devastating and this vulnerable population cannot continue to be invisible.
The gift of life is wondrous, to grow a human inside your womb simply defines the miraculous abilities and physical strengths of mothers. To say that this experience is joyous and simultaneously overwhelming is an understatement. While the baby is in the belly, the mother is in control and provides safeguards and protection to her unborn child through her handling of everyday stressors, her body’s ability to supply the baby with nutrition to grow and develop, and of course her intrinsic love. Most would agree this protective state of pregnancy is innate, mothers are genetically wired to provide security and safety to her unborn child. Pregnancy should be uninterrupted, uninhibited, and a celebration of procreation—life’s most precious moment.
Procreating for black mothers has unfortunately become a traumatic experience, the joys and happiness surrounding pregnancy and delivery of a newborn are drowned out by alarming statistics as more black mothers lose their lives trying to bring their children into this world. Environmental stressors, delays in treatment, poor access to health care, and miseducation plague the black maternal community. There is a great divide and misalignment of health care resources creating tragic events for mothers and families as they try to welcome a new life in the world but are often faced with raising a child without a mother.
While there has been significant research done on the causes of maternal mortality, solutions for why the underlying factors of maternal mortality in black mothers is steadily increasing in a nation rich with health care facilities and experienced clinicians remain frustratingly elusive. Is the life of a black mother and black child not as important in this country? The devastation of loss in the black community is felt for generations as we are faced with raising children without their mothers. Although the child may be supported and surrounded by love from the father and extended family members, there are lingering feelings of abandonment and an emotional disconnect by not experiencing the love and care by the mother. The impact of maternal mortality in the black community has a clinical and psychological impact that will extend into the generations yet to come. The need is great to not only decrease this statistic but to preserve the sanctity of the black family for the future.
To close this critical gap in maternal health care, three major points of action should be taken into consideration, (1) develop a standardized model of obstetric patient-centered care that targets mandatory documentation of patient education, (2) provide transparency in the costs and fees associated with the continuum of care for obstetric patients, and (3) implement a national campaign for healthy moms and healthy babies to improve community awareness and collaboration with existing maternal health organizations. Such an investment not only has a direct effect on the health and wellness of mothers and their newborns, but also drives positive outcomes for the health care system.