HOUSTON – Texas ranks among the worst states for pregnant women to give birth. Research from March of Dimes lists Texas at the bottom, along with 11 states, when it comes to preterm births.
Texas among worst in the country
The Lone Star State received a D grade from the March of Dimes for its 11% preterm birth rate. The preterm birthrate for Harris County is at 11.5%, which an F rating.
Maternal deaths are also on the rise in the state. Texas has the highest number with 70 deaths. California trails behind with 53 deaths.
Stacey D. Stewart, president and CEO of March of Dimes, said the United States is one of the most dangerous developed nations in the world for women to give birth.
“If you look at the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, which in our country compares to other highly developed nations, our rates have been increasing,” Stewart said. “We can do a lot better by moms and babies and that’s why we gotta do so much more by providing the right kind of access to care for women.”
Stewart said maternal mortality, maternal morbidity and premature deaths were already a crisis, which have only magnified due to the pandemic.
“The pandemic has put even more stress on families. We know pregnant women are at web greater risk if they contract (COVID-19) of having severe illnesses,” Stewart added.
Women of color disproportionately affected
Norma Hernandez, of Houston, is the mother to a happy, playful 4-year-old named Joaquin. The two have a very close bond. Joaquin is an only child because Hernandez said she’s scared she might experience pregnancy complications like she did carrying Joaquin.
“I did not want to take that risk again,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know what would happen if I had another one. I don’t think it would be fair to him if I try to have another one and I don’t make it.”
Hernandez had a difficult pregnancy in 2016. When she was 33 weeks along, she went to a hospital with flu-like symptoms.
“I was very concerned. The fact that they kept telling me over and over again that I could have a stroke at any moment and that it could kill both of us, that was very daunting to me,” said Hernandez. “It’s not something you want to hear as a mother.”
Joaquin was born six weeks premature.
Data from March of Dimes also showed expectant mothers of color were impacted at a disproportionate rate. The preterm birthrate among Black women is 39%, more than any other race. Black women are also at greater risk of dying during pregnancy or after childbirth than white women.
“Black women, for example, are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy,” Stewart said. “If you’re a woman over 30, those rates are even higher at three to four times. If you’re a Black woman, its three to four times the rate of dying as a result of childbirth as compared to white women.”
Stewart said those inequities are attributed to the United States not providing access to high quality healthcare to women of color. She said racism, discrimination and implicit bias in the health care system all play a role in the quality of care many moms and babies of color receive.
“Black women and Brown women have expressed that they don’t feel respected and heard when it comes time to have prenatal care, when it even comes time for child care and delivery they have complications,” said the March of Dimes CEO.
Twon Mackey is 13 weeks pregnant with her second child. Mackey is using a midwife for both her prenatal care and childbirth unlike her first pregnancy with her daughter five years ago.
“When I went to go and deliver her, it was very impersonal and it was a lack of patience when it came to me,” said Mackey.
Mackey said it was a contrast to the prenatal care she received, which she described as very personal and educational for her and the baby. Darlene Scrivner with BioBirth is her licensed midwife. Scrivener said since the pandemic, more women are seeking midwives and doulas for more one-one-one care.
“We’re seeing a lot more women than what we did before. I’m having probably four times the numbers of inquiries just to see if they’re OK for an out-of-hospital birth,” Scrivner said.
What’s being done to help Texas mothers?
Scrivner said providing women with resources and support before and after childbirth can increase the odds of having a full-term pregnancy and a safe birth.
“There’s more to birth than only ending up with a live mom and live baby,” the licensed midwife said. “There’s also a healthy mom and healthy baby. Keeping them together and mom feeling empowered after her birth.”
March of Dimes said it’s also working to make sure women are highly educated and informed about the resources they need to have a healthy pregnancy. Stewart said the United States also needs to increase access of care to all women, which might require policy changes.
State Rep. Carl Sherman introduced House Bill 420 this legislative session to establish a task force to study maternal mortality rates and causes among Black women. The task force would also make recommendations based on the study. HB 420 was last referred to the Public Health Committee.
The annual March for Babies will take place on May 15 virtually for the Houston-area. Funds will help March of Dimes continue its fight for all mom and babies. Go here to learn how to register.