Since the news surrounding Tori Bowie’s death broke last week, we’ve been thinking deeply about the ways in which the details of her story exemplify the failures of the current healthcare system when it comes to birthing people, particularly those who are Black and those with a history of mental health issues.
While the cause of Bowie’s death was eclampsia—a condition which includes high blood pressure and can also involve kidney, liver, lung, and heart issues, other underlying factors were at play. Bowie had a history of bipolar disorder. At eight months pregnant, she was underweight at 5’ 9” and 96 pounds. And she was alone. According to her longtime agent, she did not want to deliver at a hospital, expressing a lack of trust.
Compared to other wealthy nations, the United States consistently spends more on healthcare with poorer outcomes. Out of 36 similarly developed countries, our maternal mortality rate ranks thirty-sixth. The coronavirus worsened an already dire situation, pushing the maternal mortality rate to 32.9 per 100,000 births in 2021 from 20.1 per 100,000 live births in 2019. And within these horrific outcomes, Black women die at three times the rate of white women during childbirth.
The system is failing, and in the process, pushing women away from needed support.
Tori Bowie’s story reflects this—and the pervasive racism responsible for the inequities embedded within the current system. It also points to the need for alternative models. Models of holistic, community-driven care. Models that can be trusted. Models that are accessible—in every city and state—and working for all birthing people.
For examples, look at community-led organizations like Doulas for the People, GirlTrek, and Mamatoto Village, Sisters in Birth, and join us in supporting them. And then look for others in your communities who are already leading the way and do what you can to uplift their work too, because all of us have a role to play in redesigning a system of care that people can trust.