‘We shouldn’t be losing our lives’: Death of Olympian reignites Black maternal health conversation

professional headshot of Dr. Keisha Bentley-Edwards

Thursday, June 15, 2023


DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — The conversation around Black maternal health is back in the national spotlight after U.S. Olympic Champion sprinter Tori Bowie died from complications of childbirth.

“I was in pain. I was invisible and no one was listening to me,” recalled Brittany Turner.

The Raleigh mother miscarried four times and was worried she’d lose her son too. She said doctors didn’t take her pain seriously when she was in labor.

“There was still no urgency or concern until someone put something on me and saw that my baby and body were in distress. Then I was believed,” she said.

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Black infants die at rates double the North Carolina average, and Black women are 3 times more likely to die a pregnancy-related death than white moms

According to BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, the Tar Heel state has the 11th highest infant mortality rate in the country. Black, American Indian and Hispanic babies are up to 2.4 times more likely to die in the first year of their lives. Black birthing people have the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and are 3 to 4 times more likely to die during childbirth.

The ABC Owned Television Stations Equity Report found twice as many Black residents and six times as many Hispanic residents do not have health insurance in Raleigh and Durham metro areas compared to white residents.

“These disparities and health concerns or increased health burdens occur for Black women no matter what our economic status is,” said Dr. Keisha Bentley-Edwards with Duke University’s Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity.

Experts call maternal and infant mortality a public health crisis. Edwards shared critical solutions in the form of doulas and advocates for women that she believes could help turn the tide.

“They’re like why do we keep bringing up all these bad news? It’s because the news hasn’t changed. We need to keep talking about it until we can get these numbers down,” she said.